GEOGRAPHY OF HELL
according to Dante Aligheri
Dante's Hell is shaped like a funnel that extends all the way
to the centre of the earth. It is situated underneath the city
of Jerusalem, which is at the center of the Northern hemisphere.
Opposite Jerusalem, at the centre of the Southern hemisphere
is the mountain of Purgatory. Lucifer/Satan is immobilised at
the bottom of Hell, where he fell after defeat in his rebellion
funnel is made of nine circles. The first circle is the widest
and, progressively, the ninth circle is the smallest. This ninth
circle surrounds Lucifer. Each circle is populated by a different
category (or different categories) of sinners.
in the structure of Dante's Hell revolves around the number
three. Satan is tricephalic,
he chews on three treacherous sinners and there are nine circles
of Hell. These came from from St Augustine and his association
of threes with the Holy Trinity and the Antichrist.
is a place where the souls of the damned fall at their death.
From here they are brought by Charon into Hell itself across
the river Acheron. Some souls, the Neutrals, remain here,
because they - agnostic perhaps, or relativist - chose neither
Good nor Evil during their lives.
HELL: THE HELL OF INCONTINENCE
circle: Limbo. Reserved for the souls of the just
people who never knew Christ, and those (especially infants)
who died without baptism and never committed a sin. Here Dante
encounters the ancient philosophers and poets.
circle: The Lustful. Dante talks to Francesca da
Rimini, who tells him how she became involved in an adulterous
affair with Paolo, her brother in law. King Minos guards this
circle which is in a state of perpetual storm tossing the souls
circle: The Gluttonous. Dante talks to Ciacco, a
Florentine, who used to be a parasite, as he was going from
people to people, gossiping on everyone. Ciacco gives Dante
the first prophecy of his future exile. Here there is continuous
heavy rain. Three-headed Cerberus is the guardian.
circle: The Avaricious and Prodigals. No relevant
character is found here. These souls, mostly clerics, mill about
mindlessly, bumping into each other as they push big rocks.
The guardian is Pluto, who makes no sense when he talks.
The Wrathful and Sullen. These souls are submerged into
the river Styx, which surrounds the City of Dis. The
wrathful emerge from the dirty waters while the sullen are completely
submerged. Phlegyas will take Dante and Virgil across this river
in his boat. Here Dante talks to Filippo Argenti, an old acquaintance
for whom he has no pity.
The city of Disis surrounded by high walls with closed
doors guarded by devils, helped by the Furies and the Medusa.
They try to stop Dante, but a divine messenger forces them to
open the door.
HELL: THE HELL OF VIOLENCE AND DECEIT
circle: The Heretics. Dante enters the city of Dis
and sees a huge cemetery filled with open tombs with fire coming
out of them. One of the tombs contains the souls of the Epicureans.
Dante talks to Farinata degli Uberti and Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti,
father of Guido, the poet, and Dante's friend.
circle: The Violent. Introduced by the Minotaur,
this circle is divided into three rings:
Violent Against their Neighbours (tyrants and murderers).
These souls are plunged into a river of boiling blood: the river
Phlegethon. They are watched over by the Centaurs.
The Violent against Themselves (Suicides) are found in an
unnatural forest with leafless trees. These trees are the souls
of the suicides. Dante talks to Pier delle Vigne, personal secretary
of Frederick II. The trees have no leaves because the Harpies
keep plucking them as they sprout. Among the trees Dante sees
the souls of the squanderers, chased by bitches.
Violent against God and Nature - Blasphemers, Sodomites, etc.
Virgil talks to Capaneus, king of ancient Crete, stricken by
Zeus's bolt for his rebellion. Then Dante talks to his teacher
Brunetto Latini, and later he sees three fellow-Florentines
at the edge of the circle.
river Phlegethon cascades into the Eighth circle, and
there is no path to go down. Dante and Virgil are carried there
- originally a three-headed, triple-bodied Titan, but described
by Dante as a winged beast with the tail of a scorpion but the
face of an honest man. He dwells by the cliff between the seventh
and eighth circles, and has a hound called Orthrus who is the
brother of Cerberus.
Geryon by Gustave Doré
The Circle of Fraud and Deceit, called Malebolge
because it is divided into ten bolge or ditches.
Panders and Seducers, whose souls are scourged by horned
demons. Dante talks to Venedico Caccianemico.
Flatterers. These souls are immersed in excrements. Dante
talks to Alessio Interminei and the ancient Thaïs.
Simoniacs (Venal Popes and High Ecclesiastics) are set heads
down into holes in the rock with flames burning on their feet.
Dante talks to Pope Nicholas III, who mistakes him for Boniface
Diviners, Astrologers and Magicians, whose heads are turned
backwards, so they have to walk backwards. Virgil talks to some
ancient people: Amphiaraus, Tiresias, Manto and Eurypylus. Among
the modern is Michael the Scot, scholar, astrologer and physician
at the court of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, credited with
being a magician of great supernatural powers.
Barrators (those who sold offices and positions for personal
gain) are plunged into boiling pitch and guarded by ten
sneaky demons (Malebranche) led by Malacoda (evil tail). Ciampolo
of Navarra (a sinner) succeeds in cheating the demons in a hellish
Hypocrites. whose souls, mostly monks of the Jovial order,
walk slowly, clothed in heavy caps of lead. Dante talks to two
of them from Bologna.
Thieves. These souls keep changing into snakes. Dante recognizes
(among others) Vanni Fucci, who predicts the defeat of Dante's
party, the Whites, and his exile from the city.
Fraudulent Counsellers, whose souls slide away in the ditch
as flames. First Virgil talks to Homer's Odysseus, then Dante
talks to Guido da Montefeltro, a soft-soaper and self-serving
counsellor of his own day.
Sowers of Discord and Schism. These souls are physically
torn apart. Dante talks to a few, among them Bertram de Bornio,
who holds his severed head like a lamp as he walks along.
Falsifiers of metals, persons, coins and words. Here it
is like a huge hospital with people with all kinds of deformities.
As in the previous ditch, this too is crowded. Master Adam is
the most colourful.
circle: The Circle of Treachery is divided into four
sections. The sinners are in a frozen lake, Cocytus. This circle
is surrounded by the Giants. One of them, Antæus, takes
Dante and Virgil and forces them down into the ice.
Caina: Traitors to Kin. These are stuck head-first into
the ice. Dante talks to Carmiscione de' Pazzi.
Antenora: Traitors to Homeland. Dante sees one who keeps
biting on another's head. He is Count Ugolino who is gnawing
the Archbishop Ruggeri's head. He tells Dante the story of his
Ptolomea: Traitors to Guests. They are head up in the ice,
which is freezing their eyes. Dante talks to Fra Alberigo, who
is there while his body is still alive, for having killed his
guests as he invited them for dinner.
Giudecca: Traitors to Benefactors. These sinners are
completely immersed into the ice.
ice of the Ninth Circle is kept frozen by Lucifer's six flapping
wings. Lucifer has three faces, with three mouths, each chewing
on a sinner: Judas is in the middle mouth with his head inside,
Brutus and Cassius are in the side mouths, with their heads