Greed in Chaucer and Dante's Works

Positive Greed vs. Negative Greed

Being aware of how greed can affect oneself can allow for both positive and negative outcomes. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Pardoner’s Tale, the Pardoner portrays the disastrous effects of greed. In Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, the author illustrates the punishments involved with greed throughout Dante’s journey in Hell. One can define greed as the unreasonable desire to possess objects, wealth, or goods of excess value with the intention to keep it for one’s self, far beyond what is necessary for basic survival.

The Pardoner comprehends his own struggles with greed but continues to take pride in his corruption, while Dante understands the punishments involved with greed, and feels repentant because of his awareness of being guilty.

Chaucer’s story of The Pardoner’s Tale begins with the prologue, describing the occupation of the Pardoner-a combination of itinerant preaching and selling promises of salvation. The Pardoner admits that he preaches solely to get money, not to correct sin, and states that “It’s greed alone that makes me sermonize” (Chaucer 46).

He gives a similar sermon to every congregation and then breaks out his bag of “relics”—which, he willingly acknowledges to the listening pilgrims, are fake. He straightforwardly accuses himself of fraud, avarice, and gluttony—the very things he preaches against. And yet, rather than expressing any sort of remorse with his confession, he takes a stubborn pride in the depth of his corruption of greediness.

In Dante’s The Inferno, the main character called Dante has lost his way on the “true path” of life; in other words, sin has obstructed his path to God.

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Dante arranges Hell into nine unique circles, the third circle of being home to the greedy. During Dante’s adventure, we learn that in the third layer of Hell, those who are greedy, or those who excessively pursued pleasure in life, now lie in an overabundance of disgust. The excrement that smothers the souls constitutes both the literal and figurative product of their greedy and wasteful consumption (The World of Dante). Throughout the novel, Dante shows sympathy toward the souls who are being punished, since he comprehends his own faults and realizes that he himself is blameworthy of these sins, including greed.

As a worldly psychological concept, greed is an inordinate desire to acquire or possess more than one needs. The degree of excessiveness is related to the inability to control the restructuring of “wants” once desired “needs” are eliminated. Erich Fromm, a well-known German social psychologist, described greed as “a bottomless pit which exhausts the person in an endless effort to satisfy the need without ever reaching satisfaction.” (Fromm) It is typically used to criticize those who seek excessive material wealth, although it may apply to the need to feel more excessively moral, social, or better than someone else. One can embrace greed, as the Pardoner has done, or one can try to become an improved individual, as Dante attempts and acquires to do.

Chaucer places The Pardoner at the very bottom of humanity because he uses the church and holy, religious objects as tools to profit personally. The Pardoner upholds that, although he is not moral himself, he can tell a very moral tale; he hates greed, but he is greed. Since Dante sees what can happen to those who commit such sins, he strives to learn from his journey through Hell and make himself the best version possible from his experience. Both characters are aware of the outcomes of greed, but the path each character chooses is their own decision.

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Greed in Chaucer and Dante's Works. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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