Dante's Inferno History

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here...

Dante's Inferno: the poem explainedDante

In 1310, an Italian called Dante published an epic poetic story called the Divine Comedy.
In a nutshell, the Divine Comedy is a 14th century version of a buddy movie that sees Dante and his guardian angel, Virgil, journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.
Dante's Inferno is the first part of this epic poem which brings the medieval vision of Hell vividly to life. In Dante's Inferno, Hell is depicted as nine Circles of suffering located within the Earth. As Dante and Virgil descend through the various levels, they discover all sorts of imaginative tortures (getting progressively worse) associated with each level and the sin that got them there in the first place.

Nine Circles of Hell

Crossing the River Acheron into Hell...
Dante passes through the gate of Hell, which bears an inscription, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here". Before entering Hell completely, Dante and his guide see the souls who did nothing with their lives (good or bad) and who are therefore neither in Hell nor out of it. These wasted souls reside on the shores of the Acheron while pursued by wasps and hornets that continually sting them while maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears.
After crossing the river Acheron, Virgil and Dante enter the first Circle of Hell...

  • First Circle (Limbo)
    This is where the unbaptized and virtuous pagans reside. Not exactly sinful, these are the dudes who didn't believe in God or accept Christ and are forced to lament this for all eternity with no hope of ever being accepted into Heaven.
  • Second Circle (Lust)
    Those overcome by sins of the flesh are punished in this Circle. They are the first sinners to be truly punished in Hell; being perpetually battered and beaten about by a violent storm, without ever hope of rest. Sick bags at the ready...
  • Third Circle (Gluttony)
    The gluttons are forced to lie in stinky, vile pits filled with waste and putrid sludge howling like dogs. This symbolizes the rubbish the gluttons made of their lives on earth. They are constantly rained and hailed on, and are forced to consume their own excrement.
  • Fourth Circle (Greed)
    Those who had an insatiable desire to spend, spend, spend; those who hoarded possessions; and those who squandered them are condemned to an eternity of performing useless labour, a reflection of the uselessness of a lifetime of greed. They are forced to push painfully huge weights; their faces pressed into the earth - an eternal reminder they had cared too much about earthly possessions.
  • Fifth Circle (Anger)
    In the slimy swamp-like waters of the fifth circle, the wrathful fight each other on the surface, while the sullen, moody and listless lie gurgling and rotting in their own self-hatred and pity beneath the water.
  • Sixth Circle (Heresy)
    In this circle, heretics are buried in tombs and set on fire.
  • Seventh Circle (Violence)
    This circle houses the violent who are split into three categories (or circles):
    • The outer circle, houses those who were violent against people and property. These people are who are thrown into a river of boiling blood. The more blood they spilled, the more Hellish the river.
    • The middle circle is home to those who committed suicide. Because they threw away their bodies in life, so they are stripped of their bodies in death; transformed into gnarled thorny bushes which are torn at by demons.
    • The inner circle houses blasphemers. Their punishment for violence against God is to reside in a desert of flaming sand with fire raining from the sky.
  • Eighth Circle (Fraud)
    The last two circles of Hell punish sins that involve fraud or treachery. Here:
    • Pimps and seducers march in separate lines in opposite directions, whipped by demons.
    • Flatterers are steeped in human excrement. This is a reflection of all the s**t that came out of their mouths.
    • Those who committed simony (the buying or selling of religious pardons, jobs, or money) are forced to endure the opposite of a baptism, being placed head-first in a hole with flames burning on the soles of their feet.
    • Fortune tellers have their heads twisted around on their bodies backward so they can only see into the past.
    • Corrupt politicians are immersed in a lake of boiling tar, which represents their sticky fingers and dark secrets.
    • Hypocrites are forced to wear gilded lead cloaks which look beautiful on the outside, but are torturous to wear.
    • Thieves are pursued and bitten by snakes and lizards.
    • Fraudulent advisors are covered in flames. They, like their true thoughts in life, cannot be seen.
    • Those guilty of spreading hate, malicious gossip and animosity in life are hacked at by sword-wielding demons that divide parts of their bodies - a fitting punishment for having divided people in life.
    • Counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators, who Dante sees as a disease on society, are themselves afflicted with different types of horrific diseases.
  • Ninth Circle (Treachery)
    In the Ninth Circle, various types of traitors are frozen in a lake of ice. Each group of traitors is encased in ice to a different depth, ranging from only the neck and through to complete immersion.
    • Kindred traitors are immersed in the ice up to their faces.
    • Political traitors are immersed in the ice deep enough that they are unable to bend their necks.
    • Traitors to their guests lay face upwards on the ice, which covers them except for half of their faces. As they cry, their tears freeze and seal their eyes shut - they are denied even the comfort of tears.
    • Traitors to their lords and benefactors are completely encapsulated in ice, distorted in all conceivable positions.

Finally, Dante and his side kick find Satan trapped in the frozen central zone in the Ninth Circle of Hell for committing the ultimate sin (treachery against God).
Dante and his side kick escape Hell by climbing down Satan's body, passing through the centre of the earth. This is where Dante's Inferno ends and the next part of the Divine Comedy - Purgatory - begins.
But that's a different story!

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