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Scott King
Dr. Summers
10 April 2016
The Seventh Circle
In Dante Alighieris The Inferno, Dante creates a Hell in which sinful Christians are
tortured and tormented for their earthly sins accordingly. The common conception of Hell often
goes along the lines of the Bibles depiction of fire and brimstone. However, Dantes Hell is
more than just fire and brimstone, as its vivid depiction in the Divine Comedy is enough to make
any living Christian raise concerns over his or her own place in this alternative world. The
discussion of life and death and the existence of Heaven and Hell is a timeless one. Since Dantes
The Inferno provides an incredibly detailed and descriptive possibility on what Hell might be
like, it is easy to understand its popularity over the course of time. Dantes Hell is unique in that
those who reside within are tormented according to the sins they were guilty of in life. In Dantes
time, this must have been an entirely new idea given that every individual within Hell is not
punished in the same way. The unique qualities of each torment and the sin that caused it are
particularly creative in that as the common saying goes, The punishment fits the crime.
Throughout the course of time, many Christians simply understand Hell as the place where all
sinners are punished equally in the afterlife. The idea that sinners will be punished and tormented
according to their specific sin in the different circles of Hell is one that speaks of not only
Dantes brilliance, but also of the brilliance of Dantes God. In Dantes Seventh Circle of Hell,
the reader finds many of the worlds violent, each of whom is punished in a way that fits their
earthly offense and magnifies the issue of violence in our world.
In the Seventh Circle of Hell Dante learns from his guide, Virgil, that sinners are divided
into three sub-circles according to their sins. At the edge of the Seventh Circle Dante is

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overcome by a powerful stench, symbolizing the foul nature of the role that violence plays in our
earthly lives and in our afterlife. In the first sub-circle, Dante finds those who are tormented for
committing the violent sins of homicide and banditry. The offences of these sinners fall under
the category of violence against others. Consequently, they are punished by remaining immersed
in a boiling river of blood. In this sub-circle Dante finds the likes of Alexander the Great,
Dionysius, and Attilla the Hun. This punishment is particularly fitting in that as the centaur
guiding Dante explains, They are tyrants who put their / hands to blood and to others goods
(Canto XII. Page 189. Lines 104-105). This is a fitting punishment for their earthly sins because
they are forced to be submerged in the boiling blood that they lusted after in their lives. The
blood that they drew by tormenting and killing their victims now torments them in the afterlife.
Due to the vast numbers of victims each of these tyrants had, they are submerged nearly entirely
so that they experience the full extent of their earthly offences. However, that is not to say that
every murderer is punished in the same manner. Dante notices that the rivers depth changes over
the course of the sub-circle, meaning that some inhabitants are submerged to their stomach and
others only to their feet (XII. 191). It is an important thing to consider that even within the subcircle inhabitants are punished according to their individual sins. Therefore it can be assumed
that those whose violence affected one person is only submerged by his feet whereas those
whose violence affected many will have a greater portion of themselves submerged in the boiling
river of blood. In this regard Gods punishment for those committed to Hell is just. It is a
distinctive idea that no matter how an individual can be categorized due to his or her sins, there
will always be something to make their punishment unique to anothers. Following this line of
thought, it makes it more difficult for a living Christian to be able to predict what punishment
may be in store for him or her. There are so many factors that are involved when considering the

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type of punishment one might find himself or to the extent of which the punishment must be
undergone. Dantes punishment for the violent against others is incredibly distinctive and
intimidating for the living Christian because of these factors.
The second sub-circle within the Seventh Circle of Hell belongs to those who committed
violence against themselves. Dante depicts the punishment of those that committed suicide or
harmed themselves in other ways through a wood in which there is no path. The concept of no
path being visible is significant. No path is given for those existing silently within the wood
because they disregarded Gods path in their lives by killing themselves instead of following
their God-given path. It is important to note that an individual who commits suicide denies
himself or herself the right to immortality with God. Therefore, it makes sense that Dante would
make it so that those who kill themselves have no chance of eternal life. The concept of eternal
damnation for those who commit suicide is a common one in the Christian tradition. People find
an appeal in suicide because it is an escape from the difficulties that life might bring. Those who
commit suicide do so believing that the only person they are harming are themselves. In reality,
suicide negatively affects everyone that the individual knows and loves. For those who know
someone that committed suicide, they are left asking questions like: Why did this happen? Was
there anything I could have done? Why did I not see this coming? Friends and loved ones will
forever carry regret for not being able to reach out and help the deceased. Families will view the
suicide as a failure on their part, particularly for the parents. They will be reminded of that failure
every holiday season or family dinner, when there is one fewer plate on the table. Siblings
deserve the right to have every family member at major life events such as weddings and
graduations. A father has a right to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day and a
mother has a right to a mother-son dance on his wedding day. When an individual takes his or
her life, they rob the rest of their family members of this right and leave a void in moments such

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as those major life events. In reality, suicide affects everyone and must be punished accordingly,
as Dante depicts. Therefore it is entirely fitting that those who commit suicide would find
themselves as a twisted and deformed tree or bush, unable to speak unless it is broken. The
ultimate finish in Dantes vision for those who commit suicide will come after the Last
Judgment. At this time when other souls are reunited with their bodies, these trees will instead
bear the burden of having their bodies hung from their limbs. It is a fitting conclusion for those
who disregarded their God-given life and bodies. In this way I fully agree with the punishment
Dante provides for those who commit suicide.
The final sub-circle within the Seventh Circle of Hell is reserved for those who were
violent against God. This sub-circle is further divided into three zones containing blasphemers,
sodomites, and usurers, respectively. This sub-circle is unique as what defines a sin against God
can be debated. However, the first zones offense against God is clear given the nature of
blasphemy, speaking sacrilegiously against God. In this zone, the inhabitants are forced to lie
prone on burning sands with a rain of fire coming down upon them. This punishment is fitting in
that God is often depicted in Scripture as speaking in tongues of fire. Since these blasphemers
spoke falsely about God, it is only fitting that they be punished with Gods tongues of fire in the
afterlife. Dante describes their punishment, So the eternal burning was coming down, and the /
sand caught fire, like tinder beneath the flint, to / double the suffering (XIV. 221. 37-39). The
fact that the blasphemers burn and suffer from both above and below is significant because out of
these sinners against God, the blasphemers most directly offend the nature of God. The second
zone, Dante finds the sodomites who must continuously walk under a rain of fire. Sodomy is an
offence against God because it is against nature and traditional marriage. The correlation
between the sodomites punishment to their offence is admittedly unclear. However, it is unique
that the sinners found in this zone can endure their torment alongside their lovers. In this way of

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enduring torment together, love can be found even in the depths of Hell. In the third zone, Dante
finds those who are violent against art, otherwise known as usurers. These individuals must sit in
circles under the rain of fire, with purses around their necks. They refused to acknowledge or
respond to Dante, which is unsurprising given that in life they disregarded their fellow citizens
by charging high interests, and so it is understandable that they would continue that mindset
while undergoing their perpetual torment.
Dantes The Inferno has maintained its popularity over the centuries because it serves as a
creative depiction of what Hell might be like. Dantes Hell is unique in that each sinner is
punished according not only by the nature of their sin, but also the extent to which they sinned as
well. Dantes depiction of Hell is enough to make any living Christian second-guess the lifestyle
that he or she has lived. The idea of the torment each of us might undergo if Dantes Hell was
real is not comforting for a sinful Christian. This is especially true considering the specific and
unique nature of each punishment. In seemingly every case, the punishment fits the crime. That
is what makes The Inferno such a timeless and important piece in literature. Dantes work can
and has influenced our actions as Christians in the modern world. Hell often does not become
real for a Christian, who often just brushes it off as fire and brimstone, until they consider that
there could be specific torments according to their sins. As the reality and shock factor of this
settles in, Christians are humbled and may adjust how they live their life accordingly. That is
exactly Dantes objective in writing The Inferno, as he hoped to scare Christians into realizing
that not only does Hell exist, but what punishments for its sinners might entail deserves respect.
Through writing not just The Inferno but the rest of The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri is
making the world a better place one Christian at a time.

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Works Cited
Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri. Trans. Robert M. Durling and Ronald
L. Martinez. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford UP, 1996. Print.