Dante's Inferno Key Plot Points
by Dante Alighieri

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Key Plot Points

While we recommend reading Dante’s Inferno in its entirety, we understand that your classroom may have time constraints. The following Key Plot Points are meant to guide you and your students to the most relevant parts of the text so you can plan your lessons most efficiently. 

The Dark Wood (Cantos 1–2): The year is 1300. Dante, aged 35, finds himself traversing a dark wood, having lost the path. He encounters a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Evading them, he then meets the Roman poet Virgil, who agrees to guide Dante down through the nine circles of hell. 

The First Circle (Canto 4): Having passed through the Gates of Hell, Dante and Virgil enter Limbo, a region populated by the souls of those who are noble in character but unbaptized, including pagans and infants. Dante is honored to stroll with a company of great ancient poets, including Homer, Ovid, Lucan, and Horace. 

The Second Circle (Canto 5): At the entrance of the Second Circle, Dante and Virgil encounter the Cretan king Minos, who judges the incoming souls and sorts them into their proper place in hell. Once inside, Dante and Virgil encounter the souls of the lustful, who in life failed to contain their erotic urges and who now are eternally buffeted about by surging winds. 

The Third Circle (Canto 6): In the Third Circle, the souls of the gluttonous splash about and wallow in a bog, blinded by the mud and chilled by the icy rain pouring down on them. Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog, viciously surveils them. Virgil fills the dog’s mouths with gobs of mud, allowing him and Dante to slip past. 

The Fourth Circle (Canto 7): The Fourth Circle is the realm of the greedy, lorded over by Plutus, the Roman god of earthly wealth. The greedy souls, both those who hoard and those who squander, are fated to eternally roll great bags of gold uphill in Sisyphean fashion or spin in circles, rolling great boulders into one another. 

The Fifth Circle (Cantos 7–9): The souls of the wrathful float in the foul, stagnant River Styx, with the more aggressive souls breaking the surface and barking hatefully, the more mutely angry souls languishing in the depths. Virgil and Dante hire Phlegyas to ferry them across. On the other shore, they enter the walled city of Dis, which contains the subsequent circles of hell. 

The Sixth Circle (Canto 10): The souls of heretics burn forever, piled deep in the flaming graves of the Sixth Circle. This herd of heretics largely consists of Epicureans, hedonists, and other materialists, whose great heresy lies in their claim that the soul dies with the body. 

The Seventh Circle (Cantos 12–17): Virgil and Dante evade the Minotaur as they enter the Seventh Circle, which houses the violent in three subdivided rings. In the first ring, the souls of those who were violent against their neighbors wallow in the Phlegethon, a great river of burning blood. In the second ring, the souls of suicides stand as a grove of gnarled trees, perpetually harassed by harpies. In the third ring burn those souls who committed violence against God (blasphemers), Nature (sodomites), and Art (usurers). These souls are marooned on a vast plain of burning sand, rained upon by flakes of fire. To descend through the abyssal gulf to the Eighth Circle, Virgil solicits the aid of the winged beast Geryon, who transports...

(The entire section is 858 words.)