“The Most Harrowing Paintings of Hell Inspired by Dante’s Inferno

“Dante Alighieri’s depiction of the afterlife has inspired generations of readers since the Divine Comedy was first published in 1472. In the 14,233 verses of this poem, Dante envisions a trip to the afterlife, guided first by the Roman poet Virgil, who leads him through Hell and Purgatory, and then by his beloved Beatrice, who leads him through Paradise. His detail-rich descriptions of Hell, envisioned as nine concentric circles containing souls of those “who have rejected spiritual values by yielding to bestial appetites or violence, or by perverting their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellowmen,” have inspired artists for the last five centuries. Here are some of the most poignant visualizations of Dante’s Inferno.

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Stradanus, Canto VIII (1587-1588)

Flemish painter Jan van der Straet, known by his Italian name ‘Stradanus,’ completed a series of illustrations of the Divine Comedy between 1587 and 1588, currently preserved at the Laurentian Library in Florence. This illustration refers to Canto VIII, where the wrathful and slothful are punished. Stradanus combines elements of Italian Mannerism, such as painstaking attention to detail, with distinctive Flemish traits like the physiognomy of the demonic figure steering Dante’s boat, who shows a deeply harrowing expression.”    –V. M. Traverso, Aleteia, July 17, 2020

“Parenting Hell” from Litterbox Comics

Posted October 27, 2019, on Litterbox Comics.

“Marcus Berkmann: Circles of Hell”

“‘No, that’s definitely the way you want to go,’ said the same man in the hi-vis jacket, whose integrity we were beginning to doubt. But every route we tried, the satnav eventually led us back to the same roundabout, often by the most circuitous of routes. We had no mobile coverage, so could not raise a map by those means. It was like an episode of The Prisoner. Every wrong turning we took, we expected a huge white barrage balloon to head us off.”    –Marcus Berkmann, The Independent, October 9, 2015

“Students Enjoy the Nine Circles of Hell” at Knox College

“With screams emanating from the Q&A House and a long line waiting for their turn, 99 students traveled through the nine circles of hell on Saturday night.

Groups of up to three students traveled through the transformed living room, kitchen and basement, being scared by 12 student actors playing roles or helping behind the scenes in the Dante’s Inferno themed house.

‘The interesting thing from this year is usually you have a guide, a very creepy guide, that takes you through the haunted house. And this time you have the narrator telling you which circle you’re in, and it’s usually through a wall, and you have to follow a laid out path,’ senior Melissa Sher said.

Despite the cold weather, students waited for over an hour at times on Saturday, and in total almost 140 students traveled through the 10-15 minute haunted house on Saturday and Sunday, beating the previous year’s total.

‘[This year was] just as creepy,’ senior Katie Haynes said, ‘They hold themselves to a pretty high standard and doing this is just wonderful.’

While some students found parts scary, others enjoyed the house and even spurted out some laughs.”    –John Williams, The Knox Student, November 2, 2011

“7 Circles of Library Hell” at Northwestern University

“Periodicals: The most frigid and judgmental part of the library. If you even think of talking or breathing above a whisper, you will be violently shushed (and maybe shanked).”    –Caroline Brown, North by Northwestern, February 22, 2016

RuPaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue S01E02

“On Season 1 Episode 2 of Rupaul’s Drag Race: Vegas Revue, Yvie Oddly claims that she is ‘in the seventh circle of hell’ when describing the chaos backstage of a live performance.”   –Contributor Ellie Marvin

Watch the full episode, which aired August 28, 2020, on VH1.

Contributed by Ellie Marvin (Florida State University MA ’21)

Dan Christian, All My Life’s A Circle… A Harry Chapin and Dante Alighieri Anthology (2006)

“Taking ideas and putting them into action is a specialty of Baltimore, Maryland, English teacher Dan Christian. In his quarter century of teaching at The Gilman School, Christian has successfully merged his two passions, the music of Harry Chapin and the teaching of Dante’s poem the Divine Comedy. The result is a thought-provoking and insightful spiral-bound book of student essays called All My Life’s A Circle…A Harry Chapin & Dante Alighieri Anthology.

Until this year, Christian’s in-class efforts had been informal, with references to Harry being made as ideas arose while teaching. Recalling a concept that emerged from a 1990 seminar for teachers of Dante’s work, this year Christian formally put ‘celestial cross-pollination’–the intersection of art and literature–into place. Christian notes, ‘I asked my students to answer the question: Why and in what ways could a character in Dante’s poem have benefited from or been enriched by listening to this particular song?'”    –Linda McCarty, Circle!, Summer 2006

Dan Christian was the 2017 winner of the Durling Prize of the Dante Society of America, which recognizes exceptional accomplishments by North American secondary school teachers who offer courses or units on Dante’s life and works. Read more about Dan’s teaching philosophy on his website https://danteiseverywhere.com/.

“Trump Shows off His Own Circle of Hell”

“I’m the first guy to get a whole circle, it’s terrific. They evicted the Kennedys to put it in. Nobody, and I mean nobody else got this much abyss. Moody Judy Iscariot lives in a studio apartment in Satan’s mouth. Sad! Welcome to Mar-a-Lava.

Look at my pit. I have the deepest pit with the sharpest knives. These other guys, they have shallow fork holes, it’s pathetic. You should have seen how many demons came to my desecration. Packed like sardines. The noise was incredible. Biggest horde ever. They all wanted a piece of me. Good thing the pieces grew back. Very powerful agony!”    –Ella Gale, McSweeney’s, September 20, 2019

Vergil – Halo 3: ODST

“Vergil was a subroutine built into the larger Superintendent artificial intelligence construct of New Mombasa. It later merged with Quick to Adjust, a renegade Covenant Huragok who would subsequently be known as ‘Vergil’ among many humans.

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The name Vergil itself is likely a reference to the Divine Comedy, specifically to Virgil, the poet that guides fellow poet Dante through the nine circles of hell and purgatory, much in the same way the Rookie is guided through a metaphorical hell-on-earth, a destroyed New Mombasa, and also through the nine ‘circles’ of audio logs, a reference to the nine circles of hell.”    —Halopedia, August 5, 2019

Learn more about Bungie’s 2009 video game Halo 3: ODST here.

“Dante Knows Where Trump Can Go”

“I used to be a Dante scholar, so I’m accustomed to answering questions about the poet no one asked. Here’s one: Were he alive today, to which circle of hell would Dante consign President Donald Trump? Trump’s sins are many, so Dante would have options: there’s the second circle, which punishes the lustful, or the third, for bloated gluttons. Trump could also be at home in circle four (avarice and prodigality) and five (anger and acedia, or laziness). So much then for crimes of passion, or, in Dante’s Aristotelian framework, offenses that involve only the will. The penalties in those circles seem too lenient. So what about circles reserved for more cold-blooded transgressions, which require the intellect? Circles seven (violence), eight (simple fraud, including flattery, thievery, and barratry, or selling political office), and nine (treacherous fraud, reserved for the most serious felons, who betray relatives, country, guests, and benefactors) all seem viable. But sending Trump there is contingent on him demonstrating the conscious use of his intellect, which, of course, would be difficult. That leaves just circle six: heretics and atheists.”    –Griffin Oleynick, Commonweal, June 4, 2020