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

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  • 0:00 Dante's Organization of Hell
  • 0:38 What Is the Ninth Circle Like?
  • 2:07 What Happens in the…
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

This lesson explains how Dante's vision of Hell, specifically the Ninth and most treacherous Circle, is organized and how sinners are punished there in the epic 14th-century poem 'Inferno'.

Dante's Organization of Hell

In Dante Alighieri's long poem Inferno, Dante imagines that he is being led through Hell by the famous Roman poet Virgil. In Dante's imagining of Hell, there are nine concentric circles, meaning one circle within the other. Each circle has different punishments that are based on the sin that a person commits. As Dante and Virgil move through the circles towards the center, the punishments get worse. The people who are sent to the inner circles have committed the worst sins. The Ninth Circle is the final and innermost circle, reserved for the worst kinds of sinners.

What Is the Ninth Circle Like?

The Ninth Circle of Hell is a frozen lake and, like Dante's vision of Hell in general, the Ninth Circle itself is divided into rings of increasingly bad sections with the worst in the center. The people who are sent to the Ninth Circle are people who have betrayed the trust of someone or something close and special. The four sections of the Ninth Circle signify different kinds of betrayal. The outermost layer is called Caina, named after the biblical figure Cain, who killed his brother Abel, and is for people who betray each other over money.

The next ring of the Ninth Circle is called Antenora, named after the Trojan prince Antenor who is featured in Homer's Iliad. This layer is reserved for people who betray their political party or country, because many believe Antenor betrayed Troy.

The third ring of the Ninth Circle is called Ptolomea, after one or both of the Ptolemys in history who killed a visitor. This layer of the Ninth Circle is specifically for people who have betrayed a friend or guest.

The final layer of the Ninth Circle is the worst and is for people who have betrayed their masters; benefactors, or people who have supported them; or God. It's called Judecca, named for Judas, who betrayed Christ in the Bible. The name is similar to the word ''Judaism,'' and also sounds like the word ''Judaica,'' or the Jewish neighborhoods throughout Europe where Jews were forced to live apart from Christians. This double-meaning name hints at the fact that Christians, such as Dante, in the Middle Ages were prejudiced against Jews.

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