What Are the Seven Hellish Circles?

Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery are the nine circles of Hell in Dante’s epic poem “Inferno,” from top to bottom. Sinners are punished according to their misdeeds on these circular levels, with Limbo holding the lowest punishments and Treachery holding the most egregious sinners.

The poet Virgil, who was sent to him by his deceased love Beatrice, guides Dante through Hell in the poem. The excursion, which begins at the top level of Hell, is narrated by Virgil. Unbaptized souls and good pagans are imprisoned in Limbo, which is not a place of punishment but rather a pleasant place that is not Heaven. The following four degrees are employed to punish self-indulgent crimes such as lust, gluttony, greed, and rage. Levels six and seven are used to punish violent sins, such as heresy or blasphemy, which are acts of aggression against God. Finally, levels eight and nine are reserved for malicious sinners, such as those who have committed fraud or treachery.

The first poem in “The Divine Comedy,” a metaphor of a sinner’s journey toward God, is “Inferno.” Each level of Hell’s punishments are likewise symbolic, designed to punish sinners in ironically suitable ways, depending on their misdeeds. In some ways, the sinner selects his own life penalty. Dante’s work is referenced throughout literature, such as in John Keats’ sonnet “On A Dream,” which mentions the winds that used to punish the lusty.

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