Virgil and Dante continue down toward the Fourth Circle of Hell and come upon the demon Plutus. Virgil quiets the creature with a word and they enter the circle, where Dante cries out at what he sees: a ditch has been formed around the circle, making a great ring. Within the ring, two groups of souls push weights along in anger and pain. Each group completes a semicircle before crashing into the other group and turning around to proceed in the opposite direction. The souls condemned to this sort of torturous, eternal jousting match, Virgil explains, are those of the Avaricious and the Prodigal, who, during their lives, hoarded and squandered, respectively, their money.
Dante, as before, inquires whether he knows any of the souls here. Virgil informs him that most of the Avaricious are corrupt clergymen, popes, and cardinals but adds that the experiences they undergo here render them unrecognizable. He notes that the Avaricious and Prodigal share one essential characteristic: they were not prudent with the goods of Fortune. Dante asks Virgil to explain the nature of this “Fortune.” Virgil replies that Fortune has received orders from God to transfer worldly goods between people and between nations. Her swift movements evade human understanding; thus, men should not curse her when they lose their possessions.
Pondering this explanation, Dante follows Virgil down to the Fifth Circle of Hell, which borders the muddy river Styx. They see souls crouched on the bank, covered in mud, and striking and biting at each other. They are the Wrathful, those who were consumed with anger during their lives. Virgil alerts Dante to the presence of additional souls here, which remain invisible to him as they lie completely submerged in the Styx—these are the Sullen, those who muttered and sulked under the light of the sun. They now gurgle and choke on the black mud of the swampy river.
Continuing around the Fifth Circle of Hell, Virgil and Dante come to a tall tower standing on the bank, its pinnacle bursting with flames. Virgil and Dante encounter the boatman Phlegyas, who takes them across the Styx at Virgil’s prompting. On the way, they happen upon a sinner whom Dante angrily recognizes as Filippo Argenti. He has no pity for Argenti and gladly watches the other sinners tear him apart as the boat pulls away.
Virgil announces that they are now approaching the city of Dis—Lower Hell. As they near the entrance, a host of fallen angels cries out. They demand to know why one of the living dares to try to enter Dis. Virgil again provides a rationale for Dante’s presence, but, for the first time, he proves unsuccessful in gaining entrance. The demons slam the gate in Virgil’s face, and he returns to Dante hurt but not defeated.
Dante grows pale with fear upon seeing Virgil’s failure. Virgil, who appears to be waiting for someone impatiently, weakly reassures Dante. Suddenly, Dante sees three Furies—creatures that are half woman, half serpent. They shriek and laugh when they notice Dante, and call for Medusa to come and turn him into stone. Virgil quickly covers Dante’s eyes so that he will not see Medusa’s head.