What Are the Seven Circles of Hell?

In Dante’s epic poem “Inferno,” the nine circles of Hell are, from top to bottom, Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Anger, Heresy, Violence, Fraud and Treachery. On these circular levels, sinners are punished in accordance with their transgressions, with Limbo holding the easiest punishments and Treachery, at the bottom, punishing the most egregious sinners.

In the poem, Dante is guided through Hell by the poet Virgil, who was sent to him by his dead love Beatrice. Virgil narrates the tour, which starts at the top level of Hell. Unbaptized souls and virtuous pagans are kept in Limbo, which is not a place of punishment but rather a gentle place that is not Heaven. The next four levels are used to punish sins of self-indulgence, which include lust, gluttony, greed and anger. Levels six and seven are used to punish violent sins, including violence against God like heresy or blasphemy. Finally, levels eight and nine punish malicious sinners, or those who have committed fraud or treason.

“Inferno” is the first poem in “The Divine Comedy,” an allegory of a sinner’s progress toward God. The punishments on each level of Hell are also allegorical and designed to punish sinners in ironically appropriate ways, depending on their sins. In a way, the sinner chooses his own punishment in life. Allusions to Dante’s work can be found throughout literature, as in John Keats’ sonnet “On A Dream,” which references the winds used to punish the lustful.