- classical culture viewed in swift succession both positively (in bono) and negatively (in malo): the transition from Aristotle as the supreme philosophical authority at the end of Inferno 6 to the classical monster Plutus at the beginning of Inferno 7
- the concept of misura is introduced with respect to the sinners of this circle, who treat wealth and money in an immoderate way, without misura: “con misura nullo spendio ferci” (no spending that they did was done with measure [Inf. 7.42])
- the concept of misura is a vernacular expression of the Aristotelian concept of continence, which Dante will introduce by name in its negative form in Inferno 11.82-83: “incontenenza” (for Dante’s imbrication of vernacular misura with Aristotelian contenenza, see my essay “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Coordinated Reading)
- explicit anti-clericalism is introduced in this circle, through the inclusion of popes and cardinals among the misers
- at the same time, an appreciation of moderate and well-managed wealth is implied here; it is also implied by the idea that violence against the self in one’s goods or violence against others in their goods is sinful (see the taxonomy of sin in Inferno 11)
- the philosophical premises for treating wealth management according to an Aristotelian template are already set up in the canzone Le dolci rime of circa 1294, while the canzone Poscia ch’Amor of circa 1295 indicts the poor management of wealth among the Florentines of Dante’s day
- Aristotelian ethical thinking is non-dualistic, based on a spectrum of behavior with virtue at the mean, as compared to Christian ethical thinking, based on binaries between vice and virtue (see Dante’s Purgatorio for the Christian binaries of vice and virtue on each terrace)
- the de-classicizing — Christianizing — of Fortuna: the view that Fortuna is a minister of Providence is Dante’s way of stemming his social anxiety as first a member of a marginal family who is now also a stateless exile
- at the end of Inferno 7, Dante begins to construct a second Aristotelian template for vice, an anger spectrum
- Appendix 1 treats the astrologer Cecco d’Ascoli who, in his philosophical poem Acerba, attacks Inferno 7, verse 89: what is at stake here?
- Appendix 2, on Le dolci rime and Inferno 7, is an excerpt from “Dante and Wealth, Between Aristotle and Cortesia: From the Moral Canzoni Le dolci rime and Poscia ch’Amor to Inferno VI and VII” (in Coordinated Reading)
 Inferno 6 ends with a discussion that is overtly Aristotelian: as discussed in the Commento on Inferno 6, the question of a being’s “perfection” is rooted in Aristotelian philosophy. Inferno 7 begins with the need to placate the classical monster-guardian Plutus (not Pluto, the god of the underworld, but Plutus, god of wealth, son of Demeter and Iasion), who stands watch over the fourth circle. The presence of Plutus is akin to the presence in previous scenes of the classical monster-guardians Charon, Minos, and Cerberus.
 Plutus shouts out a challenge to the travelers in a garbled mixture of Greek and Hebrew:
“Pape Satàn, pape Satàn aleppe!”, cominciò Pluto con la voce chioccia (Inf. 7.1-2)
“Pape Satan, Pape Satan aleppe!” so Plutus, with his grating voice, began.
 Here we are faced with a striking example of the reversals in Dante’s treatment of classical culture. At the end of Inferno 6, Aristotle’s philosophy and language provide the “scïenza” that the pilgrim needs, and indeed Virgilio exhorts the pilgrim: “Ritorna a tua scïenza” (Remember now your science [Inf. 6.106]). Aristotle is the “maestro di color che sanno” (the master of those who know [Inf. 4.131]), as Virgilio is “quel savio gentil, che tutto seppe” (that gentle sage, who knew everything [Inf. 7.3]). Conversely, now, at the beginning of Inferno 7, Aristotle’s language, Greek, is used by Dante, in a pastiche with Hebrew, to compose Plutus’ degraded language, a monstrous form of self-expression.
 Linguistic/stylistic comments à propos the opening of Inferno 7:
- Although Greek and Hebrew were languages that Dante did not know, he had access to medieval glossaries that provided rudimentary knowledge of their forms and sounds.
- We will see quite a few “harsh rhymes” in this canto, in a kind of opening salvo of the tonality of lower Hell. Eventually, the poet will explicitly thematize his need to seek out “harsh and grating rhymes” to compose Hell; thus, he claims to require “rime aspre e chiocce” in Inferno 32.1. This “stylistic” category of rime aspre e chiocce is first established here, by way of Plutus’ “voce chioccia” (grating voice) of Inferno 7.2.
- the repetition of “pape” in Plutus’ exclamation subliminally prepares us for the presence of popes — il papa — among the sinners of this circle.
 But, for all the distancing from classical culture that Dante effects at the outset of Inferno 7, Aristotle’s presence in Inferno 7 is far deeper even than his presence at the end of Inferno 6. Aristotle is used in Inferno 7 in a way that signals Dante’s willing dependence on the Greek philosopher’s system of ethics.
 In his treatment of avarice and prodigality in Inferno 7 Dante hearkens back to the term “mezzo” in the Commedia’s first verse. As discussed in the Commento on Inferno 1, this term echoes the idea of virtue as the mean, or mezzo, from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In his canzone Le dolci rime (circa 1294), Dante translates Aristotle on the mean from Latin into Italian, rendering the Aristotelian “mean” in Italian as “mezzo”: “Quest’è, secondo che l’Etica dice, / un abito eligente / lo qual dimora in mezzo solamente” (This is, as the Ethics states, a “habit of choosing which keeps steadily to the mean” [Le dolci rime, 85–87; Foster-Boyde trans.]).
 Much of my commentary to this canto will be devoted to exploring the deep and latent Aristotelianism of Inferno 7, centered on the concept “misura”. Misura is the vernacular expression of the Aristotelian concept of “continence”: the moderation or self-control that, when lacking, is called “incontinence” (akrasia in Greek) in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. A fuller discussion of the cultural context, the transmission of these ideas and Dante’s reception of them, may be found in my essay “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime,” cited in Coordinated Readings.
 We have reached the fourth circle, the home of the shades who sinned through avarice and through prodigality. These sinners are misers who held onto their material goods excessively and prodigals who spent their material goods inordinately. In Wordsworth’s words: “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers”.
 In Inferno 7, Dante treats both kinds of excess in wealth management and both are sins: holding onto wealth too much (avarice) and holding onto wealth too little (prodigality) are equally sinful. Both forms of excess constitute a lack of misura, a lack of moderation or continence.
 Dante therefore devises one formula to cover both types of excess, both avarice and prodigality, a formula that is based on the term misura and that is equally true of both misers and prodigals: “con misura nullo spendio ferci” (no spending that they did was done with measure [Inf. 7.42]).
 It is important to note from the outset, as most commentaries do not, that, through his focus on misura, Dante departs from the traditional Christian template of the seven deadly vices, which includes only avarice, not prodigality.
 Dante views the moral pathology of these sinners as excess, whether it be excess in holding on or excess in letting go. Their sin is lack of misura: “con misura nullo spendio ferci” (no spending that they did was done with measure [Inf. 7.42]).
 Misura/measure is a quality of mind that is balanced, proportionate, and moderate with respect to desire; the possession of misura results in self-control. Dante introduces the concept of misura to the Commedia in Inferno 7 (the word appears here for the first time), in the context of wealth management: human attitudes toward wealth.
 We will find the negative form of misura, the word dismisura — lack of measure — in Inferno 16 and in Purgatorio 22. In Inferno 16 the context is a discussion of the nouveaux riches who corrupt Florence with their arrogance and unmeasured excess: “orgoglio e dismisura” (Inf. 16.74). In Purgatorio 22 Dante confirms his commitment to the ethical scheme implicit in Inferno 7, showcasing the term “dismisura” again in the context of Mount Purgatory’s terrace of avarice and prodigality:
Or sappi ch’avarizia fu partita troppo da me, e questa dismisura migliaia di lunari hanno punita. (Purg. 22.34-36)
Know then that I was far, too far from avarice — it was my lack of measure that thousands of months have punished.
 Up to this point the reader of Inferno might plausibly have believed that Dante’s Hell is organized in a way that loosely accords with the Christian scheme of the seven deadly sins — more properly called the seven capital vices, as noted in the Commento on Inferno 6. The first circles of Hell do in fact overlap with the least grievous of the seven capital vices, traditionally ordered thus: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, lust.
 If we were to organize the seven capital vices from least to most grievous, we would begin with lust, proceed to gluttony, and then to avarice — just as we proceed through circles 2 to 4 of Dante’s Hell. Of course, as discussed in the Commento on Inferno 6, Hell punishes sin, rather than vice. Technically, the second circle of Hell punishes sins caused by the vice of lussuria (in Francesca’s case, an adulterous affair with her brother-in-law), and the third circle punishes sins caused by the vice of gluttony.
 Given that we have passed through the circles of lust (circle 2) and gluttony (circle 3), it would be natural to expect to find that the next circle is the circle of avarice. Dante’s Mountain of Purgatory is explicitly organized according to the seven capital vices and follows the order of vice listed above (with pride at the bottom and going from the bottom of the mountain to the top).
 But prodigality, which appears coupled with avarice in both Inferno and Purgatorio, is not one of the seven capital vices. Only avarice is.
 In the essay “Aristotle’s Mezzo” (cited in Coordinated Reading), I discuss the significance of Dante’s inclusion of prodigality alongside avarice in the fourth circle of his Hell and the critical blind spot regarding the larger manifestations of Aristotle’s presence in this canto:
While the commentaries draw attention to the Aristotelian mean when glossing the specific verse “che con misura nullo spendio ferci” (Inf. 7.42), there is a critical blind spot vis-à-vis the larger manifestations of Aristotle’s presence in Inferno 7: for instance, why are the prodigals here with the misers? Only Aristotle and an ethical system based on a spectrum in which sin is the extreme — in this case avarice is one extreme and prodigality the other — and virtue is the mean can account for the provocative and rarely discussed pairing of prodigals and misers in the fourth circle of Dante’s hell. As Dante says, these souls are gripped by opposing sins, which force them constantly to move “da ogne mano a l’opposito punto” (from each side toward the opposite point; Inf. 7.32); they are divided by sins that are contrary to each other: “colpa contraria li dispaia” (contrary sin divides them; Inf. 7.45). From the moment that we are shown two groups of opposed sinners in the fourth circle, prodigals as well as misers, we need to be aware that we are not operating in a univocally Christian ethical framework. We should already be able to infer, long before reaching Inferno 11, that these first circles of hell are not simply governed, as their order might have induced us to believe, by the system of the seven capital vices, for that system does not include prodigality. (“Aristotle’s Mezzo”, p. 168)
 We need to ask the question: what are the prodigals doing here? The answer is quite remarkable and certainly warrants more critical attention: the model of vice and virtue that Dante has adopted in Inferno 7 is not Christian.
 The presence of prodigality signals that Dante is here viewing sin through an Aristotelian lens. According to Aristotle, virtue is located at the midpoint of human behavior (the “golden mean”) and vice is located at the extremes. Thus, in the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle explains that the virtuous man knows how to treat material goods without excess — with moderation. He is at the virtuous midpoint and is “liberal” (generous) rather than either miserly or prodigal.
 In Dante’s version of Aristotle’s doctrine, the virtuous man sins neither through excessive holding onto material goods (“mal tenere”) nor excessive giving away of wealth (“mal dare”): “Mal dare e mal tener lo mondo pulcro / ha tolto loro” (Ill giving and ill keeping have robbed both / of the fair world [Inf. 7.58-9]). The Aristotelian paradigm offers the extremes of “mal dare” (prodigality) at one end of the spectrum and “mal tenere” (avarice) at the other, and it features virtue as the moderate midpoint: a midpoint at which wealth is treated with misura.
 Dante emphasizes his deployment of a paradigm built on two extremes by constructing a contrapasso in which there are two groups of souls who move toward each other along two halves of one circle pushing weights; when they meet they hurl opposing insults at each other, calling out “Why do you hoard?” and “Why do you squander?” (verse 30). In this way Dante constructs the two groups of sinners as opposites but analogous: “Così tornavan per lo cerchio tetro / da ogne mano a l’opposito punto” (So did they move around the sorry circle / from left and right to the opposing point [Inf. 7.31-2]).
 He thus presents the two groups of souls in Inferno 7 as conjoined but opposites. They move along one circle but as two opposing cohorts. They move in opposite directions, but always toward each other — toward the mean that they were unable to reach in life: “da ogne mano a l’opposito punto” (from left to right to the oppsing point [Inf. 7.32]). The sins that separate these souls into two groups are “contrary” to each other: ”colpa contraria li dispaia” (their opposing guilts divide their ranks [Inf. 745]). Dante’s descriptions consistently emphasize the two groups of souls as opposite: “oppostito punto” (32}, “colpa contraria” (45), “due cozzi” (55).
 Through the contrapasso that he devises, Dante draws in space the idea of an ethical spectrum with vice at either extreme and virtue at the midpoint. The virtuous midpoint that resides between the two vicious extremes of mal dare and mal tenere is Aristotle’s liberality. In the language of Inferno 7, we could say that there is an implied “ben dare” and “ben tenere” that marks the mean.
 With respect to Dante’s circle of avarice and prodigality, the Aristotelian paradigm can be outlined as follows:
 This paradigm — the mean as virtue with two extremes of vice on either side — is of course extended by Aristotle to contexts other than the handling of wealth, as illustrated by the chart of the Nicomachean Ethics attached below.
 In sum, the presence of prodigals in the fourth circle of Hell indicates that Dante has here adopted an Aristotelian template that he interweaves throughout his Inferno with Christian ideology. This move also prepares us for the stunning revelation of Inferno 11, where Virgilio explains that Hell is structured according to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
 Similarly, for Dante misura is effectively the vernacular expression of the Aristotelian concept of continence, as dismisura is the vernacular expression of incontinence. I discuss the history of the concept misura in “Aristotle’s Mezzo”:
Paolo Cherchi shows that the mezura of the troubadours coincides with the virtue known to classical antiquity as temperance, a virtue whose cultural prominence in medieval France he links to the widespread circulation of Ciceronian ethical values through works like the twelfth-century adaptation of Cicero’s De officiis attributed to William of Conches, Moralium dogma philosophorum. In that work, Ciceronian temperantia is defined as “dominium rationis in libidinem et alios motus importunos” (the absolute rule of reason over passions and any other unfit impulses). As proof of the correspondence between mezura and temperantia, Cherchi offers the ensenhamen on the four cardinal virtues written by the thirteenth-century troubadour Daude de Pradas (1214–1282), in particular the passage on temperance, in which Daude presents the terms “mesura, / Contenenza o atempranza” (mezura, continence, or temperance) as synonyms. (“Aristotle’s Mezzo,” p. 166, citing Paolo Cherchi, Andreas and the Ambiguity of Courtly Love Toronto University Press, 1994, the chapter “Mezura”)
 The philosophical premises for treating wealth management according to an Aristotelian template are already set up by Dante in the canzone Le dolci rime (circa 1294), where Dante embraces the Aristotelian concept of virtue as the mean. In the canzone Poscia ch’Amor (circa 1295) Dante indicts the poor management of wealth among the Florentines of Dante’s day. Both canzoni are critical precursors of Inferno 7, as I show in the essay “Dante and Wealth, Between Aristotle and Cortesia: From the Moral Canzoni Le dolci rime and Poscia ch’Amor to Inferno 6 and 7” (cited in Coordinated Reading); an excerpt from the essay is in Appendix 2 below.
 To recapitulate: for Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics, sins of excess or uncontrolled desire are classified as sins of “incontinence” (Dante’s “incontenenza” in Inferno 11.82-83), a term that is analogous to vernacular dismisura, as “continence” is analogous to misura. The taxonomy is clear and has been treated as clear in Dante commentaries: everyone notes that in Inferno 11 Dante explicitly places circles 2 to 5 (lust, gluttony, avarice/prodigality, and anger) under the Aristotelian rubric of incontinence.
 However, the implied philosophy is less clear. The philosophical implications of defining desire in terms of incontinence have been overlooked in a critical tradition that has insisted for centuries on the binary of secular versus divine love.
 Defining desire in terms of incontinence means that it is not defined dualistically (for the same principle, see the Commento on Inferno 5). The Aristotelian system of virtue as a mean between two sinful extremes is a unitary system, based on a spectrum of behaviors, not a dualistic system like the Christian.
 The Christian system produces a binary: for every capital vice cited above, Dante in Purgatorio will produce a corresponding virtue. Aristotle’s system instead produces a spectrum, in which the good is located at the mean, rather than being conceptualized as the opposite of the bad.
 We Dante critics need to think more about the productive tensions created by Dante’s deliberate interweaving of the binary Christian system of the vices and virtues with the very different — non-dualistic — Aristotelian system of the golden mean.
 Another point worth mentioning is that Aristotle’s concept of the virtuous mean implies, in the context of wealth management, a genuine appreciation of moderate material comfort. In other words, to put this idea into Dante’s own contemporary context: Dante’s use of the Aristotelian template in Inferno 7 distances him from a posture of Franciscan disdain for all material goods.
 However, Dante’s thinking about the Church inclines him toward the Franciscan posture, with its strong celebration of poverty as a positive value. And this very canto will indict the avarice of high prelates, popes and cardinals, thus initiating an ongoing critique of great importance to the Commedia.
 At the same time, when he has his more secular hat on, Dante is quite capable of appreciating the action of “ben dare” of those great lords who demonstrate the virtue of liberality or generosity in their courts, as a sign of their cortesia.
 We can therefore see in Inferno 7 a fascinatingly complex and nuanced approach toward wealth. For more on this tension in the work of Dante and his contemporaries, see the essays “The Sociology of the Brigata” and “Dante and Wealth, Between Aristotle and Cortesia: From the Moral Canzoni Le dolci rime and Poscia ch’Amor to Inferno 6 and 7” cited in the Coordinated Reading. See too the Commento on Inferno 16.
 An appreciation of material wealth and the liberality with which it is bestowed can be inferred from many of the encounters with great feudal lords in the Commedia, including the praise offered to the Malaspina family for their “pregio de la borsa” (the glory of their purse) in Purgatorio 8.129. Moreover, the very existence of the infernal categories of “violence toward the self in one’s possessions” and “violence toward others in their possessions” (see the taxonomy of sin in Inferno 11) is significant in this regard: it is not possible to conceptualize the category of violence toward possessions without an appreciation of material possessions as a positive good.
 The souls of this circle are symmetrically arranged, as befits their equal distance from the virtuous mean. The misers push heavy stones around the circle in one direction, while the prodigals do the same in the other direction. The pilgrim’s interest, however, is not symmetrically distributed. He is far more interested in the tonsured souls on his left, and wonders aloud whether they were all clerics: “se tutti fuor cherci” (if all were clerics [Inf. 7.38]). Virgilio confirms Dante’s suspicion, adding, scandalously, that the souls of the damned misers include popes and cardinals:
Questi fur cherci, che non han coperchio piloso al capo, e papi e cardinali, in cui usa avarizia il suo soperchio. (Inf. 7.46–48)
These to the left—their heads bereft of hair— were clergymen, and popes and cardinals, within whom avarice works its excess.
 Dante’s anti-clericalism thus builds steam in Inferno 7. Up to now it has been expressed obliquely, in the inferences surrounding two indirect verses: 1) “colui / che fece per viltà il gran rifiuto” (he who made through cowardice the great refusal) in Inferno 3.59-60 (a possible reference to Pope Celestine V, as discussed in the Commento on Inferno 3), and 2) “con la forza di tal che testé piaggia” (using the power of one who tacks his sails) in Inferno 6.69 (a reference to Pope Boniface VIII).
 The question of wealth leads Virgilio into a long explanation, in the second half of the canto (Inf. 7.67-96), on the way in which material goods are distributed. This is the discussion of the role of Fortune in human lives.
 The discussion of Fortune’s role in distributing material goods allows us to see Dante’s continued anxiety about an issue that was roiling Florentine society, as new wealth formed tensions between new magnates and old aristocrats in a rising mercantile world. These tensions around “new people” and their “new money” explode in Inferno 16, which picks up many of the same themes treated first in Inferno 6 and 7. See the Commento on Inferno 16, “Cortesia and Theory of Wealth”.
 In yet another twist in his extraordinarily complex response to classical culture, Dante (through Virgilio) refutes the classical understanding of the goddess Fortuna, which holds that she is blind and therefore arbitrary and capricious in her distribution of material goods, arbitrarily causing some human fortunes to rise and others to fall. Instead he insists that Fortuna is a minister of God, positioned in heaven with the other deities.
 In effect, Dante de-classicizes and Christianizes the classical goddess.
 A deep cause of this move vis-à-vis Fortuna might be to defuse the abetting social anxiety and envy that was discussed as a primary feature of Florentine life in the Introduction to Inferno 6: as a homeless and stateless exile, Dante had every reason to fear the capriciousness of Fortuna. If instead we conceive Fortuna to be a minister of divine Providence, her actions are by definition not capricious and therefore less threatening. Although we cannot understand or appreciate her actions, they are willed by Providence and therefore must be seen as part of a larger divine plan, which in turn must be construed as good.
 For the first time in Inferno the departure from a circle does not correspond to the end of a canto: in verse 97, with 33 verses of Inferno 7 still to go, Virgilio announces the departure from the fourth circle and the descent toward “maggior pièta” (“greater suffering”). The travelers arrive at the Styx, a swamp (“palude” in verse 106), and see souls immersed whom the narrator calls “genti fangose” (muddy folk [Inf. 7.110]). These souls, “stuck in the mud” (“Fitti nel limo” [Inf. 7.121]), describe themselves as “tristi” — sad, downcast, depressed — and speak of carrying within themselves the black smoke of acedia:
Tristi fummo ne l’aere dolce che dal sol s’allegra, portando dentro accidioso fummo. (Inf. 7.121-23)
We were sad in the sweet air that’s gladdened by the sun, carrying within the dark smoke of sloth.
 These souls who say “Tristi fummo” (Inf. 7.121) are in the Styx and must be considered in tandem with the souls of the wrathful who also inhabit the Styx (although not fully immersed), whom we meet in the next canto. Considered together with the wrathful in Inferno 8, it is possible to infer from the tristi of Inferno 7 the lineaments of a Dantean version of a second Aristotelian template, this time with respect to anger rather than with respect to wealth management.
 Aristotle constructs an anger spectrum on which irascibility and lack of spirit are extremes while patience is the virtuous mid-point. Dante instead constructs an anger spectrum in which righteous anger is the virtuous mean, flanked by the vicious extremes of melancholic tristitia and rabid ira.
 The melancholics whose black bile billows inside them are found at the end of Inferno 7, while the virtuous mean is performed by the pilgrim in his righteous anger toward Filippo Argenti, the wrathful soul who assaults him in Inferno 8. The paradigm that results is as follows:
melancholic tristitia ⇤⇤⇤⇤ righteous anger ⇥⇥⇥⇥ rabid wrath
Cecco d’Ascoli Accuses Dante of Determinism: A Note on Inferno 7, verse 89
(A detailed exposition of this analysis may be found in my essay “Contemporaries Who Found Heterodoxy in Dante, Featuring [But Not Exclusively] Cecco d’Ascoli,” cited in Coordinated Reading)
 The philosophical layers that can be uncovered in the Commedia are well displayed by the complexities that surround verse 89 of Inferno 7: “necessità la fa esser veloce” (necessity makes her [Fortuna] swift). The astrologer and medical doctor Cecco d’Ascoli (1257-1327) inveighed against this verse in his philosophical poem Acerba.
 Cecco attacks Dante for belief in determinism, in other words for insufficient attachment to the idea of free will. Not only does it rarely occur to us that Dante might have been considered a determinist by some of his contemporaries, we certainly do not associate this issue with Inferno 7.
 In the capitolo “Della Fortuna” of Acerba, Cecco d’Ascoli openly censures Dante for “sinning” in his linkage of Fortuna with “necessità” (a code word for determinism). He explicitly accuses Dante of not sufficiently championing free will:
Non fa necessità ciascuno movendo, Ma ben dispone creatura umana Per qualità, cui l’anima, seguendo L’arbitrïo, abbandona e fassi E serva e ladra e, di virtute estrana, Da sé dispoglia l’abito gentile. In ciò peccasti, fiorentin poeta, Ponendo che li ben della fortuna Necessitati sieno con lor meta. Non è fortuna cui ragion non vinca. Or pensa, Dante, se prova nessuna Si può più fare che questa convinca. Fortuna non è altro che disposto Del cielo che dispon cosa animata Qual, disponendo, si trova all’opposto. Non vien necessitato il ben felice. Essendo in libertà l’alma creata, Fortuna in lei non può, che contraddice. (Acerba, 2.1.719-736. Cited in the edition of Achille Crespi, orig. 1927, rpt. Milano: La Vita Felice, 2011; italics mine)
Each heaven does not determine the soul by necessity as it moves, but only impresses a certain disposition on the human creature. The soul, following its free will, abandons its heavenly disposition and makes itself vile, a slave and thief, estranged from virtue; it strips itself of its noble habits. In this you sinned, Florentine poet, positing that the goods of fortune are assigned by necessity. There is no fortune that reason does not conquer. Think now, Dante if there is a proof that can be adduced more convincing than this one. Fortune is nothing but the disposition of the heavens that dispose the living thing, which then changes to its opposite (from passive to active). Happiness is not brought about by necessity. The soul having been created in liberty, fortune has no power over it that could contradict its will. (Translation mine)
 Cecco here accuses Dante of according too much influence to astral determinism (“necessità”). His attack on Dante was noted by contemporaries, and it is important for us to note that they did not dismiss it out of hand. Boccaccio in his Esposizioni writes that the words of Inferno 7.89, if not well understood, could generate “error” (Esposizioni, Canto VII, Esposizione litterale, § 73).
 Benvenuto da Imola explicitly refers to a contemporary debate provoked by “necessità la fa esser veloce” (Inf. 7.89). He writes that many had much to say on the subject, that there were those who defended Dante and those who attacked him, and he invokes Cecco d’Ascoli by name in the latter category:
Et hic nota lector quod circa literam istam est toto animo insistendum, quia istud dictum non videtur bene sanum; ideo multi multa dixerunt, alii pro autore, alii contra autorem, sicut Cechus de Esculo qui satis improvide damnat dictum autoris exclamans: In ciò fallasti [sic: Cecco wrote peccasti] fiorentin poeta. (Benevenuti de Rambaldis de Imola, Comentum super Dantis Aldigherij Comoediam, ed. J. P. Lacaita, Firenze: Barbèra, 1887)
And here, reader, note that about this passage one must insist with all one’s spirit, for this word might seem to be not quite sound. Therefore many have said many things, some on behalf of the author, others against the author, like Cecco d’Ascoli who quite recklessly condemns the author’s word exclaiming: In ciò fallasti [sic] fiorentin poeta. (Translation mine)
 Benvenuto refutes Cecco d’Ascoli and champions Dante by pointing to the passage in Purgatorio 16 in which Dante explicitly states that humans have reason and free will and that free will trumps the movements of the heavens and astral determinism:
Sed parcat mihi reverentia sua, si fuisset tam bonus poeta ut astrologus erat, non invexisset ita temere contra autorem. Debebat enim imaginari quod autor non contradixisset expresse sibi ipsi, qui dicit Purgatorii cap. XVI: El cielo i vostri movimenti initia, Non dico tutti, ma posto ch’io ’l dica, Dato v’è lume a bene et a malitia.
But may his reverence spare me, if he were as good a poet as he was an astrologer, he would not have inveighed so boldly against the author. For he ought to imagine that the author clearly did not contradict himself, who says in chapter XVI of Purgatorio: The heavens initiate your movements; I don’t say all of them, but, were I to say it, you have been given light to discern good and evil.
 The controversy that I have briefly related here offers us an opportunity to see that Dante’s contemporaries were capable of finding challenges in Dante’s text that we no longer see. All trace of the contemporary response to Inferno 7.89 is missing from today’s commentaries; indeed, one has to read Acerba to learn that it ever happened. After I read Acerba I looked through the contemporary commentaries and was astounded to find Benvenuto responding to Cecco d’Ascoli by name. After reading Acerba the importance of Benvenuto’s and Boccaccio’s testimony becomes evident: while Cecco may seem like a marginal figure, Boccaccio and Benvenuto are not, and yet they took Cecco’s accusation with utmost seriousness. If only we had a record of the “many” other thinkers who, according to Benvenuto (“multi multa dixerunt”), debated Inferno 7.89!
 For more on the controversy generated by Inferno 7.89, see my essay “Contemporaries Who Found Heterodoxy in Dante, Featuring (But Not Exclusively) Cecco d’Ascoli,” cited in Coordinated Reading. For more on points of contact between Cecco d’Ascoli and Dante in this commentary, see the Commento on Inferno 20, which raises issues of determinism and astrology vis-à-vis the bolgia of the false prophets, and the Commento on Purgatorio 16.
On Dante’s canzoni Le dolci rime and Poscia ch’ Amor in Inferno 7
(Excerpt from: “Dante and Wealth, Between Aristotle and Cortesia: From the Moral Canzoni Le dolci rime and Poscia ch’Amor to Inferno 6 and 7”, pp. 40-42)
 The Aristotelian system that supports the two contrary sins of Inferno 7 is that of Le dolci rime, while the language that characterizes Inferno 7’s two groups of sinners is derived from Poscia ch’Amor.
 Dante treats various types of non-virtuous behavior (later classified as sins of incontinence) in Poscia ch’Amor, referring to “lussuria” and, colorfully, to “divorar cibo” (Poscia ch’Amor, 33). But he begins, as we see in stanza 2 of Poscia ch’Amor below, by tackling wealth (“avere” in verse 20) and its proper deployment in society:
Sono che per gittar via loro avere credon potere capere là dove li boni stanno che dopo morte fanno riparo nella mente a quei cotanti c’hanno conoscenza. Ma lor messione a’ bon’ non può piacere, perché tenere savere fôra, e fuggirieno il danno che s’agiugne a lo ’nganno di loro e della gente c’hanno falso giudicio in lor sentenza. Qual non dirà fallenza divorar cibo ed a lussuria intendere, ornarsi come vendere si dovesse al mercato d’i non saggi? ché ’l saggio non pregia om per vestimenta, ch’altrui sono ornamenta, ma pregia il senno e li gentil coraggi. (Poscia ch’Amor, 20-38)
There are those who think that to dissipate their wealth is the way to win a place with the worthy who after death continue to dwell in the minds of such as are wise. But their extravagance cannot meet with good men's approval; so that they would be wiser to keep their cash and thus avoid also the loss which is added to their illusion — theirs and that of those whose opinion of them shows false judgement. Who will not call it folly to guzzle and give oneself over to lechery? To deck oneself out as though one were up for sale at Vanity Fair? For the wise do not esteem a man for his clothes, which are outward adornments, but for intelligence and nobility of heart. (Foster-Boyde translation)
 Wealth management is characterized in the above stanza in terms of its Aristotelian extremes. Those who “throw away their wealth” (verse 20: “gittar via loro avere”) will be the prodigals of Inferno 7, while those lower down in the stanza, who “hold onto” their wealth (verse 27: “tenere”), will be the misers of Inferno 7. In the canzone Dante anticipates the language of the sinners of Inferno 7, who cry out “‘Perché tieni ?’ e ‘Perché burli?’” (Inf. 7.30): “Perché tieni?”, directed at the misers, echoes “tenere” of Poscia ch’Amor, while “Perché burli?”, directed at the prodigals, recalls Poscia ch’Amor’s “gittar via”. The verb tenere appears again with the same meaning in Inferno 7’s opposition “Mal dare e mal tener” (Inf. 7.58).
 The reading that holds that Dante creates an opposition between gittar via and tenere in stanza 2 of Poscia ch’Amor, anticipating the opposition “Mal dare e mal tener” of Inferno 7, was put forward by Barbi-Pernicone but is by no means universally accepted. I strongly support the Barbi-Pernicone reading. In my view, stanza 2 of Poscia ch’Amor follows through in applying to social life the Aristotelian template already laid down in Le dolci rime. If we accept gittar via and tenere as the two Aristotelian extremes of vice in the context of wealth management, we can construe verses 26-31, with Barbi-Pernicone, thus:
Ma le spese dei prodighi non possono piacere ai buoni, cioè ai virtuosi, alla gente di valore, perché altrimenti bisognerebbe considerare cosa saggia (savere fora), cioè azione virtuosa, anche l’eccesso opposto di serbar denaro (tenere), come fanno gli avari, e non sarebbe danno, come in realtà lo è, quello che a loro deriva dall’esser prodighi, dal comportarsi, cioè, non secondo virtù. (Rime della maturità e dell’esilio, eds. Michele Barbi and Vincenzo Pernicone, Firenze, Le Monnier, 1969, p. 441)
 The virtue not embraced in stanza 2 of Poscia ch’Amor is the virtue of liberality, as Piero Cudini convincingly explains in his gloss of tenere:
serbare rigorosamente il proprio denaro, essere avaro; che questa sia l’accezione in cui viene qui usato il verbo sembra dimostrato anche dal suo uso nel canto degli avari e dei prodighi [. . .] sembra abbastanza chiara l’opposizione / analogia tra ‘gittar via’ (v. 20) e ‘tenere’ come peccati entrambi da evitare, e che comunque nulla hanno in comune con la ‘medietà’ propria della leggiadria. (Le Rime, ed. Piero Cudini, Milano, Garzanti, 1979, p. 137)
 De Robertis on the other hand speaks for those who claim that tenere in verse 27 is intended in a positive sense, writing that to see an Aristotelian scheme at work here is to attribute to Dante an excess of subtlety. For him, this canzone does not treat virtue but practical wisdom : “Qui non si tratta di ‘virtù’, ma della risposta della saggezza pratica” (Rime, edizione commentata a cura di Domenico De Robertis, Firenze, Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2005, p. 147). However, Poscia ch’Amor is a canzone in which the Aristotelian framework of the virtuous mean is already a given. Its “saggezza pratica” lies precisely in unpacking the behavioral implications of the Aristotelian framework already accepted and carried over from Le dolci rime.
 There is, moreover, a compelling internal proof of the correctness of the Barbi-Pernicone reading of stanza 2 of Poscia ch’Amor. This internal proof is in stanza 7, where Dante defines the man who possesses leggiadria in terms of his perfect ability to give and to receive, his perfect practice of liberality: “Dona e riceve l’om cui questa vole / mai non se ·n dole” (Poscia ch’Amor, 115-116). And in fact De Robertis offers for these verses the gloss “esercitando la virtù della liberalità” (ed. comm., p. 155), thus accepting an Aristotelian reading of stanza 7 that he had rejected as excessive in stanza 2.
 The cavaliere who possesses leggiadria in Poscia ch’Amor gives and receives without erring. He experiences no confusion in mediating between Christian vice and courtly virtue, no difficulty in distinguishing between the vice of prodigality and the virtue of liberality. For such a man, donare and ricevere are in perfect equilibrium. He gives and he receives in exactly the right measure. He never suffers as a result of such decisions: “mai non se ·n dole” (Poscia ch’Amor, 116). Never for such a man the wrong size tip! Never hurt feelings about an insufficient gift! This leggiadro cavaliere is someone who always acts correctly in the agora of human exchange, which is never for him the “mercato d’i non saggi” (Poscia ch’Amor, 35).
 In the beautiful synthesis of liberality that opens stanza 7 of Poscia ch’Amor, “Dona e riceve”, Dante goes back to the Aristotelian mean of stanza 2, where the mean is evoked in malo, and he rephrases it in bono: donare and ricevere in stanza 7 are positive antonyms that replace stanza 2’s negative antonyms gittar via and tenere. The behavior extolled in “Dona e riceve l’om cui questa vole” is also the perfect inverse of Inferno 7’s “Mal dare e mal tener” (Inf. 7.58).