In Canto VII we meet the Hoarders and the Wasters, the Wrathful and the Sullen. The opening commentary in our Ciardi translation says that these “souls are encumbered by dead weights and one excess serves to punish the other.
This reminds me of how often I have met those who are “so brave and bold” in all of their talk but “quite cowards” in the moment of crisis. Likewise, I have seen those who it would be hard, due to their humility, to see as bold warriors until, the moment arrived, they show great magnanimity. I say this from my experience leading soldiers in combat, and my point here is its relation to the cardinal virtues, in which a median is what is sought between extremes.
To continue with the example of fortitude, the virtuous person is neither a coward nor a purposeless daredevil. In fact, I’ve seen a few who were “brave enough” to do stupid and risky things quite often who yet failed when true courage was needed. To carry my point a little beyond the direct context of our Canto, I am of the firm belief that today we have a great shortage of real men. We have two extremes, however, in great abundance: the effeminate, emasculated and the tough guy and/or womanizer.
Few men realize that a true man should ALWAYS be a warrior and RARELY be at war (with the notable exception of the constant war we must fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil).
Virgil’s words of comfort to Dante are striking; “Do not be startled, for now power of his, however he may lord it over the damned, may hinder your descent through the abyss.” Whether inspired by these similar words or not, I instantly think of St. Paul’s comforting words; “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
It is the “King of Time” as Canto V had it that decrees that Dante walk this path, and this from His throne in heaven where “what is willed must be, and is not” Minos’ or Plutus’ or anyone else’s place to question. We, likewise, must trust in the Lord when Dame Fortune leads us where she will, knowing all has been decreed by God, for we know (again Paul to the Romans) that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”