A “miser” is a person who spends as little money as possible and hoards wealth, sometimes to the extent of going without even basic comforts and some necessities; a mean, grasping person; frugal to a fault.

Some Christians believe that both the miser and the usurer are guilty of the cardinal sin of avarice. And, since Classical times, writers appear to regard misers as eccentrics. In literature, the majority of the misers are 18th century characters.

One of the most famous misers is Ebenezer Scrooge – the lead character of A Christmas Carol (1843) by Charles Dickens. The story has been adapted many times for stage and screen.

There were two famous references to misers in ancient Greek sources. One was Aesop’s fable of The Miser and his Gold, in which the miser buried his gold and came back to look at it every day. When his treasure was eventually stolen and he was lamenting his loss, he was consoled by a neighbour that he might as well bury a stone (or return to look at the hole) and it would serve the same purpose.

In Asia, misers were the butt of humorous folklore. One very early cautionary tale is the Illisa Jataka from the Buddhist scriptures. This includes two stories, in the first of which a rich miser is miraculously converted to generosity by a disciple of the Buddha; following this, the Buddha tells another story of a miser whose wealth is given away when the king of the gods impersonates him and, when he tries to intervene, is threatened with what will happen if he does not change his ways.

In Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, misers are put in the fourth circle of hell, in company with spendthrifts as part of their mutual punishment. They roll weights representing their wealth, constantly colliding and quarreling.

Misers are now often classified as hoarders. One example, from 1820s Scotland, concerns a woman who died in Stirling on 26 May 1820. Much of the account is taken up with detailing the contents of her three rooms, into which she had let no one enter. Not more than £8 in currency was discovered there, but she had bought and hoarded many articles of dress over the years, although rarely wearing them.

The Aesop story is the one I like best. If you’re going to worship something, pick a rock. Nobody will steal that.

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