During his swoon, Dante has somehow been transported to the Third Circle, where cold, dirty rain mixed with hail and snow pours down forever, and the soil stinks. There three-headed Cerberus barks at and tortures the souls, who lie in the mud. Virgil is able to silence him by throwing dirt in his mouth. As Virgil and Dante pass on, one soul sits up and asks Dante if he recognizes him. He is so disfigured that Dante doesnt, but the soul tells him he lived in Dantes city, Florence, so ruined by envy, was called Ciacco (Hog); all the souls in this circle were taken over by gluttony, as he was. Dante expresses his pity for Ciacco, then wants to know is whats going to happen in Florence. Ciacco tells him that the Whites will soon come to power and exile the Blacks, but not for long; the Blacks, with the help of Boniface VIII, will come back and banish the Whites, and stay in power for a long time. There are only two just men in the whole city, and no one listens to them; all the others are ruled by pride, envy, and greed. What about the good men who have held power in Florence in the past, Dante asks. Are they now in Heaven or Hell. Youll see them lower down in Hell, Ciacco answers. Then he makes his one request, that Dante should speak of him when he returns to “the sweet world” and so keep his memory alive; he sinks back into the mire with the others, to rise no more, Virgil says, till all souls are reunited with their bodies on Judgment Day. Dante wants to know what effect reuniting with their bodies will have on their suffering, and Virgil explains that it will make it worse. They continue their journey around the circle, until, at the point where the path heads down again, they encounter “Plutus, the great enemy.”
The true nature of gluttony is revealed by the lonely wallowing in the mud of the gluttonous souls, and Dante doesnt need to ask Virgil or the soul they meet about it. Rather for the first time, but not the last, the focus is on what is about to happen in Florence. Dante loved his city, then an independent republic, and he was recognized there as a poet and respected as a citizen, even elected to office in 1300. (The two parties that had earlier torn apart Florence with their battles earlier were the Guelphs and the Ghibellines; the Guelphs had triumphed decisively in 1267, and Dantes family was Guelph.) Beatrice had died young, and Dante was married to someone else and had four children. It was during this prosperous and successful time of his life that he chose to set his book, describing himself as beginning his escape from the Dark Wood by descending into Hell on Good Friday of 1300. By this time, the Guelphs had split into the Blacks and the Whites. In Dantes actual life, the banishment of the Whites that Ciacco predicts, which actually happened in 1301, was the beginning of his own exile, since he was a White. The Blacks accused him on trumped-up charges of graft and threatened him and other powerful Whites with death by burning if they ever returned to Florence.
Exile from Florence was a horrible blow to Dante; its shadow hangs over the whole Divine Comedy. In a sense, the poem is the story of how he became the kind of man who could lose everything and yet give his whole life to serving God and saving his country from the turmoil and corruption he saw everywhere in Florence and in all of Italy. His way of serving was to create a supreme poem to call his fellow Italians back to the true way of gaining happiness, the way he had had to go through Hell to find. So the Divine Comedy is, in part, a poem about a poet becoming ready to write this poem. And Hell is in part a picture of the rottenness and corruption that led to Dantes exile-even the Florentines he admired most in real life, are, Ciacco tells Dante in this canto, utterly cut off from God in eternity, as they were in life. Dante depicts the souls in Hell as able to know the future, but unable to see what is happening in the present in the living world, and so he is able to put in the mouths of the souls in Hell clearer and clearer prophecies of the approaching disaster that will end in his banishment.