Dante's Inferno Quotes About Limbo

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  • 0:04 What Is Limbo?
  • 1:26 A Tale of Two Limbos
  • 3:16 Limbo vs. Purgatory
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karen Wolak

Karen has taught 4-8th grade English/Language Arts and has worked closely with adult learners for several years. M.Ed. in Adult Education.

The first circle of Hell in Dante's ''Inferno'' is known as Limbo, and this circle is unique compared to the rest. Let's review the text to identify its characteristics and background.

What Is Limbo?

Dante's Inferno contains images that one would expect to see in Hell. One can barely get through a canto without encountering fire, demons, and souls in anguish. However, the first (and largest) circle of Hell is different than the rest. The violence and terrors found in other circles are not found here.

Virgil advises that there are two categories of souls in this first circle. He says,

''They did not sin: yet even their just merits
Were not enough, for they lacked baptism,
The gateway of the faith that you profess.
And, if they lived before the Christian era,
They did not worship God in the right way.''

In other words, this is an area of Hell reserved for those who were not baptized or those who were born before the time of Christ. Catholic tradition refers to this place as Limbo. Since Virgil was born before the time of Christ, he resides in this area of Hell.

The inhabitants of Dante's Limbo were not egregious sinners, as in the other circles of Hell. Virgil goes on to say,

''For this failure and for no other fault
Here we are lost, and our sole punishment
Is without hope to live on in desire.''

The souls who have ''no other fault'' than living before the time of Christ are known as virtuous pagans, or good people who simply weren't exposed to Christ's teachings. For this reason, the gruesome punishments associated with the other circles of Hell are not found in Limbo. The punishment for these souls is simply eternal separation from the glory of Heaven.

A Tale of Two Limbos

Dante describes Limbo as a gloomy, dimly-lit, wooded place. Looking down into it, Dante describes it as ''Dark and deep and foggy.''

What he first mistakes as cries of anguish coming from the valley turn out to be sighs of deep sadness. It is filled with: ''crowds, multitudinous and vast,
Of babies and of women and of men.''

The sadness of the realm is infectious. Prior to entering, Dante recognizes Virgil's unease. Virgil responds,

''The anguish of the people
Who are down here blanches my complexion
With the pity that you mistake for fear.''

After Dante realizes where he is and the fate of the souls around him, he says,

''Deep sorrow crushed my heart when I heard him,
Because both men and women of great worth
I knew to be suspended here in limbo.''

However, the further into Limbo they travel, the less bleak it seems. Dante describes a brightly-lit castle surrounded by seven high walls and a beautiful moat. Within the walls is an ''emerald green'' meadow of fresh grass.

The souls in this area aren't sighing, as the earlier inhabitants were. They're quiet and ''In their appearance neither sad nor joyful'' (IV.84). While these souls may have a better dwelling place than the others, it's clear from their blank expressions this improved environment still does not bring them lasting happiness.

When Dante asks about the souls in the brighter part of Limbo, Virgil says,

''Their distinguished names
Which yet re-echo in your world above
Win for them heaven's grace which furthers them.''

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