Dante's Inferno - The Details of Hell

Dante’s Inferno
The Details of Hell
Dante Alighieri
Excommunicated from the Roman Catholic
Exiled from his home, Florence, Italy.
Authored The Divine Comedy, an epic poem
split into three parts: The Inferno (Hell),
Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso
The Divine Comedy is a Religious Allegory
“Is the discussion of one subject by
disguising it as another which resembles
the first in some striking way.”
 Derived from Dante’s last name
 In an allegory the characters, setting and
plot have a hidden or symbolic meaning
beyond their literal meaning.
 An Allegory teaches a moral lesson.
Roman author of The Aeneid, the national
epic of Rome.
 Virgil is Dante’s guide through Hell.
 “forbids me to come there…” Virgil lived
and died before the establishment of
Christ’s teachings in Rome and cannot
therefore enter Heaven.
The Inferno
Dante is the main character in The Divine
The Inferno is a telling of Dante’s journey
through the nine circles of Hell.
Dante begins his journey through Hell on
Good Friday and ends on Easter Sunday.
This symbolizes the journey of Jesus, crucified
on Good Friday, descended into Hell and was
resurrected to live again on Easter Sunday.
The Nine Circles of Hell
Circle 1- LIMBO
Circle 2- The Lustful
Circles 2-5 are
Sins without
Circle 3- The Gluttonous
They do not hurt
Circle 4- Misers and Spendthrifts
Circle 5- Wrathful and Sullen
Circle 6- Heretics
Circle 7- The Violent (Murder & Suicide)
Circle 8- The Fraudulent
Circle 9- Traitors
Canto I- Chapter 1
The Dark Wood of Error: When Dante
wrote The Divine Comedy he was
going through his own mid-life crisis.
 He had been abandoned and tossed
aside by both church and country and
was now “lost,” experiencing a crisis of
“Midway in our life’s journey, I went
astray from the straight road and woke
to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
Canto I, lines 1-3
The Dark Wood of Error is symbolic of Dante’s
“lost faith,” and the three beasts chasing him are
manifestations of Dante’s sin.
His sins are quite literally chasing him to the
entrance of Hell.
The Leopard of Malice and Fraud
The Lion of Violence and Ambition
The She-wolf of Incontinence
(Lack of self-restraint, especially with regard to sexual activity)
Canto III- Chapter 3
Virgil leads Dante through the Gates of Hell.
As they pass under them Dante reads the
inscription on the threshold:
I am the way into the City of Woe.
I am the way to a Forsaken People.
I am the way into eternal sorrow.
Who do you think wrote this inscription?
Abandon all hope ye who enter here.
This is the end of the fateful inscription each
of the damned would read as they entered into
the gates of Hell.
How would you feel if these words were
inscribed above the classroom door on your
first day of classes next year?
The Ferryman
In the entrance to Circle 1 the dead
must pay the Ferryman, Charon, to
cross the River Acheron. The souls of
the damned are in a hurry to cross the
river and appear before Minos for
judgment. This is the beginning of
their punishment, the desperate need to
be punished despite their despair at
being in Hell.
Charon does not want to let Dante
Pass because he is alive and does not
belong in Hell.
Circle I- LIMBO
Fallen Angels- race endlessly after a blank flag;
These are the fallen angels who took no stand for or
against the rebellious angels during the War in
Heaven between Lucifer and God.
They are now forced to run after a black banner or
flag because they chose no banner to support in the
war of Heaven. The race after the flag without
stopping for eternity.
Also in Circle I
Blameless but un-baptized babies
Old Testament patriarchs (Noah, Abraham, Moses,
Great Pagan and Roman poets and philosophers
comfortable (living in a castle) but separate forever
from God.
Though they are in Hell, these souls live in relative
comfort. The only sin they committed was not being
baptized as a Christian.
Canto V
Virgil and Dante leave Limbo and moves into the
2nd Circle.
Here is where Dante encounters those who
suffer the Sins of LUST and PHYSICAL
•Dante sees many historically famous lovers
during his time here.
Dante even gets to speak with a couple who had
recently died in his time and went to hell for their
•Francesca and Paolo tell Dante that they were
seduced by reading the story of Lancelot and
Guinevere, and became lovers. Subsequently they
were surprised and murdered by Francesca’s
husband before they were able to repent.
Circle II- The Lustful
The second circle is the real beginning of hell. Here
we see a giant tornado, sinners are whirled by winds
as in life they were helpless in tempests of passion.
Paolo and Francesca go swirling by in Canto 5.
They were murdered before they could repent carnal
courtly love as sin. (Dido, Cleopatra, Anthony and
Achilles are all also here)
These are all sinners of LUST and
Other Historic Lovers in Circle 2
Dido – Queen of Carthage/Lover of Aeneas
Cleopatra- Queen of Egypt/Lover of Mark Anthony
Helen- Princess of Greece/Troy/Lover of Paris
Polyxena- Princess of Troy/Lover of Achilles
Isolde- Princess of Ireland/Lover of Tristan
These lovers and more have been swept up in the Tornado of their
passion endlessly reaching for each other, yet eternally kept apart
by the winds of Hell.
Circle III- The Gluttonous
These are the sinners of EXCESS.
People who eat too much, take too many drugs,
drink too much…
This circle is guarded by Cerberus (from Greek
Mythology, he is the 3 headed dog who guarded the
entrance to the Greek Underworld)
In Dante’s Inferno the 3 headed dog continuously
chews on the sinners who are stuck in clumps of
Gluttons who feasted away their lives now lie like
pigs in the mud while the three headed dog takes
him time eating them- forever.
Circle IV- Misers and Spendthrifts
Misers are generally cheap old men who hoard their
money, like Ebenezer Scrooge.
Spendthrifts are people who spend too much money.
Pluto, Roman god of riches, guards the entrance to
the fourth circle.
Sinners take turns rolling stones at each other to
crash against one another- FOREVER.
Circle V- Wrathful and Sullen
The Wrathful sought Revenge in life while the
Sullen were silently angry and made others
miserable with that anger.
The Styx (river of hate) forms a swamp holding the
openly wrathful who strike and bite one another; the
sullen lie under the surface of the marsh, just as their
silent anger lay hidden during their lives.
Dante wrote The Divine Comedy as a form of
revenge against those that would send him into
exile; this was his sin, which is why revenge is not
one of the more extremely punished sins.
Circle VI- The Heretics
Heretics choose their own opinions instead of
following the teachings of the Church.
Heretics are anyone who commits any crime against
the church. They get to spend eternity set on fire and
then buried alive. Their bodies forever burning in
their graves.
Atheists, or those who don’t believe in God, are also
Circle VII- Violence
Violent Sinners are divided into 3 sub-circles:
Violent against Neighbors
Violent against Self
Violent against God
First Ring: Violence against others; includes murderers and
robbers - NOTE: Dante does not really distinguish between
lives and property; stealing a life is the same to Dante as
stealing someone’s property. The damned are submerged in
the Phlegethon – the river of blood, drowning in the blood
of all of Hell’s sinners.
Second Ring: Violence against themselves - suicides
(wasted their bodies) and squanderers (wasted their
Suicides (with harpies) - Harpies in Greek
Mythology steal anything, so here they symbolize
stealing away of the souls by suicides, they puck out
the eyes of their victims. Eyes are the gateway to the
Third Ring: Violence against God - blasphemy and
denial; the worst kind of violence in Dante's worldview. Blasphemy can be anything- from denouncing
God before a crowd of people to saying the Lord’s
name in vain.
Monsters as Guards
Yet another Greek Mythological reference
mentioned in The Inferno is the character of
Chiron – the centaur teacher of Hercules.
Warrior-centaurs patrol this entire circle; they
are half man, half horse and easily angered;
they patrol & torture those who killed others
Circle VIII- Fraud
There are ten different sub-circles of Fraud.
1.Panderers/Seducers (those who tell you what you want
to hear to get something from you)
3.Simoniacs (sell church favor)
5.Grafters (sell political favor)
8.Evil Counselors
9.Sowers of Discord
10.Falsifiers (Alchemists & Counterfeiters)
The Fraud Monster- a reference to
the Serpent Archetype
The Circle of Fraud starts at the base of an abyss, so
Dante and Virgil must descend on the back of the
Fraud Monster, Geryon.
Geryon has a pleasant face and a snake-like body, to
symbolize the pleasant first appearance of fraud and
its twisted snake-like dealings.
This is very much like the pleasant first appearance
of the snake in the Garden of Eden as the friend and
advisor of Eve. The snake gives a false appearance
in order to trick Eve into eating the apple.
Circle IX- Traitors
Dante was betrayed by his countrymen and fellow
politicians. This betrayal sent him into exile which is
why betrayal is considered the most serious sin in
Dante’s version of Hell.
The 9th Circle of hell consists of a frozen lake of ice;
Satan is frozen from the shoulders down at the
center. Satan’s wings continuously flap as he tries to
get free from his frozen jail. The wind created by his
wings is what actually freezes the lake and makes
the rest of the circle cold.
In essence, he is trapping himself.
Canto XXXIV (34)
“On march the banners of the King of Hell,”
my Master said. “Torward us. Look straight
ahead: can you make him out at the core of the
frozen shell?”
As Canto XXXIV begins Virgil is leading
Dante down into the very last circle of Hell.
Satan has three faces.
In each mouth is a historic betrayer eternally being
chewed on.
In mouth 1 and mouth 2 are Brutus and Cassius the
assassinators of Julius Caesar (considered the
greatest Roman leader who sacrificed his life for his
In Mouth 3 is Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus
Christ to his enemies. Christ was put to death
sacrificing his life for his people.
They observe that Satan has three faces.
This is a gross parody of the Catholic
Holy Trinity.
Dante and Virgil have to actually climb
around Satan in order to reach the exit of
This is the end of Dante’s journey
through Hell. Virgil must leave him at the
bottom of the mountain of Purgatory to
climb up and out of Hell alone.
The final Circle of Hell is divided
into 4 sub circles:
Traitors to Kindred or family- Caina named after
Cain, the first murderer of a kinsman
Traitors to Country - Antenora; named after the
Trojan Antenor who in the Middle Ages was
believed to have betrayed Troy to the Greeks.
Traitors to Guests - Ptolomea, named after Ptolemy,
a captain of Jericho who invited guests to a banquet
and then murdered them while they were eating.
Traitors to Masters (or benefactors)
- Judecca is where Satan is munching on Judas,
Cassius and Brutus
Judecca is named for Judas Iscariot who betrayed
Christ. Also includes Cassius and Brutus who
betrayed Julius Caesar. This puts together the
betrayal of masters of Church and State.
The frozen center contains Satan - total absence of
goodness; absolute distance from God; Virgil and
Dante climb down Satan's side to the center of the
earth; exit Hell, and start climbing up toward
Purgatory, but that's another story.
The Image of Stars
As a part of the epic’s symbolism, Dante ends each of
the three parts of The Divine Comedy with the word
Every conclusion of the upward soul is toward the
stars, God’s shining symbols of hope and virtue.
At the end of each part in The Divine Comedy Dante
also travels upward in pursuit of his journey to
Further symbolism can be found in the mythological
names of the constellations. Further emphasizing the
Greek/Roman mythological influences in the work.