Dante's Inferno Fifth Circle of Hell: Punishments & Description

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  • 0:04 Circles One Through Four
  • 0:48 The Fifth Circle
  • 1:42 Fifth Circle Description
  • 3:30 Punishment
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Arielle Windham

Arielle has worked worked with elementary, middle, and secondary students in American and Japan. She has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in Education.

Dante has seen a lot of suffering and torment on his descent through Hell. Now he approaches the Fifth Circle. This lesson will cover the description and punishment doled out in that circle from Cantos VII and VIII of Dante's Inferno.

Circles One Through Four

By the time he reaches the top of the Fifth Circle, Dante has been traveling through Hell for about a day. He has seen much suffering, from Limbo, the First Circle, where the Unbaptized and Virtuous pagans grieve for their hopeless existence out of God's grace, to the Fourth where the Hoarders and Squanderers roll and smash boulders against each other endlessly. He has passed through the windswept plain of Lust in the Second Circle and the cold rain and mire of Gluttony in the Third.

As Dante descends further and further from the Light of God, the sins and punishments worsen. Now he and Virgil stand at the precipice of the Fifth Circle, reserved for those guilty of the sin of Wrath. What deplorable creatures will they find below?

The Fifth Circle

Before we follow Dante and Virgil into the darkness, let's take a moment to discuss the deadly sin of Wrath. Wrath is defined as extreme anger. If you are picturing a blood-soaked berserker, you aren't far off. These are the tormented souls fighting and howling on the surface of the Fifth Circle. Dante will even come face to face with one of these violent, angry, ferocious souls that embody wrath.

He will also hear about, but not see, another type of tormented soul - the Sullen. Their sin is a little harder to define. Think of it as the opposite side of the coin from the angry wrath Dante sees on the surface, kind of a repressed wrath. Sullen is defined as gloomy or bad-tempered. When they were alive, the Sullen didn't appreciate the beauty of God's creation; instead, they turned away from everything.

Sinners in the Fifth Circle by William Blake

So what happens to these souls in the Fifth Circle?

Fifth Circle Description

Well, as Dante descends, his description of his surroundings improves. Funny, since Hell is a pit, and it can only be getting darker as he descends.

At the top edge of the Fifth Circle, he and Virgil come across a spring of dark water that cascades down further into the circle and becomes the Marsh, or Lake, of Styx. The travelers descend along the same path as the black water to the gray shores of the marsh, where they find naked, angry souls grappling in the muck. We'll talk more about them in a little bit, but for now, let's keep on with what Dante sees.

Dante and Virgil on the Shores of Styx
shore of styx

Dante takes in the fighting shades. Virgil points out that the bubbles gurgling to the surface around them are the sighs of still more souls buried by the muck.

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