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What are the Nine Circles of Hell?

In Dante’s epic poem called “Divine Comedy,” he mentioned the nine circles of suffering that were located within the Earth. The poem was meant to represent the journey that the soul took as it traveled to God. The Inferno symbolized the recognition and rejection of sin. In this article, you will encounter the First Circle (Limbo) and the Second Circle (Lust).

First Circle (Limbo)

Limbo is the place where the unbaptized and virtuous pagans are found. While they are not sinful, they did not accept Christ. The First Circle is not meant as a punishment, but is a place where individuals grieve that they are separated from God. There is no hope for reconciliation at this point. Green fields and a castle are found in Limbo. Wise men from ancient times are described as residing at this circle, including Virgil the poet. In the castle, Dante encounter Homer, Horace, and Ovid , all poets. Other people there include the Amazonian queen Penthsilea and the mathematician Euclid. Philosophers are also described as in Limbo, including Aristotle and Socrates. Julius Caesar is also mentioned to be in Limbo.

Dante meets with Virgil and they discuss various characters from the Old Testament who had been confined to this circle until the death of Christ. Figures mentioned include Noah, Moses, Abraham, and David. They were all good souls that were taken to Heaven by Christ. This was a widespread belief during medieval times, which was backed by biblical passages, such as 1 Peter 3:19.

As one moves beyond this primary circle, those who are condemned for active, deliberately willed sin face judgment by Minos. He is in charge of sentencing each soul to one of the lower eight circles. Wrapping his tail around himself a corresponding number of times serves as the indication of where a soul will end.

The classical concept of virtue and sin influences the way the lower circles are structured. Sins are grouped by their level of violence, fraud, and other vices. The mildest form of sin is associated with incontinence, where one is weak in controlling their desires and natural urges. Sins that involve violence play a role in a soul being sent to one of the lower circles.

Second Circle (Lust)

The second circle of Hell is set aside for those who have fallen victim to lust. Dante believes that individuals who allow their lustful desires to affect their reason should be condemned to this circle. In Hell, they are the first to truly receive punishment for their sins. It is described that these souls are tossed about by horrid winds belonging to a violent storm. There is no hope for rest. It is here that the power of lust is represented as something that can blow someone around “needlessly and aimlessly.”

This circle is where Dante encounters the likes of Dido, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Paris, Achilles, and Tristan. The circle is filled with others who allowed sensual love to take over their life at some point in time. Dante hears the tale of Francesca da Rimini, who tells him that she and her husband’s brother Paolo, committed adultery and then died a violent death , in the name of Love. Her husband Giovanni killed them. Francesca claims that their act of adultery was brought on after reading the adulterous tale of Guinevere and Lancelot. Francesca then goes on to predict that her husband will suffer for the killing of his brother in Caina, which is located in the ninth circle.