A Complete Guide to Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell – Inferno

Mar 6, 2023 | Books, Classics | 0 comments

Dante’s Divine Comedy is an epic poem that takes the reader on a journey through the afterlife, exploring the depths of Hell, the purifying process of the soul, and the glory of Heaven. At its core, the Divine Comedy is a reflection on the human condition and the spiritual journey that we all must undertake.

The Divine Comedy is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different realm of the afterlife. 

The first part, Inferno, takes us through Hell, where Dante encounters sinners of all kinds and witnesses punishments.

The second part, Purgatorio, describes Dante’s journey through Purgatory, where souls are given a chance to purify themselves of their sins in order to eventually go to Heaven. 

The third part of Dante’s Divine Comedy is called Paradiso, and it takes the reader through the various circles of Heaven, where Dante encounters the saints and angels and experiences the ultimate bliss of being in the presence of God.

At the end of his journey, Dante experiences a vision of God that is so overwhelming that he is unable to describe it in words. He experiences a sense of complete unity with the divine, and his journey through the afterlife is revealed to have been a spiritual journey toward this ultimate goal.

Each of these three parts is further divided into 33 chapters, except Inferno, which has an additional introductory chapter. So there are 100 chapters altogether. (Yes, this is a very large book.)

The Divine Comedy isn’t light reading by any means. After all, this is a 14th-century epic poem. So is a fairly challenging read. 

In this article, we are going to take a look at the first part of Divine Comedy; the Inferno.

Dante’s Inferno is divided into nine circles of Hell. Each circle represents a sin and the type of punishment for that particular sin. 

But before going into the story, I have to mention a few points about Dante’s real life so that you can understand the story more easily.

Dante and Beatrice: an eternal love story

images from Unsplash

Dante first met Beatrice when they were both children. After seeing her for the first time, Dante fell in love, and he remained in love for the rest of his life.

But their relationship was not without its challenges. Beatrice was married to another man, and Dante was often consumed with jealousy and longing. Despite this, he remained faithful to her throughout his life.

But a few years later, Beatrice died at the young age of twenty-four, and Dante fell into a deep sadness. Although they never married or had a romantic relationship, Dante’s love for Beatrice was a central theme in much of his work.

In The Divine Comedy, Beatrice plays a significant role in Dante’s journey through the afterlife.

Virgil’s Influence On Dante

Virgil was a famous poet of the Roman Republic and is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets in Western literature.

Dante was born in Florence, more than a millennium after Virgil’s death. But the Roman poet’s work had a profound impact on Dante’s own poetry and philosophy. Virgil was an inspiration to Dante.

Dante admired Virgil so much that he turned him into the guiding character of his book, the Divine Comedy.

As the story unfolds, we will encounter several new characters, and I will do my best to include all of Dante’s experiences in Hell. So my fellow readers, I just have to ask you one thing. Read this slowly because this is going to be one Hell of a ride.

The Inferno

The story begins with Dante finding himself lost in a dark forest. He is not sure of how he got there or which direction to go. He wanders through the forest, hoping to find a way out. After walking for a while, Dante sees a huge mountain with the sun shining above it. The sight comforts him, and he tries to climb the mountain. 

As he begins to climb, a leopard appears in front of him, forcing him to turn back. But Dante is still determined to climb the mountain. So he takes another route and begins to climb again. But then, a terrifying lion comes into his path, followed by a fierce wolf. 

Dante becomes so frightened by the animals and loses all hope of climbing the mountain. So, he runs back to the forest. Just as Dante is about to give up hope, he sees some kind of figure. He calls out to it, unsure if it is a man or a ghost. The figure identifies himself as the spirit of Virgil, the greatest poet of ancient Rome. Dante can’t believe his eyes. As I mentioned above, Virgil was an inspiration to Dante.

Dante tells Virgil about how he was turned back from climbing the mountain by wild beasts, and Virgil informs him that he must take a different path. 

Virgil also says that the three beasts Dante encountered were his sins.

The leopard represents lust, the lion represents pride, and the wolf represents greed.

Virgil explains that he has been sent by Beatrice to help Dante to guide Dante through the underworld so that they can meet in Heaven.

Dante is filled with fear at the thought of facing the punishments that await sinners in Hell, and he wonders if he is truly worthy of making the journey.

The Gates of Hell

Virgil reassures Dante and offers words of encouragement, reminding him that he has been chosen for this journey by Divine Will and that he must have faith in his own abilities.

Virgil also explains that Beatrice, Dante’s beloved, has been watching over him from Heaven and has intervened on his behalf to ensure that he is guided safely through the underworld. Dante, with fear in his heart, goes with Virgil to the gates of Hell.

“Through me, you pass into the city of suffering | Through me, you pass into eternal pain | Abandon every hope, all ye who enter here”. These lines are inscribed on the gates of Hell. And so Dante and his Guide Virgil enter Hell.


As soon as they enter Hell, Dante hears overwhelming cries of torment and suffering. Virgil explains that these are the souls of those who did not commit to either good or evil in their lives but lived without making conscious moral choices; therefore, both Heaven and Hell have denied them entry. These souls now dwell in the Ante-Inferno, within Hell, yet not truly part of it. 

The souls of the indecisive are tormented by incessant bites from flies and wasps while writhing worms feed on the blood and tears that flow from their wounds. In addition to these torments, the uncommitted souls are joined by the neutral angels, who had chosen neither God nor Satan’s side during the war in Heaven. Together, they suffer the eternal anguish of the Ante-Inferno.

Flies and wasps continually bite them, and writhing worms feed on the blood and tears that flow from their wounds. The souls of the uncommitted are joined in this torment by the neutral angels—who sided with neither God nor Satan during the war in Heaven. Together, they suffer the eternal anguish of the Ante-Inferno.

The river Acheron

Virgil guides Dante towards Acheron, the great river that marks the border of Hell. There they find a crowd of recently deceased souls eagerly waiting to cross the river. An old man named Charon appears in a boat and ferries the souls across the river. 

Charon recognizes Dante as a living soul and tells him to keep away from the dead. However, after Virgil assures him that their journey has been ordained from above, Charon troubles them no longer. 

As Charon rows them across the river, Dante is terrified by the wailing and cursing of the miserable souls he sees around him. But Virgil assures him that Charon’s initial unwillingness to ferry Dante across the river is actually a good sign because only damned souls cross the river.

As they were crossing, the ground shook, and wind and fire rose up, causing Dante to faint in terror.

First Circle of Hell – Limbo

Dante wakes up suddenly to the sound of thunder. When he wakes, feeling as though he has been asleep for a long time, he finds himself on the other side of the river, apparently having been carried off the boat by Virgil. 

Dante and Virgil descend into the blind world and enter the first circle of Hell, Limbo.

Virgil explains those in this circle did not sin, but they were not baptized, so they cannot enter Heaven. These are people who lived good and honourable lives but were not baptized into the Christian faith. They are not subjected to the tortures of the damned, but they are also denied the joys of Heaven. 

Limbo, it turns out, isn’t so bad, even if it is found in the first level of Dante Alighieri’s Hell. As Dante’s allegory of the journey of the soul continues, it will take him to a beautiful castle inhabited by the good and the great. Far from suffering the tortures of Hell, although they can never leave, they are surrounded by meadows and hang out in erudite splendour.

Here, Dante sees many great scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Hippocrates, and Julius Caesar.

Compared to the rest of Hell, Limbo is as good as it gets. It’s just eternally boring. 

Virgil explains that those in Limbo did not sin but simply lived before Christian baptism was available and therefore did not worship GodGod in fitting ways. So those who exist in Limbo are not really punished other than being separated from GodGod with no hope of ever entering his presence.

The image of Limbo is a powerful one, and it raises many questions about the nature of divine justice. How can a good and just GodGod condemn virtuous people to eternal torment simply because they were born in the wrong time or place? 

Second Circle of Hell – Lust

Dante and Virgil continue their journey through Hell, descending into the Second Circle. This circle may be smaller than the previous one, but the punishments are much more severe.

As they reach the Second Circle, Dante and Virgil come face to face with a fearsome monster named Minos. He stands at the front of an endless line of sinners, and his job is to assign them to their appropriate punishment.

The sinners confess their sins to Minos, who then wraps his great tail around himself a certain number of times, indicating the number of the circle to which the soul must go.

Minos also recognizes Dante as a living soul and warns him not to proceed any further. However, Virgil interferes and assures Minos that they have divine permission to journey through Hell. With Virgil’s word, Minos allows them to pass without any further trouble.

As they walked deeper into the circle, Dante saw the souls of men and women naked and writhing in the mud. They swirl around in the wind and rain. Their faces were twisted in pain, and their bodies were covered in filth. These are the Lustful souls.

Dante recognizes some famous historical and mythological figures who are being punished for their sins of lust. These include the Greek hero Achilles and the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra.

Dante was filled with sorrow as he watched their suffering. He wanted to help them, to offer them some sort of relief from their agony. But Virgil cautioned him against it, reminding him that they were in Hell for a reason. 

These were the souls of the Lustful, who had allowed their passions to rule them in life, and they were now doomed to suffer for all eternity.

Dante couldn’t help but feel a sense of pity for these lost souls. He knew what it was like to give in to temptation, to be consumed by desire. He wondered if he would suffer the same fate as them, condemned to spend eternity in torment.

One woman named Francesca recognizes Dante as a living soul and tells him her story. 

She was married to an old and deformed man. But she eventually fell in love with her husband’s younger brother Paolo, which led to her downfall.

One day Francesca and Paolo were reading a romantic story, and it reminded them of their own love. As they were reading this romantic story, they could not resist kissing. Francesca’s husband quickly discovered their affair and killed them. As a punishment for their sin, they are now stuck in the Second Circle of Hell forever.

As they continued their journey through the circle, the rain began to fall harder, soaking Dante to the bone. He could feel the weight of his own sins bearing down on him, and he realized that this journey through Hell was not just about seeing the punishments of the damned but also about confronting his own flaws and weaknesses. Overcome with pity, Dante faints again.

Third Circle of Hell – Gluttony

When Dante wakes up, he finds himself in the Third Circle of Hell. The stench of rotting food and filth filled the air as Dante looked around. It’s still raining, but now it’s not water; it’s filth and excrement! The smell is awful. 

Suddenly, a three-headed dog named Cerberus appears and tries to stop them. But Virgil throws him a chunk of the dirt, and they pass by. In this circle, they find the Gluttonous souls who are lying on the ground while the disgusting rain pours over them.

Virgil explained that they had indulged in food and drink to excess in life and had never found the self-control to resist their desires.

As Dante and Virgil walked among them, they saw some recognizable figures. One of them was Ciacco, a well-known Florentine glutton who had died years ago. Dante asked him if there were any other Florentines down there with him, and Ciacco replied that there were many.

Fourth Circle of Hell – Greed

As they continue their journey, they come across a creature named Plutus, who is the GodGod of wealth and greed. Plutus tries to stop Dante and Virgil from proceeding, but Virgil reassures Dante and reminds him that Plutus has no power in Hell.

Dante and Virgil continue their journey and arrive at the Fourth Circle. The sight that greets them is both horrifying and sad. The Fourth Circle is a place where the souls of the greedy are punished. The souls are divided into two groups, those who hoarded their possessions and those who wasted them.

Dante observes that these people are rolling enormous weights at one another, the Wasters shouting, “Why do you hoard?” and the Hoarders shouting, “Why do you waste?” After they clash, the souls hurry their weights back again, only to repeat the action, all the while screaming.

Dante asks Virgil why they are punished in this way, and Virgil explains that they are being punished for their excessive love of material possessions.

Fifth Circle of Hell – Wrath

As they approach the fifth Circle of Hell, they hear the sound of rushing water, and they soon discover that they have arrived at the River Styx.

The River Styx marks the boundary between the upper and lower regions of Hell. The lower regions are reserved for the most heinous sinners, such as traitors, murderers, and those guilty of fraud.

They see souls crouched at the riverbank, covered in mud, and striking and biting at each other. These are the Wrathful people who were consumed by anger in their lifetime. The river is filled with the souls of the Wrathful, who are endlessly fighting with one another in the muddy waters. 

The Sullen, on the other hand, are submerged in the river and constantly gasping for air. Because they muttered and sulked in their lifetime, now they gurgle and choke on the black mud of the swampy river.

Continuing around the Fifth Circle of Hell, Virgil and Dante come to a tall tower standing on the river bank. There they encounter the boatman Phlegyas, who takes them across the river Styx.

The city of Dis

The City of Dis is described as a dark and oppressive place, with a sense of despair and hopelessness hanging over its inhabitants. 

Virgil tells Dante that they are getting close to the city of Dis. The City of Dis is the lowermost region of Hell. It is a walled city that marks the boundary between Upper and Lower Hell and is home to the most wicked souls.

But when they approach the entrance to the city, a group of fallen angels blocks their way and asks why a living person like Dante is trying to enter the lower Hell. 

Virgil again tries to explain why Dante is trying to go through Hell, but the demons refuse to let them in and shut the gate in Virgil’s face. Despite their failure, Virgil is determined to find another way into the City of Dis.

Into the Sixth Circle of Hell – Heresy

Dante gets scared when he sees Virgil looking worried. Suddenly, they see three scary creatures who are a part woman and part serpent. These creatures are called Furies. These Furies call out for Medusa to come and turn Dante into stone. To protect Dante, Virgil quickly covers Dante’s eyes so that he will not see Medusa’s head.

Suddenly, they heard a loud noise, and the Furies ran away. A messenger from Heaven arrives and opens the gate to the Sixth Circle of Hell for Virgil and Dante. 

They enter a place with tombs that are surrounded by hot flames. This is where the Heretics are punished. (People who pursued pleasure in life because they believed that the soul died with the body.)

Dante and Virgil wander among the fiery tombs of the Heretics. As they walk through the Sixth Circle, Dante encounters the souls of some of the most famous heretics in history, including Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who denied the existence of an afterlife, and Farinata, the Italian political leader who rejected the authority of the Pope.

The punishment for the Heretics in the Sixth Circle is not physical torture but rather a spiritual one. They are denied the hope of ever being reconciled with God and are forever cut off from His grace.

The Heretics’ punishment in the Sixth Circle is a reminder of the importance of staying true to one’s faith and beliefs. In Dante’s view, those who stray from the path of righteousness will suffer eternal punishment, a fate that should serve as a warning to all who would lead others astray.

Into the Seventh Circle of Hell – Violence

The Seventh Circle of Hell, also known as the Violence Circle, is where the souls of the violent are. This circle is divided into three rounds or rings, each with its own form of punishment.

The first ring of the Violence Circle is reserved for those who have committed violence against others. Here, the souls are submerged in a river of boiling blood, which represents the blood that they shed in life. The souls are forever tormented by the boiling blood, and they are unable to escape its heat.

The second ring is for those who have committed violence against themselves, such as suicide. These souls are transformed into trees and bushes that are fed upon by Harpies, mythical creatures with the head of a woman and the body of a bird. The Harpies tear at the branches of the trees, causing the souls to suffer constant pain.

The third ring is for those who have committed violence against God and nature, such as blasphemers and sodomites. Here, the souls are forced to walk endlessly through a desert that is covered in burning sand and rain that is made of fire. The punishment is meant to represent the souls’ inability to find comfort or rest in life, and they are forced to wander aimlessly for eternity.

Into the Eighth Circle of Hell – Fraud

The Eighth Circle of Hell is reserved for those who have committed fraud. Virgil explains that the eighth circle is subdivided into ten circles with their own unique form of punishment. 

Dante asks Virgil why there are divisions in Hell and why sinners in these circles receive harsher punishment. In response, Virgil reminds Dante of a philosophical idea from Aristotle. There are three types of behaviours that go against God’s will: lack of self-control, wickedness, and extreme violence. So these sinners get harsher punishments.

Let’s explore each of these sub-levels and their punishments in detail,

  1. The Pimps – The first sub-level of the Eighth Circle of Hell is reserved for the Pimps or the Panders. Here, the souls are punished by being forced to walk in a never-ending circle while being whipped by demons. This punishment represents their abuse of others for their own personal gain.
  2. The Flatterers – The second sub-level is reserved for the Flatterers. Here, the souls are submerged in a river of excrement, which represents the filth and lies that they spread in life. They are forced to wallow in filth and are constantly attacked by demons.
  3. The Simoniacs – The third sub-level is reserved for the Simoniacs, who were guilty of the buying and selling of Church offices. Here, the souls are buried upside down in holes, with their feet sticking out. Flames burn the soles of their feet, symbolizing the corruption of their spiritual office.
  4. The Fortune Tellers – The fourth sub-level is reserved for the Fortune Tellers. Here, the souls are forced to walk in a never-ending line with their heads twisted backwards, unable to see ahead. This represents their attempts to see the future, which is a power reserved for God alone.
  5. The Grafters – The fifth sub-level is reserved for the Grafters, who used their positions of power for personal gain. Here, the souls are submerged in a boiling lake of tar, which symbolizes the sticky fingers of their corrupt dealings.
  6. The Hypocrites – The sixth sub-level is reserved for the Hypocrites. Here, the souls are forced to wear leaden robes, which are golden on the outside, representing their false exterior. They are made for walking in circles, which represents the endless cycle of their deceit.
  7. The Thieves – The seventh sub-level is reserved for the Thieves. Here, the souls are constantly pursued and bitten by snakes, which represent the thieves’ slippery and deceitful nature.
  8. The Counselors of Fraud – The eighth sub-level is reserved for the Counselors of Fraud, who used their positions of trust to deceive others. Here, the souls are encased in flames, which represent the burning pain of their deception.
  9. The Sowers of Discord – People who create division among people, whether in politics, religion, or society. They are sowers of discord. The ninth sub-level is reserved for the Sowers of Discord. Here, the souls are cut and dismembered by demons, representing the harm they caused by sowing discord and disunity.
  10. The Falsifiers – The final sub-level is reserved for the Falsifiers, who were guilty of falsifying things such as documents or identities. Here, the souls are afflicted with various diseases and deformities, representing the corruption of their lies and false identities.

The Eighth Circle of Hell is a grim reminder of the consequences of fraud and deceit. Dante’s Inferno serves as a warning to all those who would use their positions of power to deceive and harm others.

Into the Ninth Circle of Hell – Treachery

The Ninth Circle of Hell is the final and most severe level of punishment in Dante’s Inferno. It is reserved for those who committed the most heinous sin of all – Treachery. 

Dante describes this circle as a frozen lake, known as Cocytus, which is divided into four sub-layers, each reserved for a specific type of treachery.


The first sub-layer of the Ninth Circle is Caina. It is named after Cain, who murdered his own brother Abel. This sub-layer is reserved for those who betrayed their own family members, particularly parents or children. These souls are trapped in ice up to their necks, unable to move or speak, which symbolizes the coldness of their hearts and the betrayal they committed against their loved ones. The souls are forced to bow their heads in shame for eternity.


The second sub-layer is Antenora, named after Antenor, a Trojan prince who betrayed his city to the Greeks. This sub-layer is reserved for those who betrayed their country or city. These souls are also trapped in ice up to their necks, but their heads are free. They are constantly weeping, and their tears freeze on their faces, causing them to be blinded. This punishment represents the betrayal they committed against their homeland, which should have provided them with warmth and protection.


The third sub-layer of the Ninth Circle is Ptolomaea, named after Ptolemy, who invited his own father-in-law to a banquet and then had him murdered. This sub-layer is reserved for those who betrayed their guests or friends. These souls are completely submerged in ice, unable to move or speak. Their mouths are frozen shut, which represents their betrayal of those who trusted them with their lives.


The fourth and final sub-layer of the Ninth Circle is Judecca, named after Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ. This sub-layer is reserved for those who betrayed their masters or benefactors. These souls are also completely submerged in ice, but their bodies are contorted into various positions. They are unable to speak, and their faces are distorted with pain. This punishment represents the ultimate betrayal of those who gave them guidance and protection.

The Ninth Circle of Hell is a chilling reminder of the consequences of treachery. Dante’s Inferno serves as a warning to all those who would betray the trust of their loved ones, country, friends, or benefactors.

Should you read Inferno?

But why should we care about all of this? What’s the point of reading a book about Hell? Well, for one thing, it’s a fascinating exploration of human nature. Dante’s Inferno shows us the consequences of our actions and the importance of making the right choices in life. It’s a reminder that our actions have consequences, and we should strive to live our lives in a virtuous way.

Dante’s “Inferno” is a masterpiece of literature, that explores the consequences of sin and the importance of personal responsibility and redemption. Its vivid imagery and profound moral message have left an indelible mark on Western culture and continue to captivate readers today. “Inferno” is not merely a work of entertainment or storytelling but also serves as a moral lesson.

As Dante emerges from Hell at the end of his journey, he realizes that he must undertake a new path, one that will lead him toward the light of God’s grace. But that is a story for another time.

If you like to read Inferno, I recommend reading The Divine Comedy In Plain and Simple English.

If you want to read the Summary & Analysis of the Full Book, you can read it by visiting SparkNotes.com

Ads keep this Blog Running for Free

Book Reviews

Brave New World | Sex, Drugs, and Ignorance

Brave New World | Sex, Drugs, and Ignorance

What if you could have everything you ever wanted? What if you could sleep with anyone you want just by asking them? What if you could be happy all the time? Brave new world, a place where every desire is fulfilled.

Ads keep this Blog Running for Free

Ads keep this Blog Running for Free

You might also like ♡


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *