Poetry: Inferno

August 27, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROBERT PINSKY: In the baseball negotiations, each side accuses the other of greed, the sin also called avarice. Over-spending is another accusation.

I wonder if it would be helpful to offer some expert testimony on greed. In Dante’s Inferno, the part of Hell reserved for the gluttonous is pelted by a mixture of snow and sewage. A little further down, there is an eternal contest between the greedy hoarders and the equally greedy over-spenders. They crash into one another, lugging great stones in their arms, over and over.

I quote:

Each pushes a weight against his chest, and howls
At his opponent each time that they clash:
“Why do you squander?” and “Why do you hoard?” Each wheels

To roll his weight back round again: they rush
Toward the circle’s opposite point, collide
Painfully once more, and curse each other afresh;

And after that refrain each one must head
Through the half-circle again, to his next joust.

It seems clear from this description that in Dante’s vision, if the owners and the players’ association persist in hoarding and squandering, they will be condemned to suffer in Hell as football players.

As Dante’s Virgil says:

Wrongness in how to give and how to have
Took the fair world from them and brought them this,
Their ugly brawl, which words need not retrieve.

Now you can see, my son, how ludicrous
And brief are all the goods in Fortune’s ken,
Which humankind contend for: you see from this

How all the gold there is beneath the moon,
Or that there ever was, could not relieve
One of these weary souls.

I hope this little warning from the 1300s may be helpful to both sides.