Who Are The Souls Tortured In This Canto

Who are the souls tortured in Dante's "Inferno"?

Expert Answers
hgarey71 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Divine Comedy was written by Italian writer Dante Alighieri in 1320. It is divided into three parts, which are entitled Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Inferno is the depiction of hell. Purgatorio is the depiction of what Catholics believe is a state of "limbo," meaning the soul is not in heaven or hell. Paradiso, or paradise,  is the depiction of heaven. 

There are different levels of torture in the inferno, depending on the sins committed. In "limbo," people are not fit to enter heaven, but they aren't tortured either. They live in perpetual sorrow. Among those in living in this level are philosophers, authors, and children who have not been baptized. Notable people in this level are Caesar, Homer, Virgil, Socrates, and Aristotle.

Level two is where the lustful are tormented. Souls are tormented by winds of desire. Among those in this level are Cleopatra and Helen of Troy. 

Gluttons are tortured in the third level. They live in mud amid the eternal rain. They are tormented by Cerberus the three-headed dog.

Level four is where the greedy dwell. They are those who hoarded wealth and lived greedily. Plutus, the demon of wealth, lives here.

Level five is the river Styx. This is where the vengeful, cruel, and hateful souls are tormented. 

Heretics are doomed to level six. These are those who refused to believe in God and the afterlife. They are tormented by the Furies.

Level seven is for the violent, assassins, war-mongers, and tyrants. It's guarded by the minotaur. In this level, people who commit suicide are found. Blasphemers and sodomites also dwell in this level. 

Level eight is for sorcerers, fortune-tellers, magicians, diviners, pimps, and hypocrites. They are tortured by leprosy, among other things. 

Level nine is where Satan dwells. It is a freezing place devoid of light. It's for traitors against God and man. Those tortured here are Judas, who betrayed Jesus, and Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Inferno" is the Italian word for Hell. Dante is a Roman Catholic and is thus portraying the souls in Hell in the "Inferno." According to Catholic theology, after death people who have committed mortal sins go to Hell, while those with unforgiven venial sins go to Purgatory. Thus the souls being tortured in "The Inferno" are the souls of people who have committed mortal sins. Some examples are:

  • Circle One - Limbo (unbaptized infants, pagans)
  • Circle Two - the lustful
  • Circle Three - gluttons
  • Circle Four - hoarders
  • Circle Five - people who have indulged in anger or wrath
  • Circle Six - heretics
  • Circle Seven - violent crimes, including usurers, murderers, and suicides
  • Circle Eight - those who commit fraud or falsehoods including thieves, liars, hypocrites, pimps, adulterers, and flatters
  • Circle Nine - Traitors 
pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the Inferno, Dante provides commentary on his times by putting some of the popes and Florentine leadership in Hell for their sins, mainly greed and pride. Dante puts those who committed the seven deadly sins in Hell as well. Dante's Hell is not necessarily the Hell found in the Bible, but rather it is designed so that the punishment fits the crime. For example, gluttons must wallow in waste and filth for all eternity. Lustful people are tossed for all eternity in strong winds, as these people were tossed by their desires while they were alive. The greatest sin of all to Dante is treason--he has Brutus, Cassius, and Judas being chewed by a three-headed Satan who is encased in ice.