How Many Circles Are There in Hell?

From top to bottom, the nine circles of Hell in Dante’s epic poem “Inferno” are Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery. Sinners are punished on these circular levels based on how bad their sins were. The easiest punishments are in Limbo, and the worst punishments are in Treachery, which is at the bottom.

In the poem, Dante’s dead love, Beatrice, sends the poet Virgil to show him around Hell. The tour is told by Virgil. It starts at the top level of Hell. Souls that haven’t been baptised and good Pagans are kept in Limbo, which is not a place of punishment but a gentle place that isn’t Heaven.

Sins of self-indulgence, like lust, gluttony, greed, and anger, are punished on the next four levels. Levels 6 and 7 are used to punish sins that are violent, like heresy or blasphemy, which are violent acts against God. Last, levels 8 and 9 punish people who have done bad things on purpose, like fraud or treason.

The first poem in “The Divine Comedy,” an allegory about a sinner’s journey to God, is called “Inferno.” The punishments on each level of Hell are also allegories that are meant to match the sins of the people who get them.

In a way, the person who sins chooses his or her own punishment. There are references to Dante’s work all over literature, like in “On a Dream” by John Keats, which talks about how the winds were used to punish the lustful.

Misha Khatri
Misha Khatri is an emeritus professor in the University of Notre Dame's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. He graduated from Northern Illinois University with a BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics and a PhD in Physical Analytical Chemistry from the University of Utah.

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