Dante & Virgil, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1850. A selection. Wikipedia.
Dante & Virgil, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1850. A selection. “The painting depicts Dante and Virgil looking on as two damned souls are entwined in combat. One of the souls is an alchemist and heretic named Capocchio. In this depiction Capocchio is being bitten on the neck by Gianni Schicchi who had used fraud to claim another man’s inheritance.” Wikipedia.

Listers, the Inferno is an invitation to examine your soul. In addition to the basic journey of Dante the Pilgrim, the notes below examine the Inferno as a story of the soul with a particular emphasis on virtue, vice, and the rationale behind each contrapasso. The contrapasso, as explained below, is the punishment Dante the Poet tailored for each sin, which, when understood, displays haunting insights into how the human will and intellect can fall into sin. While the academic benefits of reading the Inferno are notable, the spiritual treasury of the work is its true beauty. For those seeking to be intentional disciples of Jesus Christ, the Inferno has a poignant message: either you master your passions or your passions will master you.

The numbering continues from the previous list - Inferno: Dante’s Journey through Upper Hell in 7 Paragraphs.

Lower Hell

8. The City of Dis – the Fallen Angels (VIII-IX)

Virgil and the Pilgrim approach the City of Dis “with its great walls and its fierce citizens.”[^fn057] The Pilgrim observes, “the clear glow of its mosques above the valley, burning bright red, as though just forged, and left to smolder.”1 Virgil remarks that the “reddish glow” of City of Dis illumines all of the “lower Hell,” the Pilgrim observes that “deep moats” and walls that appeared to be “made of iron” surround Dis.2 Upon the walls the Pilgrim sees “a thousand fiendish angels perching above the gates enraged, screaming: ‘Who is the one approaching? Who, without death, dares walk into the kingdom of the dead?”3 The fallen angels bar the Pilgrim’s path, to which Virgil comments: “The insolence of theirs is nothing new; they used it once at a less secret gate, which is, and will forever be, unlocked.”4 The comments of Virgil refer to the Harrowing of Hell by Christ who, in the world of Dante the Poet, has permanently opened the principal (“less secret”) gates of Dis. As Virgil and Date await help from heaven, the “three hellish Furies stained with blood” arose and threatened to call the Gordon or Medusa.5 And then a “blast of sound, shot through with fear, exploded, making both shores of Hell begin to tremble,” as an angel sent from heaven “walking the Styx, his feet dry on the water.”6 The angel opens the more secret gate of Dis “without resistance form the inside,” and then rebukes the fallen angels.7 Dante and Virgil are able to enter without opposition.

9. The Sixth Circle of Hell – The Arch-Heretics (IX-XI)

As Virgil and the Pilgrim enter the City of Dis they come upon the “arch-heretics of every sect, with all of their disciples” who suffer together in packed tombs or sepulchers that “make all the land uneven… strewn in all directions.”8 The Pilgrim observes that “each tomb had its lid loose, pushed to one side, and from within came forth such fierce laments,” and that each tomb glowed like hot iron due to the eternal flames burning within.9 The punishment of the heretics is unique insofar as “the heretics are in a circle in Hell that is outside of the three main divisions of Incontinence, Violence, and Fraud.”10 Dante the Poet places heresy as a “clearly willed sin based on intellectual pride,” that is not rooted in incontinence, violence, and fraud; however, due to its location in hell, the sixth circle, Dante the Poet is telling us that this circle is more severe than the sins of incontinence but less severe than those sins of violence and fraud.11 The contrapasso of these heretical souls is that many of the ones listed by Dante the Pilgrim denied the bodily resurrection; thus, “there is a great irony in the fact that those who believed that the death of the body meant the death of the soul suffer as their punishment the entombment of their living souls.”12 Among the heretics, the Pilgrim learns that the shades can see the future on earth, but they cannot see the present; however, at the Last Judgment, when time ends and all is eternal, their “knowledge will be completely dead at that time,” and their knowledge will come to an end.13 Its also worth noting that “Epicurus is among the heretics even though he was a pagan, because he denied the immortality of the soul, a truth known even to the ancients,” and that Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini is placed among the heretics for his supposed “doubt concerning the immortality of the soul.”14

The Sins of Violence—Sins of the Lion

10. The Seventh Circle of Hell – Violence Toward Thy Neighbor (XI)

As Virgil and the Pilgrim press on toward the Seventh Circle of Hell, Virgil explains the topography of hell. The City of Dis marks the transition from upper hell to lower hell, while the Seventh Circle of Hell marks the beginning of the sins of violence (represented by the lion in the dark woods in Canto I). Virgil explains, “violence can be done to God, to self, or to one’s neighbor,” and as such, those punished in the Seventh Circle will be those who curse God or despise nature, those who commit suicide, and those who commit homicide.15 Next, Virgil explains there are two types of fraud. First, there is the “simple fraud” of the second circle of lower hell, the Eight Circle of Hell overall, in which “hypocrites, flatters, dabblers in sorcery, falsifiers, thieves, and simonists, pander, seducers, grafters, and like filth” are punished.”16 Second, there is “complex fraud” of the final circle of hell, the Ninth Circle, in which are punished traitors who betrayed the “love Nature enjoys and that extra bond between men which creates a special trust.”17 Virgil and the Pilgrim enter into the Seventh Circle of Hell, which is guarded by the Minotaur—a half-man and half-bull creature from classical mythology known for its undying rage.18 With the Minotaur consumed by its own rage, Virgil and the Pilgrim continue on and come upon a great “river of blood that boils souls of those who through their violence injured others”—known as the Phlegethon.19 The contrapasso is made more severe by herds of centaurs galloping along the bloody riverbanks and shooting with arrows “any daring soul emerging above the bloody level of his guilt.”20 As the Pilgrim observes, the souls are sunk in a river of blood to a depth commensurate with their violence: the tyrants, such as Alexander, Dionysius, and Attila, who “dealt in bloodshed and plundered wealth” are sunken to their eyelids; the murders who dealt in bloodshed are sunk up to their throats; and the rest of the violent are sunk to various lesser degrees.21 Musa notes, “the sins of violence are also the Sins of Bestiality,” and the bestial and violent nature of these sins are seen in the theme of half-animal and half-human creatures: the furies on the walls of the City of Dis, the Minotaur whose very enraged existence spawned from an act of bestiality, and the centaurs who were known in classical mythology for violence and rape.22

11. The Seventh Circle of Hell – Violence Against Self (Canto XIII)

Virgil and the Pilgrim leave the river of boiling blood and enter into a forest of black leaves, “twisted and entangled” branches, and “thorns of poison.”23 The Pilgrim observes harpies, half-bird and half-women creatures of classical mythology, making their nests in the branches of the trees.”24 The Pilgrim, seeing no souls, is confused by the “wails of grief” he hears among the forest; thus, Virgil instructs him to reach out and break off a “little branch” of one of the trees.25 When Dante the Pilgrim obeys, the branch bleeds and a voice cries out, “Why are you tearing me? … Why do you rip me?”26 The Pilgrim learns that the trees are the souls of suicides. When Minos judges the soul of a suicide, he or she is thrown into forest of the Seventh Circle and wherever it lands it “germinates” into a “wild tree.”27 The contrapasso of the self-violent is that the violence committed against their bodies, a gift from God, causes them to be denied a body in hell; the contrapasso is furthered by having harpies constantly tear at the leaves and branches to build their nests. The suicides, however, have an additional facet to their contrapasso, because they will still be denied their bodies even after the bodily resurrection at the Final Judgment.28 In fact, the souls will be forced to drag their bodies to the forest of suicides and hang their own body from the branches of the tree they will become.29 The Pilgrim then sees two naked souls running threw the dense woods as they are chased by a pack of black dogs.30 As the souls and dogs crash through the forest—which only serves to torment the souls of suicide even more—one soul falls and tries to hide amongst the thorns; but, the black dogs find the soul and “sank their fangs in that poor wretch who hid, they ripped him open piece by piece, and then ran off with mouthfuls of his wretched limbs.”31 Musa comments, “the second group of souls punished here are the Profligates, who did violence to their earthly goods by not valuing them as they should have, just as the Suicides did not value their bodies.”32 Musa further comments on how the black dogs tie into the contrapasso of the profligates. Though he notes many interpretations (“conscience, poverty, ruin and death, remorse, creditors”), he views the dogs as the “violence force” that separates these profligates from the spendthrifts rolling their stones against the misters in the fourth circle of hell.33 The profligates are violent in their wastefulness where the spendthrifts are not. For example, one of the souls running from the dogs is recognized as Giacomo da Sant’Andrea who “is reported to have set on fire several houses on his estate just for ‘kicks’.”34

12. The Seventh Circle of Hell – the Violent Against God (XIV-XVI)

The Pilgrim and Virgil leave the woods and come upon a great “sandland” where it is “raining broad flakes of fire.”35 In this third and final section of the Seventh Circle of Hell, the Pilgrim observes the punishment of those who commit violence against God: first, lying on the fiery sands are the blasphemers; second, crouching on the fiery sands are the usurers; and third, wandering “never stopping, round and round” are the sodomites.36 As they make there way through the sands, Virgil explains to the Pilgrim the source of all the rivers in hell—the “Old Man of Crete.”37 Inside Mt. Ida on the island of Crete, “an ancient man stands tall” with his back toward Damietta, representing the “pagan world,” and facing Rome, “the modern Christian world.”38 Reminiscent of the Book of Daniel, the Old Man of Crete has a golden head representing the age before the Fall, “arms and breast of silver,” a torso of brass, and “the legs of iron” representing the “three declining ages of man.”39 Also, the Old Man of Crete has a clay foot that “may symbolize the Church, weakened and corrupted by temporal concerns and political power struggles.”40 The ancient man weeps and it is his tears that form the three rivers of hell—Acheron, Styx, and Phlegethon—”whose course eventually leads to the [frozen] ‘pool,’ Cocytus, at the bottom of hell.”41 As they journey through the Seventh Circle, Dante the Poet notes the presence of scholars, clerics, and honored citizens among the sodomites.42 Musa notes the contrapasso for the sodomites is similar to those in the Second Circle of Hell being punished for the sin of lust, as the sodomites are wandering aimlessly amongst the burning sands just as the lustful are blown aimlessly around by the winds.43 Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil come to the end of the Seventh Circle, which overlooks a great abyss. Here, Virgil takes the cord wrapped around the Pilgrim’s waste and tosses it into the abyss.44 In response, the Pilgrim sees a beast “swimming through the thick and murky air” toward them.45 The beast—the mythical creature Geryon—represents fraud as Geryon has “the face of any honest man,” a “serpentine” body, and a tail with a scorpion stinger.46 As Virgil negotiates with Geryon for a ride into the abyss, Dante the Pilgrim observes the contrapasso of those guilty of usury. He sees them crouched upon the burning sands with moneybags bearing their familial crests hung upon their necks.47 The Pilgrim returns to Virgil and he and his guide ride Geryon into the Eighth Circle of Hell.48

The Sins of the Leopard

13. The Eighth Circle of Hell – Simple Fraud (XVIII)

The Eighth Circle of Hell holds the souls of those King Minos found guilty of simple fraud and is composed of “ten stone ravines called Malebolge (Evil Pockets), and across each bolgia is an arching bridge.”49 Each of the ten bolgias—a deep crevasse—is filled with souls guilty of a different species of simple fraud: (1) panders and seducers (2) flatters (3) simoniacs (4) sorcerers (5) barrators (6) hypocrites (7) thieves (8) deceivers (9) sowers of discord and (10) falsifiers. Each bolgia in Malebolgia exhibits a different contrapasso.

Bolgia One (XVIII)

After leaving Geryon, the Pilgrim observes the souls in the first bolgia. Here, “two files of naked souls walked on the bottom” with each line walking a different direction.50 The Pilgrim also notes, “I saw horned devils with enormous whips lashing the backs of shades with cruel delight.”51 The souls here are pimps or panders in one line and seducers in the other. Notably, Dante the Pilgrim sees Jason the Argonaut suffering amongst the seducers.52

Bolgia Two (XVIII)

Leaving the first bolgia, the Pilgrim and Virgil come upon the souls of the flatters suffering in the second bolgia. The Pilgrim observes, “Now we could hear the shades in the next pouch whimpering, making snorting grunting souls… from a steaming stench below, the banks were coated with a slimy mold that suck to them like glue, disgusting to behold and worse to smell.”53 Here, grunting in a ditch of excrement, are the flatters. The contrapasso of the second bolgia is a stark juxtaposition between the honeyed words and deeds in the lives of the flatters with the sordid and repulsive state of the second bolgia. The Pilgrim makes this quite evident in his observation of “Thais the whore,” “that repulsive and disheveled tramp scratching herself with shitty fingernails, spreading her legs while squatting up and down.”54 Repulsed by Thais, Virgil and the Pilgrim move on.

Bolgia Three (XIX)

Virgil and the Pilgrim come to the third bolgia where the sin of simony is punished. The simonist—named after Simon the Magician in the Book of Acts—are those guilty of selling or purchasing offices within the Church. Simony is punished in the Eight Circle of Hell as it leads to the “fraudulent possession of ecclesiastical offices.”55 Note also the Canto on simony is unique amongst the Inferno as Dante the Poet opens with a diatribe against simony signaling Dante the Poet’s particular distain for this sin.56 Dante the Pilgrim describes the third bolgia as a ditch dotted with deep and narrow holes and “from the mouth of every hole were sticking out a single sinner’s feet… the soles of every sinner’s feet were flaming; their naked legs were twitching frenziedly.”57 The suffering is compounded as the Pilgrim realizes that the holes contain a multitude of shades. As King Minos tosses souls to this bolgia, they land on an occupied hole shoving the existing souls further into the crammed earth. The contrapasso of the simonists is that as they pocketed fraudulent funds in life, they are pocketed into the earth.58 Notably the Pilgrim speaks to Pope Nicholas III—who is stuffed inside a hole with his legs flailing about—who in turn tells the Pilgrim that Pope Boniface VIII and then Pope Clement V will be condemned into the same hole.59 As Dante the Poet began the canto, Dante the Pilgrim closes it by lambasting simony. The Pilgrim opens his admonishment, “Well, tell me now: what was the sum of money that holy Peter had to pay our Lord before He gave the keys into his keeping?”60 Smiling at the Pilgrim’s words, Virgil takes the Pilgrim and leads him on.61

Bolgia Four (XX)

In the fourth bolgia, Dante the Pilgrim sees souls “silent, weeping, walking at a litany pace.”62 In one of the most horrific descriptions in the Inferno, the Pilgrim notes that the heads of the souls are twisted all the way around in order that they move forward by walking backwards; moreover, the weeping souls send tears down their backs to their buttocks as they plod along.63 As the Pilgrim notes, “I saw the image of our human form so twisted—the tears their eyes were shedding streamed down to wet their buttocks at the cleft.”64 The souls punished here are the soothsayers. The contrapasso is that they who claimed to see into the future can now, with twisted heads, only see what is behind them.65 After a brief discussion on pity, Virgil and the Pilgrim move on toward the fifth bolgia.66

Bolgia Five (XXI-XXII)

Upon entering the fifth bolgia, the Pilgrim observes the souls of the damned suffering under a great pool of boiling tar.67 If the souls attempt to break the surface, a group of demons—known as the Malebranche or “Evil Claws”—skewer them with their pitchforks.68 Dante offers an apt analogy, as he states, “they were like cooks who make their scullery boys poke down into the caldron with their forks to keep the meat from floating to the top.”69 Virgil and the Pilgrim enter into dialogue with the Malebranche demons who offer to guide the two to the next bolgia. The passage is unique among the Inferno due to its comic nature of the demons who engage in tomfoolery and even “fart” to each other as a salute.70 The souls punished in the fifth bolgia are the barrators or grafters—persons who, as the simonist sold ecclesial offices, sold offices of the state giving other fraudulent possession of civil powers. The Pilgrim and Virgil observe a shade who, caught by the demons, promises if they let him go to lure others to surface for the enjoyment of the devils; the shade, however, tricks them and disappears back into the boiling pitch before the demons can catch him.71 It is the first time in the Inferno that “we see a sinner actually performing his sin,” which in this case is a form of fraud.72 As the demons turn to fighting each other, Virgil and the Pilgrim escape to the next bolgia.

Bolgia Six (XXII)

As they escape the Melabranche, Virgil and the Pilgrim realize the bridge over the sixth bolgia has collapsed; thus, Virgil takes the Pilgrim and slides down the “stony bank” into the bolgia.73 Here, Virgil and the Pilgrim are amongst those souls being punished for hypocrisy. The contrapasso of the hypocrites is to bear a golden cloak “lined with lead.”74 The souls are “slow-motioned: step by step, they walked their round in tears, wasted by fatigue.”75 The Pilgrim notes other souls in the bolgia who are “crucified with three stakes on the ground.”76 These souls are Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, his father-in-law Annas, and other Jewish council members who delivered Christ to the Romans for crucifixion.77 In turn, they are now crucified to the ground as the shades in heavy lead-lined cloaks walk over them. Virgil and the Pilgrim then seek a way out of the sixth bolgia.

Bolgia Seven (XXIV-XXV)

Virgil and Pilgrim ascend the rumble of the collapsed bride to escape the sixth bolgia.78 They cross the bridge over the seventh bolgia and circle back to the edge of the ditch. The Pilgrim sees “a terrible confusion of serpents, all of such a monstrous kind,” and “within this cruel and bitterest abundance people ran terrified and naked.”79 A sinner, guilty of the sin of thievery, runs in front of the Pilgrim and a serpent strikes the individual. The shade immediately turns “into a heap of crumbled ash;” however, the scattered ashes begin to coalesce and “quickly take the form they had before.”80 After telling his story to the Pilgrim and Virgil, the shade makes an obscene gesture toward God and is immediately overtaken by serpents.81 The Pilgrim then witnesses one of the most bizarre scenes in the entire Inferno. First, a centaur named Cacus, the son of Vulcan in classic mythology, with a fire breathing winged and legged serpent on his back gallops by the Pilgrim.82 Second, a six-footed serpent grasps and coils around a sinner and they fused together into one nightmarish “deformity.”83 Third, a serpent strikes another shade, and the serpent becomes a man, and the man becomes a serpent.84 The various metamorphoses of this bolgia are tied to the contrapasso; as one commentator stated, “In this canto we see how the Thieves, who made no distinction between meum [mine] and tuum [yours]… cannot call their forms or their personalities their own.”85 The Pilgrim and Virgil carry on toward the eighth bolgia.

Bolgia Eight (XXVI-XXVII)

Overlooking the eighth bolgia, the Pilgrim and Virgil view the punishment of those souls King Minos found guilty of deception.86 The Pilgrim sees columns of flames, and Virgil explains, “there are souls concealed within these moving fires, each one swathed in his burning punishment.”87 Dante the Pilgrim observes a “flame with its tip split in two,” to which Virgil explains the flame contains the souls of both Ulysses and Diomed.88 The contrapasso of the eighth bolgia, possibly, is that these deceivers burn as tongues of flame just as their tongues in life brought forth pain and destruction.89 Moving on, the Pilgrim and Virgil meet another soul, Guido da Montefeltro, “a soldier who became a friar in his old age; but he was untrue to his vows when, at the urging of Pope Boniface VIII, he counseled the use of fraud in the pope’s campaign against the Colonna family. He was damned to hell because he failed to repent his sins, trusting instead in the pope’s fraudulent absolution.”90 Virgil and the Pilgrim press on, where, coming to the ninth bolgia, they see “those who, sowing discord, earned Hell’s wages.”91

Bolgia Nine (XXVIII-XXIV)

As he sees the souls in the ninth bolgia, Dante the Pilgrim struggles to articulate what he observes—”who could, even in the simplest kind of prose describe in full the scene of blood and wounds that I saw now—no matter how he tried.”92 The souls of the ninth bolgia are all horrendously maimed. As an example, the Pilgrim observes a soul, “between his legs his guts spilled out, with the heart and other vital parts, and the dirty sack that turns to shit whatever the mouth gulps down.”93 The reaction of Dante the Pilgrim coupled with the vulgarity invoked by Dante the Poet signals a particular distain for the sin punished in the ninth bolgia—those who sow scandal and schism. The contrapasso is one of the clearest in the Inferno. Just as these souls brought violence to the body of either the state or the Church, they now suffer a mutilated body in hell. In fact, at the end of the canto, the Pilgrim and Virgil meet a shade, Betran de Born, who, holding his severed head like a lamp, exclaims, “in me you see the perfect contrapasso!”94 It is also worth noting that Mahomet or the Prophet Mohammad walks the ninth bolgia with his body split from mouth to anus.95 In front of him, “weeping,” is Ali, one of his first followers and husband to Mohammad’s daughter, Fatima.96 The presence of Mohammad and Ali in the ninth bolgia illuminates the traditional understanding that Islam is a heresy of Catholicism.

Bolgia Ten – The Falsifiers (XXIX-XXX)

Virgil and the Pilgrim arrive at the tenth and final bolgia. The Pilgrim notes, “weird shrieks of lamentation pieced through me like arrow-shafts whose tops are barbed with pity, so that my hands were covering my ears.”97 The wailing comes from the souls “crammed all together rotting in one ditch” who suffer from agonizing diseases.98 The Pilgrim sees “heaped-up spirits languishing in clumps,” while others lay on the backs, others on their bellies, and others crawl “along that squalid alley.”99 The souls dig their nails “into their flesh, crazy to ease the itching that can never find relief.”100 The souls punished in pestilence are the falsifiers, and each type of falsification presented by Dante the Poet exhibits a different disease—”the Alchemists are afflicted with leprosy, the Impersonators are mad, the Counterfeiters suffer from dropsy and the Liars are afflicted with a fever that makes them stink.”101 The Pilgrim notes that Potiphar’s wife suffers in the tenth bolgia for her false actions against Joseph.102 As the Eighth Circle of Hell is brought to a close, Musa comments that simple fraud in its worst form—as seen in the final bolgia—is presented as a disease. Musa states, “Dante would be telling us that Fraud in general is a disease: the corrupt sense of values of the Fraudulent is here symbolized, in the case of the Falsifiers, by the corrupt state of their minds and bodies.”103

14. The Pit of the Giants (XXXI)

From the tenth and final bolgia of the Eighth Circle, Virgil and the Pilgrim come to a great and impassible pit leading down into Ninth Circle of Hell. The Pilgrim sees what he perceives to be four towers rising from the pit. Virgil, however, clarifies that the towers are in fact giants “standing in the well around the bank—all of them hidden from their navels down.”104 The giants—from both biblical and classical literature—represent treason. Nimrod rebelled against God in building the Tower of Babel, while the giants from classical mythology all rebelled against the pagan gods.105 The dominant sin on display is pride, and calls to mind the angels perched at the City of Dis who rebelled against God.106 All of the giants, save the titan Anteaeus, are chained to the wall of the Pit of Giants or the Central Well of the Malebolge. It is the giant Anteaeus, who did not rebel against the Jove, who is free to help the Pilgrim and Virgil by lowering them to Ninth Circle of Hell.107 Those who engaged in “Complex Fraud” or Treachery populate the final circle of hell. As Musa comments, “Violence [the sins of the Lion] is an alliance of ‘evil will’ and ‘brute force,’ while Simple Fraud (in the Malebolge) is the product of ‘evil will’ allied with ‘the faculty of intellect.”108 Musa continues, “Complex Fraud, exemplified by the Giants, the Fallen Angels, Lucifer, and other figures in the Ninth Circle, is a combination of simple frauds and violence (all of the figures in this circle are here for violent rebellion or treacherous murder), that is, of ‘the faculty of intellect… joined with brute force and with evil will.’”109

15. The Ninth & Final Circle of Hell—Treachery (XXXI)

Having received help from the giant Anteaeus, the Pilgrim and Virgil arrive in Cocytus, the frozen lake in the “pit of sin.”110 The Pilgrim and Virgil enter the first area of the frozen waters known as “Caina.”111 The “icy outer ring of Cocytus,” Caina, is named after Cain, and holds the souls of those who “murderously violated family bonds.”112 Next, the Pilgrim and Virgil venture into Antenora, the second ring of Cocytus, where Dante the Pilgrim finds “those who committed acts of treachery against country, city, or political party.”113 Observing the souls in the ice, the Pilgrim notes two souls frozen together in which one is gnawing on the head of the other.114 The gnawing soul, Count Ugolino, tells the Pilgrim how he entered into a treacherous conspiracy with Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, the soul being gnawed, only to have the Archbishop then betray him and lock Count Ugolino, his sons, and his grandsons in a tower.115 In one of the most disturbing narratives of the Inferno, Count Ugolino recounts how he, his sons, and his grandsons were abandoned in the tower and left to starvation. He explains how his own children offered their flesh for him to eat, saying, “O father, you would make us suffer less, if you would feed on us.”116 He watched them die, one by one, until he finally goes blind from starvation and “groped over their dead bodies” as he called their names for two days.117 Finally, he says, “Then hunger proved more powerful than grief.”118 Whether he cannibalized his children is left to speculation, but it is noteworthy that he is eternally gnawing on the Archbishop.119 The Pilgrim and Virgil arrive at the third ring or region—Tolomea or Ptolomea—named after Ptolemy who, according to I Maccabees, invited members of his family to dinner and then slew them.120 The souls of Tolomea lay frozen face up in the ice and “weeping puts an end to weeping” as their tears form painful “knotted” crystals around their eyes.121 The Pilgrim comments, “the grief that finds no outlet from the eyes turns inward to intensify the anguish.”122 Pressing onward, Virgil leads the Pilgrim to “Judecca”—named after Judas Iscariot—in which those souls that have betrayed their benefactors or their lords are frozen completely in the ice.123 The Pilgrim notes the distorted figures, saying, “To me they looked like straws worked into glass.”124 Finally, the Pilgrim sees the gigantic figure of Satan. The figure of Lucifer, the arch-traitor against his Benefactor and Lord, God, is frozen in the ice to the waist as his six bat-like wings eternally beating—thus, causing the wind that freezes all in the pit of hell.125 The Pilgrim observes, Satan, who has three faces on his head, “wept from his six eyes, and down three chins were dripping tears mixed with bloody slaver.”126 Each one of Satan’s faces bears a distinct color—red, yellow, and black—and in each mouth Lucifer “crunched a sinner.”127 In the mouth of the central red face, Judas, who “suffers most of all,” and is inserted headfirst.128 The other two souls are inserted legs first and they are Brutus in the black face—”see how he squirms in silent desperation”—and Cassius in the yellow face.”129 Bringing their journey to an end, Virgil, with the Pilgrim on his back, first climbs down the hairy shanks of Satan, and second, after passing the center of the earth, climbs up the legs of Satan.130 Heading out toward the Mount of Purgatory, the Pilgrim and Virgil exit the earth and behold the stars in the sky.131


Other Lists from the Divine Comedy:

  1. Ante-Purgatory: The 3 Ways Those Who Repent Late in Life are Punished in Dante’s Purgatorio

  2. The 13 Examples of Pride Carved into the Floor of Purgatory


  1. The paraphase of the narrative and most of the direct quotes are taken from The Divine Comedy: The Inferno translated by Mark Musa. Given the ease in which Musa’s text can be read and the insights of his commentary, Musa’s work is an often recommended translation.; Canto VIII, lns. 67-73; “Originally, Dis was the name given by the Romans to Pluto, God of the Underworld. Dante applies the name to Lucifer, but he also applies the name to the pit-city at the base of which Lucifer is forever fixed.” Musa, 145. ↩︎

  2. Canto VIII, lns. 73-78. ↩︎

  3. Id., lns. 82-5. ↩︎

  4. Canto VIII, lns. 124-26. ↩︎

  5. Canto IX, ln. 38; Musa notes these three Furies (Tisiphone, Megaera, and Alecto) can be seen as the “antithesis” of the three “Heavenly Ladies (Mary, Lucia, and Beatrice) who form the chain of grace in Canto II; they are, therefore, another infernal distortion of the Trinity.” Musa, 153. ↩︎

  6. Canto IX, lns. 64-6, 79-81; St. Bernard, who will appear in Paradise, spoke of the three advents of Christ in his Sermons on the Advents: the First Advent of Christ “culminates in his descent into Hell,” the Second Advent of Christ “is the daily coming of Christ into men’s hearts,” and “the Third Advent will be the Last Judgment, when Christ shall come to judge the living and dead.” In the Divine Comedy, there are analogs: the first advent is paralleled by the angel opening the gates of Dis, the second advent will be an angel who in Purgatory drives the serpent, sin, back from the mountain (as Christ comes into the heart and drives away sin), and the third advent will be the coming of Beatrice who passes judgment on Dante the Pilgrim before taking him into Paradise. Musa, 154-55. ↩︎

  7. Canto IX, lns. 88-99; notice too that Virgil, who symbolizing the best of human reason, cannot complete the journey at hand without the aid of divine grace, i.e., the angel. Musa, 156; lns. 61-105. ↩︎

  8. Canto IX, lns. 115-117. ↩︎

  9. Canto IX, lns. 121-23, 118-120. ↩︎

  10. Musa, 157; Canto IX, lns. 127-31. ↩︎

  11. Musa, 157. ↩︎

  12. Musa, 157. ↩︎

  13. Canto X, lns. 98-108; cf. Musa, 166. ↩︎

  14. Musa, 163, 166-67; Dante the Poet also places Pope Anastasius II (496-98) in the realm of the heretics, as he reported allowed a heretical deacon to taken Holy Communion; however, Dante to the Poet most likely confuses the pope with Emperor Anastasius I (491-518) who accepted the heretical doctrine of denying Christ’s divine birth. Musa, 173. ↩︎

  15. Canto XI, lns. 28-33. ↩︎

  16. Canto XI, lns. 58-63. ↩︎

  17. Canto XI, lns. 61-63. ↩︎

  18. Canto XII, lns. 25-27. ↩︎

  19. Canto XII, lns. 46-48. ↩︎

  20. Canto XII, lns. 73-75. ↩︎

  21. Canto XII, lns. 103-123; cf. Musa, 182, 184. ↩︎

  22. Musa, 181-82. ↩︎

  23. Canto XIII, lns. 4-6. ↩︎

  24. Canto XIII, lns. 10-15. ↩︎

  25. Canto XIII, lns. 23, 28-30. ↩︎

  26. Canto XIII, lns. 33, 35. ↩︎

  27. Canto XIII, lns. 94-99. ↩︎

  28. Canto XIII, lns. 103-108. ↩︎

  29. Id. ↩︎

  30. Canto XIII, lns. 110-29. ↩︎

  31. Canto XIII, lns. 123-29. ↩︎

  32. Musa, 193. ↩︎

  33. Musa, 194. ↩︎

  34. Musa, 194. ↩︎

  35. Canto XIV ln. 29. ↩︎

  36. Canto XIV ln. 24. ↩︎

  37. Musa, 203. ↩︎

  38. Canto XIV ln. 103, cf. 94-119; Musa, 203. ↩︎

  39. Musa, 203. ↩︎

  40. Musa, 203. ↩︎

  41. Musa, 203. ↩︎

  42. Canto XV, lns. 30-33, 106-08; Musa, 210; Canto XVI; Musa, 219; it is worth reiterating that Dante’s presentation of the sodomites are almost all virtuous persons who exhibited either great intellectual virtue or the virtue of fortitude, yet, they remain damned nonetheless; the contrast invokes again Dante’s pity, see Canto XVI, lns. 52-4. ↩︎

  43. Musa, 210; in addition, the contrapasso of the burning desert sands, for all three sins, may represent “the sterility of their acts, just as the black leaves and lack of fruit on the trees in the Wood of Suicides depicted their perversion of fruitful living.” Musa, 201. ↩︎

  44. Canto XVI, lns. 106-08; Musa, 221. ↩︎

  45. Canto, XVI, lns. 130-31; Musa, 221; Musa posits that the cord represents “self-confidence,” as it is the same cord with which Dante the Pilgrim was going to try and catch the leopard in Canto I; here, “fraud, personified by the monster Geryon, is naturally attracted by this symbol of confidence and comes swimming to the top; but against Reason [personified by Virgil], Fraud cannot prevail;” note also, “it is the leopard that reign over this last division [of Hell], where Fraud is punished…” Musa, 222-22. ↩︎

  46. Canto XVII, lns. 10-12, 27; Musa sees Geryon, a three-part monster, as another perversion of the Trinity, Musa 227-28. Musa also observes, “by answering Virgil’s signal, Geryon himself has been deceived: the symbol of Fraud has been defrauded.” Musa, 228. ↩︎

  47. Canto XVII, lns. 46-63; Musa notes the usurpers “serve as the artistic and spatial connection between the sins of Violence and those of Fraud,” and “the usurers are unrecognizable through facial characteristics because their total concern with their material goods has caused them to lose their individuality.” Musa, 228-29. ↩︎

  48. Canto XVII, lns. 79-135. ↩︎

  49. Musa, 231; “”The offenses of circles 8 and 9—the lowest two circles of hell—all fall under the rubric of fraud, a form of malice—as Virgil explains in Inferno 11.22-7—unique to human beings and therefore more displeasing to God than sins of concupiscence and violence. While all versions of fraud involve the malicious use of reason, circles 8 and 9 are distinguished from one another according to the offender’s relationship to his or her victim: those who victimize someone with whom they share a special bond of trust (relatives, political / civic comrades, guests, benefactors) are punished in the lowest circle; if there exists no bond besides the “natural” one common to all humanity, the guilty soul suffers in one of the ten concentric ditches that constitute circle 8.” Danteworlds, University of Texas. ↩︎

  50. Canto XVIII, ln. 25. ↩︎

  51. Canto XVIII, lns. 35-6. ↩︎

  52. Canto XVIII, lns. 82-99. ↩︎

  53. Canto XVIII, lns. 103-08. ↩︎

  54. Canto XVIII, lns. 130-32; Musa notes, “this Thais is not the historical person by the same name (the most famous courtesan of all time) but a character in Terence’s Eunuchus,” who Dante uses to exemplify the sin of flattery. Musa, 238. ↩︎

  55. Musa, 245; emphasis added; Musa notes that Thais the whore of the previous bolgia links to the simonists as they prostitute the things of God. Musa, 245. ↩︎

  56. Musa, 245. ↩︎

  57. Canto XIX, lns. 22-27. ↩︎

  58. See Canto XIX, ln. 72; there is also an allusion here to an inverted baptism, as the shades as sunk in the earth and their feet are anointed with fire. See Musa, 245-45. ↩︎

  59. Musa introduction to Canto XIX, 239. ↩︎

  60. Canto XIX, lns. 90-92. ↩︎

  61. Canto XIX, lns. 121-133; there is a discussion to be had here on the application of the sin of simony to the modern Church; though offices may not be sold for pecuniary gain, there is a conversation on whether the currency for simony has becoming ideology. ↩︎

  62. Canto XX, ln. 8. ↩︎

  63. See Canto XX, lns. 10-15. ↩︎

  64. Canto XX, lns. 28-30. ↩︎

  65. Musa, 255. ↩︎

  66. The motif of pity returns as the Pilgrim pities the sinners and is chastised by Virgil. See Musa, 255-56, cf. V, 138-42; VI, 59-59. ↩︎

  67. Canto XXI, lns. 16-21. ↩︎

  68. Canto XXI, lns. 52-4; Musa, 265. ↩︎

  69. XXX, 55-7. ↩︎

  70. See Musa, 266-67, stating, “the canto closes on this vulgar but comic note [the fart], which is indicative of the essentially farcical nature of this bolgia, so different from the remainder of the Inferno. In the next canto we see the devils and sinners amusing themselves with bizarre sports, which we must assume are the rule rather than the exception.” ↩︎

  71. XXII, 97-132. ↩︎

  72. Musa, 275; Musa also notes that the lie of the sinner to the demons is the second fraudulent act of this narrative, as it is clear the demons have no true intention of guiding Virgil and the Pilgrim safely through to the next bolgia. Musa notes a possible “third, implicit, lie” between the demons, as one seems to realize the shade will defraud them, but wants the opportunity to blame and fight the devil who agreed to the rouse. Id. ↩︎

  73. XXIII, 43. ↩︎

  74. XXIII, 65, see 58-67. ↩︎

  75. XXIII, 59-60. ↩︎

  76. XXIII, 111. ↩︎

  77. XXIII, 115-23; see Musa, 284. ↩︎

  78. XXIV, 34-5. ↩︎

  79. XXIV, 82-4, 91-2. ↩︎

  80. XXIV, 102-5; Dante compares this process to the phoenix. ↩︎

  81. XXV, 1-9. ↩︎

  82. XXV, 22-34; Cacus presumably makes an appearance in this bolgia as he is famous for stealing the cattle of Hercules who in turn killed Cacus. See Musa, 302. ↩︎

  83. XXV, 49-78. ↩︎

  84. XXV, 85-123. ↩︎

  85. Musa, 304. ↩︎

  86. The sin punished in the eighth bolgia has been traditional thought to be “evil counsel,” but, as the notes below explain, it is probably more likely for the sin to be deception or evil rhetoric. Most notably the souls in the eighth and ninth bolgia are referred to as “like filth,” denoting a special disgust against these sins by Dante the Poet. See Musa, 313-14. ↩︎

  87. XXVI, 47-8. ↩︎

  88. XXVI, 52, 55. ↩︎

  89. “The shades punished in the eighth pit (hidden within tongues of fire) are traditionally thought of as “evil counselors,” based on the damnation of Guido da Montefeltro (Inf. 27.116). A more accurate description, consistent with both the contrapasso of the tongue-like flames and the Ulysses episode in Inferno 26 as well as with Guido’s appearance in Inferno 27, might be the use of rhetoric—understood as eloquence aimed at persuasion—by talented individuals for insidious ends.” Danteworlds, University of Texas; cf. Musa, 313-14. ↩︎

  90. Musa, 315; the fraudulent absolution here is that it was offered before the friar committed the sin. The friar, a victim of fraud, then engages in fraud via deception or evil rhetoric. ↩︎

  91. XXVII, 136. ↩︎

  92. XXVIII, 1-3. ↩︎

  93. XXVIII, 25-7, cf. 19-24. ↩︎

  94. XXVIII, 142. ↩︎

  95. XXVIII, 25-33; Musa, 331. ↩︎

  96. XXVIII, 32-3; Musa, 331. ↩︎

  97. XXIX, 43-5. ↩︎

  98. XXIX, 49, see 50-69. ↩︎

  99. XXIX, 66, see 67-72. ↩︎

  100. XXIX, 79-81. ↩︎

  101. Musa, 351; notably, this is also the only contrapasso in the Inferno that renders a soul insane, see Musa, 348. ↩︎

  102. XXX, 97. ↩︎

  103. Musa, 351; Musa also notes that the bolgia is unique insofar as the contrapasso comes from within the souls, juxtaposed to something external. ↩︎

  104. XXXI, 32-3. ↩︎

  105. Musa, 358; Musa presented that St. Augustine, among others, traditionally held the biblical figure of Nimrod to be a giant. Note also that Nimrod, connected to Babel, cannot speak coherently. See Musa, 358. ↩︎

  106. Musa, 358. ↩︎

  107. XXXI, 141-43. ↩︎

  108. Musa, 359. ↩︎

  109. Musa, 359. ↩︎

  110. XXXI, 102. ↩︎

  111. Musa, 367, see XXXII, 59. ↩︎

  112. Musa, 367. ↩︎

  113. Musa, 368, see XXXII, 88; the second ring is named after “the Trojan warrior who, according to one legend, betrayed his city to the Greeks.” See Musa, 368. ↩︎

  114. XXXII, 127-29. ↩︎

  115. Musa, 375, commenting on XXXIII, 13-14. ↩︎

  116. XXXIII, 61. ↩︎

  117. XXXIII, 61-63. ↩︎

  118. XXXIII, 75. ↩︎

  119. See Musa, 376, cmt. on XXXIII, 75. ↩︎

  120. Musa, 378. ↩︎

  121. XXXIII, 94, 97; cf. 91-9. ↩︎

  122. XXXIII, 95-6; two comments of note regarding Tolomea: (1) here, Dante the Pilgrim promises to help a soul and then does not. In effect, the Pilgrim deceives a soul suffering punishment for deception. It is narrative that should be taken in juxtaposition to the motif of pity and how the Pilgrim interacts with the souls in hell. See, XXXIII, 115-17; (2) there is a reference in Tolomea to the belief that if a person on earth commits a treacherous act, it is possible for them to die at that moment, go to hell, and have a demon take over their body on earth. See, XXXIII, 124-35; Musa, 377. ↩︎

  123. Musa, 384; the contrapasso of the Ninth Circle of Hell may be, as Musa states, “the gelid abode of those souls in whom all warmth of love for God and for their fellow man has been extinguished.” Musa, 384. It is worth noting that in each region of Cocytus, the sinners are frozen deeper into the ice: in Caina, they are frozen to their waists; in Antenora, they are frozen to the chin; in Tolomea, they are frozen with their faces upward; and in Judecca, they are completely frozen. Also note that Lucifer, the arch-traitor, is the cause of everything being frozen. ↩︎

  124. XXXIV, 12. ↩︎

  125. Musa, 384; ↩︎

  126. XXXIV, 53-4; Musa notes that the three faces are first and foremost another tripart and hellish distortion of the Holy Trinity, see Musa, 384. ↩︎

  127. XXXIV, 55; for colors, XXXIV, 37-45; “Lucifer’s three faces—each a different color (red, whitish-yellow, black)—parody the doctrine of the Trinity: three complete persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) in one divine nature—the Divine Power, Highest Wisdom, and Primal Love that created the Gate of Hell and, by extension, the entire realm of eternal damnation.” Danteworlds, University of Texas. Musa adds, “Highest Wisdom would be opposed to ignorance (black), Divine Omnipotence by impotence (yellow), Primal Love by hared or envy (red).” Musa, 385. ↩︎

  128. XXXIV, 61, cf. 62-3. ↩︎

  129. XXXIV, 66, cf. 64-9; while Judas betrayed Christ, Brutus and Cassius betrayed Julius Caesar, representing treason against the Church and the State (Empire). See, Musa, 385. ↩︎

  130. See XXXIV, 79-81; Musa, 385-87. ↩︎

  131. See Musa, 387. ↩︎