This figure provides a good visual representation of how precisely conceived “Hell” is in the Inferno
portion of Dante’s Divine Comedy
. Note the various levels, from the entrance in the “Dark Wood” all the way down to Satan. There are nine circles of Hell (a numerologically significant number for Dante), each designated for a specific type of sinner. Circle I (the circles indicate increasing levels of sinfulness) includes those who were Virtuous Pagans (including the great pre-Christian poets like Homer, Ovid, and Virgil, who is Dante’s guide). Those who were wrathful find themselves in Circle V, while Flatterers and Sowers of Discord find themselves down in Circle VIII (itself subdivided into even more granular categories). Corresponding cantos from the poem are indicated on the right, which reminds us of the organizing principle of the epic: the journey through these levels that Dante undertakes with Virgil. The journey, ultimately from Hell, through Purgatory, and to Paradise, is an allegory for the soul’s journey to God.