Dante’s Inferno 9 Circles of Hell: Inferno, the first part of Dante’s Divine Comedy that motivated the latest Dan Brown’s blockbuster of the identical title explains the poet’s imagination of Hell. The story starts with the narrator (who is the poet himself) being dropped in a dark wood where he is struck by three beasts which he cannot fly. He is unleashed by the Roman poet Virgil who is sent by Beatrice (Dante’s ideal woman). Together, they start the journey into the netherworld or the 9 Circles of Hell.
Dante’s Inferno 9 Circles of Hell
Dante’s ‘Inferno’, an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in 1300, chronicles the journey of Dante as he is guided through the Nine Circles of Hell by an ancient poet named Virgil. This lesson will focus on the Seventh Circle of Violence.
1st Circle of Hell (Limbo)
Dante’s First Circle of Hell is inhabited by virtuous non-Christians and unbaptized pagans who are punished forever in an inferior form of Heaven. They live in a palace with seven gates which symbolize the seven virtues. Here, Dante sees many noticeable people from classical obsolescence such as Homer, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Hippocrates, and Julius Caesar.
- Area: Upper Hell, Limbo, were those that led virtuous lives but were unsaved dwell.
- Located In Cantos: IV
- Icons: Classical poets, Homer, Ovid, Lucan, and Horace; characters from the Aeneid such as Aeneas and Lavinial; the mathematician Euclid, and Ptolemy, the Astronomer.
- Punishment/ Contrapasso: Unbaptized/ virtuous pagans – struck with grief from a lack of god’s presence.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Harrowing of Hell, when Christ descends in the days between his death and resurrection; Aristotle, “the Philosopher.”
2nd Circle of Hell (Lust)
In the Second Circle of Hell, Dante and his guide Virgil find people who were overwhelmed by lust. They are penalized by being blown furiously back and forth by strong winds, stopping them from finding peace and rest. Strong winds express the restlessness of a person who is driven by the desire for sensual pleasures. Again, Dante sees many notable people from history and belief including Cleopatra, Tristan, Helen of Troy, and others who were unfaithful during their lifetime.
- Area: Upper Hell, the sins of incontinence, where the lustful dwell.
- Located In Canto: V
- Minos, the monster, the magistrate of the underworld who checks the accounts of each individual sentenced to hell. The tail of Minos is coiled around himself a number of times according to the circle of hell a special soul is condemned to.
- Francesca Da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta are punished together in the second circle for infidelity because Francesca was settled in marriage to Paolo’s brother, the crippled Gianciotto, but when Gianciotto found out that his brother and Francesca were performing adultery, he killed them both. Francesca and Paolo were buried together in a single tomb.
- Dido, classified as “the other spirit” in canto V inline 61, was the wife of Sychaeus, who was killed by the king of Tyre, Pygmalion. Upon reading of the murder from the shade of Sychaeus, Dido leaves Tyre for a new city, Carthage in North Africa. Virgil’s Aeneid recounts Dido’s love for Aeneas, who leaves for Italy after being recalled by the gods of his destiny as founder of Rome. In the anguish of this, Dido commits suicide.
- Punishment/ Contrapasso: Lustful–blown about by the violent and endless wind.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Famous Lovers like Dido, Cleopatra, Helen, Achilles, Paris, Tristan; the Arthurian Legend of Lancelot and Guinevere.
3rd Circle of Hell (Gluttony)
When reaching the Third Circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil find souls of gluttons who are faced by a worm-monster Cerberus. Sinners in this circle of Hell are penalized by being compelled to lie in a vile slush that is presented by never-ending icy rain. The vile slush expresses the personal degradation of one who overindulges in food, drink, and mysterious pleasures, while the incapacity to see others lying nearby represents the gluttons’ selfishness and coldness.
Here, Dante speaks to a role termed Ciacco who also informs him that the Guelphs (a fraction sustaining the Pope) will defeat and dismiss the Ghibellines (a fraction supporting the Emperor to which Dante adhered) from Florence which occurred in 1302 before the poem was written (after 1308).
- Area: Upper Hell, sins of incontinence, where the Gluttonous dwell.
- Located In Canto: VI
- Cerberus, the mythical three-headed dog from Virgil’s Aeneid, who watches the way, and is dealt with by Virgil who throws a handful of dust into the beast’s mouth.
- Ciacco, a Florentine man, possibly known of by Dante, notorious for perpetuating the sin of gluttony.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Gluttons-forced to lie on the ground in sewage as they are bombarded with cold rain, hail, and black snow, tormented by Cerberus.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: The Politics of Florence (1300s), with the political division of the Black and White Guelph factions, Dante’s resulting exile (1302-1321); the Last Review, with reference to the “sound of the angelic trumpet,” and the “hostile judge” in lines 94-96.
4th Circle of Hell (Greed)
In the Fourth Circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil see the souls of people who are sentenced for greed. They are divided into two groups – those who acquired possessions and those who lavishly filled it – jousting. They use great weights as a weapon, forcing it with their chests which symbolizes their selfish drive for fortune during their lifetime. The two groups that are guarded by a character called Pluto (probably the old Greek ruler of the underworld) are so controlled with their actions that the two poets don’t try to speak to them. Here, Dante speaks to see many clergymen including cardinals and popes.
- Area: Upper Hell, sins of incontinence, where the avarice and prodigal souls dwell.
- Located in Canto: VII
- Icons: Plutus, a demon of avarice, guardian of the fourth circle, who controls the power of great speech and an ability to respond somehow to Virgil’s words of dismissal at Plutus’ invocations of Satan at the start of canto VII.
- Hoarders-forced to force boulders to the center of the circle.
- Spenders-forced to force boulders back out of the center of the circle.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Corrupt Clergy, Fortuna.
5th Circle of Hell (Anger)
The Fifth Circle of Hell is where the angry and irritable are punished for their sins. Exiled on a boat by Phlegyas, Dante and Virgil see the furious combat each other on the surface of the river Styx and the sullen gurgling under the surface of the water. Again, the punishment returns the type of sin performed during their lifetime. While passing through, the poets are approached by Filippo Argenti, a prominent Florentine politician who appropriated Dante’s property after his expulsion from Florence.
- Area: Upper Hell, sins of incontinence, where the Wrathful and Sullen dwell, the City of Dis
- Located In Cantos: VII-VII-Wrathful & Sullenness; VIII-IX-Dis
- Icons: Phlegyas, in Canto VIII; Filippo Argenti, in Canto VIII; Fallen Angels, in Canto VIII; Fueies and Medusa in Cantos VIII-IX; Heaven’s Messenger, In Canto IX.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: The Wrathful engage in combat with one another on the surface of the river Styx, and the Sullen are rushed to the bottom of the river Styx to choke and struggle in the mire.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: The River Styx, in Cantos VII-VIII; Harrowing of Hell, in Cantos VIII; Theseus and Hercules, in Cantos IX; Erichtho, in Cantos IX; the use of Allegory, in Cantos IX.
6th Circle of Hell (Heresy)
When reaching the Sixth Circle of Hell, Dante and Virgil see heretics who are condemned to an eternity in flaming tombs. Here, Dante talks with a couple of Florentines – Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti – but he also sees other renowned historical characters including the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, and Pope Anastasius II. The latter, however, is according to some convenient scholars denounced by Dante as a heretic by confusion. Instead, as some scholars claim, the poet probably meant the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I.
- Area: Nether Hell, Sins of Violence, City of Dis, where the Heretics dwell.
- Located In Canto: X-XI
- Farinata degli Uberti, who rises from the waist up out of a burning tomb during Dante’s encounter, recognizes Dante by his language and happens to be the Florentine leader of the Ghibellines—an enemy of the Guelphs, Dante’s ancestor’s political party. Farinata and his wife were both posthumously credited with heresy, dismissed, their bodies were removed from a grave to be burned. The politics of Farinata caused wars and countless vendettas, which would point to the political divide in Florence and eventually Dante’s exile.
- Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti, who lifts his head from the tomb during the encounter with Dante and Virgil, was a member of the powerfully rich Guelph family and reflects an obsession with the fate of his son during the dialogue with Dante.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Heretics-locked in burning stone coffins, the damned souls’ inability to see the present, and only the future.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Guido Cavalcanti; Epicurus, Frederick II, Florentine Politics (the 1300s), Guelphs and Ghibellines, Hyperopia.
7th Circle of Hell (Violence)
The Seventh Circle of Hell is distributed into three rings. The Outer Ring houses murderers and others who were violent to other people and property. Here, Dante sees Alexander the Great (disputed), Dionysius I of Syracuse, Guy de Montfort, and many other important traditional and imaginary figures such as the Centaurus, submerged into a river of boiling blood and fire. In the Middle Ring, the poet sees self-murders who have been transformed into trees and bushes which are fed upon by harpies. But he also sees here profligates, scattered and torn to pieces by dogs. In the Inner Ring are blasphemers and sodomites, residing in a desert of burning sand and burning rain falling from the sky.
- Area: Nether hell, sins of violence, Phlegethon, Wood of suicides, Abominable Sand, the great barrier and
- Located In Cantos: XII-Murder; XIII-Suicide; XIV-Blasphemy; XV-XVI-Sodomy; XVII-Usary
Ring One: Violent against their neighbors: the souls forced to swim in a boiling stream of blood:
- Located in Cantos: XII
- Icons: The Minotaur, the half-bull, half-man, is a guardian and a symbol of this circle’s violence because the creature is emphasized by Dante with a bestial rage; Centaurs, creatures that display bodies of horses from the waist down and bodies of men from the waist up, help to secure the first ring of the seventh circle with bows and arrows.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Violent against their neighbors: the souls forced to swim in a boiling stream of blood.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Phlegethon
Ring two: the violent against themselves: suicides-transformed into thorny trees that are ripped apart by Harpies:
- Located in Cantos: XIII
- Harpies, the foul creatures that highlight the head of a woman with the body of a bird remain perched in the suicide trees, tearing and picking at the limbs and leaves;
- Pier Della Vigna, a succeeded poet, ended up as a victim of his faithful service unto his state and Frederick II, guilty of fraud to the emperor and accused of betraying Frederick, who believed the accusations and had Pier put in prison and blinded; Pier took his own life because he was unable to accept that his faith was questioned.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: The violent against themselves: suicides-transformed into thorny trees that are ripped apart by Harpies and unable to be reunited with their bodies.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Polydorus, The old man of Crete, St. John the Baptist as Florence’s patron.
Ring three: The violent against God: blasphemers/sodomites/usurers-condemned to a desert of blazing sand
with the constant rain of fire:
- Located in Cantos: XIV-XVII
- Icons: Capaneus, in Cantos XIV; Brunetto Latini, Cantos XV; Geryon, in Cantos XVI-XVII.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: The violent against God: blasphemers/sodomites/usurers-condemned to a desert of blazing sand with the constant rain of fire.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Capeneus, Brunetto Latini, Geryon
8th Circle of Hell (Fraud)
The Eighth Circle of Hell is occupied by the fraudulent. Dante and Virgil reach it on the back of Geryon, a flying monster with different characters, just like the fraudulent. This circle of Hell is distributed into 10 Bolgias or stony ditches with bridges between them. In Bolgia 1, Dante discusses panderers and seducers. In Bolgia 2 he finds flatterers. After passing the bridge to Bolgia 3, he and Virgil see those who are guilty of simony.
After passing another bridge between the ditches to Bolgia 4, they find sorcerers and false prophets. In Bolgia 5 are housed dishonest politicians, in Bolgia 6 are hypocrites and in the remaining 4 ditches, Dante finds hypocrites (Bolgia 7), thieves (Bolgia 7), evil counselors and advisers (Bolgia 8), divisive individuals (Bolgia 9) and many falsifiers such as alchemists, perjurers, and counterfeits (Bolgia 10).
- Area: Nether Hell, Sins of Fraud or Malice, Simple Sins, Malebolge (evil pouches), ten pouches.
- Located in Cantos: XVII-XXX
- 1st pouch- pimps/panderers/seducers-whipped by demons while marching –cantos 18.
- Icons: Venedico Caccianemico, Jason.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: pimps/panderers/seducers-whipped by demons while marching.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Malebolge, Bolgia
- 2nd pouch- flatterers-immersed in human excrement-cantos 18.
- Icons: Alessio Interminei of Lucca, Thais.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: immersed in human excrement, which represents the words they produced in the living world.
- 3rd pouch- Simoniacs/Simoners-placed in holes head first with their legs exposed and their feet burned-cantos 19.
- Icons: Pope Nicholas III, Simon Magus, Simon Peter, Pope Boniface VIII, Pope Clement V.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Placed in holes head first with their legs exposed and their feet burned.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Simon Magus, St. Peter, Pope Boniface VIII, Pope Clement V, Donation of Constantine.
- 4th pouch- Sorcery/diviners-contorted until their heads are backward and they cry until blind-cantos 20.
- Icons: Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Manto, Aruns, Michael Scot, Alberto De Casalodi, Guido Bonatti.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Sorcery/diviners-contorted until their heads are backward and they cry until blind.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Mantua
- 5th pouch- Corrupt politicians-immersed in the pool of boiling pitch-cantos 21-23.
- Icons: Malebranche (“Evil Claws”), Malacoda (“Evil Tail”), Ciampolo.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: corrupt politicians-immersed in the pool of boiling pitch.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Harrowing of Hell
- 6th pouch- hypocrites-forced to wear clothes made of lead-cantos 23.
- Icons: Catalano and Loderingo, Pope Sixtus V, Caiaphas.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Hypocrites-forced to wear clothes made of lead as they listlessly walk, to represent the falsity behind their actions.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: The Jovial Friers, the papacy, Christ’s crucifixion.
- 7th pouch- More fraud/thieves-chased and bitten by reptiles-cantos 24-25.
- Icons: Vanni Fucci, the Centaur Cacus.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: More fraud/thieves-chased and bitten by reptiles, as they stole in life, their very identity is stolen from them in the eternal death.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Incarnational Parody, Lucan, and Ovid.
- 8th pouch- Fraudulent rhetoric/false counselors-wrapped in individual columns of flame- cantos 25-27.
- Icons: Ulysses and Diomedes, Guido de Montfeltro.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Fraudulent rhetoric/false counselors-wrapped in individual columns of flame.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: The Trojan War, The Trojan Horse, Elijah’s Chariot, Eteocles, and Polynices, Pope Boniface VIII, St. Francis and the Franciscan order.
- 9th pouch- Divisiveness/Schismatics-split from chin to groin by sword-cantos 27-29.
- Icons: Mohammed and Ali, Bertran de Born.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Divisiveness/Schismatics-split from chin to groin by the sword.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Elijah’s Chariot, Islam, Sunni and Shiite, Henry the Young King against Henry II.
- 10th pouch- Falsification/falsifiers-compelled to scratch their itching skin-cantos 29-30.
- Icons: Adam and Sinon the Greek.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Falsification/falsifiers-compelled to scratch their itching skin; they were a disease to society, now a disease to themselves.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Potiphar’s wife, The Trojan Horse, Gianni Schicchi, Myrrha.
- 1st pouch- pimps/panderers/seducers-whipped by demons while marching –cantos 18.
9th Circle of Hell (Treachery)
The last Ninth Circle of Hell is divided into 4 Rounds according to the seriousness of the sin. Though all residents are frozen in an icy lake. Those who performed more severe sin are more buried within the ice. Each of the 4 Rounds is called after an individual who represents the sin. Thus Round 1 is named Caina after Cain who killed his brother Abel, Round 2 is called Antenora after Anthenor of Troy who was Priam’s counselor during the Trojan War, Round 3 is named Ptolomaea after Ptolemy (son of Abubus), while Round 4 is named Judecca after Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
- Area: Nether Hell, Sins of Fraud or Malice, Well of Giants, Complex, Cocytus, Traitors, nearing Earth’s Center.
- Located in Cantos: 31-34
- Caina- betrayed of Kin-lodged headfirst in blocks of ice-cantos 31-32.
- Icons: The Giants Nimrod, Ephialtes, Antaeus, in Cantos XXXI; Bocca degli Abati, in Cantos XXXII.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: Betrayed of Kin—lodged in blocks of ice head down.
- Allusions, Devices, Metaphors, Similes: Cain and Abel, King Arthur, Other Giants Briareus, Tityus, Typhon, The River Cocytus.
- Antenora- betrayers of country-forced to eat one another-cantos 32-33.
- Icons: Ugulino and Ruggieri, in cantos XXXII-XXXIII.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: betrayers of country-forced to eat one another
- Ptolomea- betrayers of guests-lodged head up in squares of ice with frost freezing their eyes so that they cannot cry-cantos 33.
- Icons: Ugolino and Ruggieri, Fra Alberigo.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: betrayers of guests-lodged head up in squares of ice with frost freezing their eyes so that they cannot cry.
- Judecca- betrayers of benefactors-contorted and lodged completely within blocks of ice-cantos 34.
- Icons: Lucifer, with Brutus, Cassius, Judas Iscariot-chewed endlessly in Lucifer’s Jaws.
- Punishment/Contrapasso: betrayers of benefactors-contorted and lodged completely within blocks of ice.
- Caina- betrayed of Kin-lodged headfirst in blocks of ice-cantos 31-32.