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The Nine Circles of Hell: Third, Fourth & Fifth

In the Nine Circles of Hell mentioned by Dante in his “Divine Comedy,” gluttons, greedy individuals, and those full of wrath are met as lower circles are revealed. In this article, you will learn what Dante encounters when he reaches the third to fifth circles of Hell.

Third Circle (Gluttony)

The third circle is comprised of gluttons, where Cerberus (the three-headed hound associated with watching over the gates of Hades) is the guard. Individuals are condemned to a disturbing slush created by a foul, icy rain that never ceases. The gluttons are described as sightless and unaware of their neighbors, as a symbol that they were cold and selfish during their lives. It is also important to remember that a glutton not only overindulgences in food and drink, but also falls victim to other kinds of addiction.

When Dante is in this circle, he has a conversation with a Florentine contemporary called Ciacco, whose name translates into ‘hog.’ Ciacco tells Dante about the conflict in Florence that takes place between the “White” and “Black” Guelphs, which represents religious figures. Divine Comedy has a handful of prophecies throughout its text and Ciacco offers one to Dante. He foretells the expulsion of the White party, which Dante happens to be a member of. This is an event (in 1302) that is said to have led to Dante’s own exile.

Fourth Circle (Avarice and Prodigality)

The fourth circle is where individuals who place material goods above more important matters are punished. People full of greed during their lifetime or miserly and stingy towards others are found here. Many clergymen, popes and cardinals have ended up in the fourth circle. Those who hoard their possessions or the fortunate that simply squandered them away are sent to the fourth circle. Plutus, the Greek god of wealth is responsible for watching over these kinds of souls. The greedy and the wasteful participate in jousting, where they are given weapons comprised of hefty weights, which they are made to push with their chests.

Fifth Circle (Wrath and Sullenness)

The river Styx is described as possessing swamp-like waters, where the wrathful fight one another on the surface. Underwater, the sullen gurgle, where no joy can reach them. Dante and Virgil are transported across the Styx with the help of Phlegyas (one who is condemned to torment in the afterlife), who reluctantly completes the task. During their journey, they meet with Filippo Argenti, a Black Guelph who was related to a well-to-do family.

The further Dante travels to the lower parts of Hell, he learns that the circles are contained within the walls of a city called Dis, which is surrounded by the Stygian marsh.

Those who have been punished within Dis have committed active as opposed to passive sins. Fallen angels are the guards of the walls of Dis.  Virgil is unsuccessful in convincing the angels to grant Dante and he entrance. The Furies and Medusa threaten Dante at this time. An angel from Heaven is sent to make sure the poets are allowed to enter. They open the gates by touching it with a wand and give fair warning to those who opposed Dante. It is now that the poem is started to address the sins that humanism and philosophy cannot completely comprehend.