Cauldrons Full of Molten Metal: Hell’s Fate for “Covetous Men and Women”

by Paula Bosse

For several years I was a rare books cataloger. This illustration, from an edition of The Shepheards Kalender printed in 1517, jumped out at me (almost literally) when I turned a page and saw it. (See it larger here.) It depicts the terrifying punishment which awaits “covetous men and women” and is one of seven artistic representations of the tortures meted out to those whom indulge in one or more of the Deadly Sins, tortures vividly described by eye-witness Lazarus, newly risen from the dead:

I have seen in the infernall parts a great number of wide cauldrons, and kettles, full of boy­ling lead and Oyle, with other hot metals molten, into which were plunged and dipped the covetous men and women, for to fulfill and replenish them of their insatiate covetise.

I can’t help but think of a particularly unpleasant fondue.

While looking for more information, I found that there is an allusion to this “molten metal” by Shakespeare, in “Timon of Athens”:

Let molten coin be thy damnation…

With this annotation by Rev. H. N. Hudson:

One of the punishments invented for the covetous and avaricious in hell of old was to have gold poured down their throats. In the old Shepherd’s Calendar Lazarus declares himself to have seen covetous men and women in hell dipped in caldrons of molten metal. And in the old black letter ballad of “The Dead Man’s Song”: “Ladles full of melted gold were poured down their throats.”

Wow.

So. Keep that in mind, I guess.

Here’s another illustrated version. Not quite as unsettling as the first one, but still pretty weird. Hell must be filled with a lot of teeming cauldrons….

shep_covetous_hell_james-mew

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Sources & Notes

Top illustration is from a photo I took when looking through a 1517 edition of The Shepheards Kalender. See a cleaner image (which appears to be for sale) here.

Second illustration is from the book Traditional Aspects of Hell (Ancient and Modern) by James Mew (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1903), which, as one might imagine, has a lot of interesting tidbits in it. Luckily, it has been scanned and is available to peruse in its entirety at Google Books, here.

Read about the 16th-century book known as The Shepheards Kalender/The Shepherd’s Calendar in this informative Christie’s description here.

Read the transcribed passage from the Kalender/Calendar about the sin of covitise, here (scroll up one paragraph).

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Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.

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