With another “P” removed from his forehead, Dante rises to the next terrace. Virgil wonders how Statius could have been avaricious, but he responds that Virgil is mistaken: he was on that terrace but suffering due to sinful prodigality rather than excess greed. He explains faults which are opposites, like greed and prodigality, are grouped on Mount Purgatory. Statius continues, telling Virgil that his poetry moved him towards Christianity and wondering why Virgil was not saved. Virgil satisfies his curiosity by explaining where the other classical writers are, and Dante follows behind the two as they chat, learning about “the art of verse.”
They come to a tree, laden with what a voice calls “a food that you shall lack.” It continues, listing examples of temperance: Mary, Roman matrons, Daniel, and John the Baptist, who ate honey and locusts in the wilderness.
Dante stares at the strange tree, which seems almost to be upside down, but Virgil quickly goads him on. When the three see the penitents of this terrace, they find them with “eyes … dark and sunken, / their faces pale, their flesh so wasted that the skin took all its shape from bones.” These are the gluttonous, now ever-hungry. One shade, named Forese, recognizes Dante. Hunger has so distorted Forese’s face that Dante can only recognize him through his voice. Forese reveals that the tree makes a sweet scent that only increases their cravings as they are forced to circle the terrace. Yet he poses their hunger pains and thirst as “a solace.” When asked, he reveals that it is his widow’s “prayers” and “sighs” which have allowed him to climb so high in so little time. Dante, in response, tells the story of his journey.
Dante and Forese chat happily and move swiftly, “like ships that are driven by favoring winds.” Forese, revealing that their disfigurement allows them to use names on this terrace, gestures towards Bonagiunta, Pope Martin IV, Ubaldino, and other Italian figures. Dante approaches Bonagiunta, a vernacular Italian poet, and begins discussing poetry. Bonagiunta begins to understand that Dante is one who uses “the sweet new style” he hears, a style in which the pens of the writers “follow / faithfully whatever Love may dictate.” This disposition, he suggests, is what differentiates his earlier camp of poets from Dante’s camp. With this, he goes silent.
Forese asks Dante when he will see him again, and with what might be some humor, Dante explains that he is not sure when he will die, although Italy “seems disposed to certain ruin.” They commiserate over the state of Italy, and Forese goes off. A second tree appears. The souls grasp for the fruit on the branches but cannot reach it; the tree itself seems to reveal that it is sprung from the tree from which Eve took the forbidden fruit. The voice lists examples of gluttony, and Dante, Virgil, and Statius move onwards, soon reaching the next angel. The three begin their climb.
The sun is now past the meridian, meaning it is later than noon and nearer to 2:00 PM. The three poets move upward, and Virgil has Dante ask Statius how it is possible that spirits could look emaciated if they have no corporal body. With this said, Statius explains in detail how God’s love is infused in the embryo’s soul; when God’s inspiration and this early form of the soul mix, we get the human soul. Once someone has died, the soul separates and in the afterlife, can develop a sort of airy body similar to its earthly body. This airy body allows the shades to “feel affections or desires.”
With this, they come to the final terrace, on which a massive flame burns. In the small space where there is no flame, the three walk forward. At this point, Dante notices souls in the flames, crying out examples of chastity: this is the terrace of Lust.
On the terrace of Gluttony, we can see how Virgil and other Latin poets continue to influence Dante’s depiction of the afterlife. The tree, which the gluttonous cannot eat, is reminiscent of the punishment of Tantalus, who was forced to be tempted by fruit in Hades but unable to eat it. This very visible emulation of Latin poets is perfectly placed in a canto in which Dante is listening to two Latin poets discussing “the art of verse.” The narrative of the Purgatorio reveals how Dante himself developed as a poet, listening attentively to the work of earlier poets and integrating it into a medieval, Christian context.
Canto XXIII, revealing the distortions made by hunger on the spirits of the gluttonous, also helps us to better understand the psychology of the penitents in Purgatorio. Rather than regret their punishment, they turn towards it as “a solace,” focused on God as opposed to themselves. This belief in punishment as solace is linked with Christ’s own punishment when Forese mentions Christ’s hunger on the cross in lines 73-75. Indeed, seeing punishment as solace might be considered an eminently Christian ideal.
At the very end of the twenty-fourth canto, Dante hears someone say “Blessed are they / whom grace so enlightens that appetite / fills not their breasts with gross desires, / but leaves them hungering for what is just.” This final stanza emphasizes how hunger, which produces the sin punished on this terrace, can be transferred onto other, better desires. Whether or not we think it is healthy or ultimately helpful to hold this belief, it importantly reveals how Dante works to use the language of the body, turned towards heavenly things, to depict an ideal life.
Another important aspect of this canto is Dante’s emphasis on his “sweet new style.” Instead of suggesting that this style is prompted by specifically aesthetic concerns, it is motivated by love. As has been shown earlier in the poem, Love, both of God and of Beatrice, motivates much of the Commedia.
In Canto XXV, Dante continues to reveal the multifaceted purposes medieval poetry served. Statius and Dante’s dialogue attends to both the contemporary science and theological debates of his day: through the poem, he combines and works out the problems of both, maintaining the fiction of the poetry while also commenting on contemporary debates.