Dante's Inferno: Circles of Hell & Punishments

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  • 0:03 The Inferno Background
  • 0:46 The Circles of Hell
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Crystal Hall

Crystal has a bachelor's degree in English, a certification in General Studies, and has assisted in teaching both middle and high school English.

'Inferno', an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri in the early 1300s, follows the journey of Dante, guided by the Spirit Virgil, through the nine circles of Hell and the subsequent punishments for each.

Unbroken Circles

In 'Inferno,' the first part of the larger work The Divine Comedy, Dante must travel through nine different levels of Hell to save the soul of his beloved, Beatrice. Each of the circles represents a specific sin, comes with its own set of trials and torments, and is often inhabited by notable figures in history that are associated with each sin.

With the Spirit Virgil as his guide, Dante navigates his way through the deepest, darkest pits of despair imaginable:

''The gateway to the city of Doom. Through me
The entrance to the Everlasting Pain.
The Gateway of the Lost.''

The Circles of Hell

First Circle

Let's first look at the first circle. The first circle Dante encounters is limbo, which contains the souls of those who, despite living righteous lives, didn't accept Jesus Christ into their hearts and were thus cursed from entering Heaven, as said in the poem:

''The misery of that sight of souls in Hell
Condemned, and constant in their loss, prevailed
So greatly in me, that I may not tell
How passed I from them, sense and memory failed
So far.''

Second Circle

Let's now take a look at the second circle. The second circle is lust, where the inhabitants must constantly deal with raging wind storms that symbolize the swaying of passions involved in adulterous relationships.

Third Circle

Now, let's look at the third circle. In the third circle of gluttony, those with insatiable appetites are trapped in a freezing slush and are guarded by the three-headed dog, Cerberus. As described in the poem:

''For sodden around me was the place of bane,
The third doomed circle, where the culprits know
The cold, unceasing, and relentless rain
Pour down without mutation.''

Fourth Circle

Now let's look at the fourth circle. The fourth circle of greed, guarded by Plutus, the mythical deity of wealth, torments the souls by literally weighing them down with material possessions.

Fifth Circle

Now onto the fifth circle. The fifth circle of wrath is also known as Styx and serves as a giant river filled with souls who fight each other for all eternity. As the poem says:

''There is no greater woe
In all Hell's depths than cometh when those who
Look back to Eden.''

Sixth Circle

And next, there's the sixth circle.Those in the sixth circle of heresy, or convictions that oppose orthodox religious doctrine, are encased in flaming tombs.

Seventh Circle

Now let's look at the seventh circle. The seventh circle of violence is guarded by the Minotaur and is divided into three sections based upon whom an individual held violent thoughts or actions, with punishments including a river of blood, thorny trees, and burning sand.

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