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Sinners of the Inferno

Paolo and Francesca

Paolo and Francesca are doomed to spend eternity among the lustful of the second circle of the Inferno.  Just as in life, they were swept up by passions, in death, they are whirled about in an eternal windstorm.  Francesca had an arranged marriage to Gianciotto Malatesta, Paolo's brother.  She married him by proxy through Paolo and did not even realize she was married to him until the day after the wedding.   In one of the most memorable scenes of the entire Commedia, Francesca recounts to Dante and Virgil her tragic love story.  She tells Dante that while reading Lancelot's tale, they fell in love and committed adultery.  When Gianciotto discovered that they were having an affair, he killed them both.  According to Francesca, love ensnared the couple and compelled them to sin. She claims that it is impossible to reject love, and that she had no choice but to sin.  According to Francesca, love seized her such that she cannot escape its grasp even in the depths of Hell:  “Love, which absolves no one beloved from loving, / seized me so strongly with his charm that, / as you see, it has not left me yet”.[1] Upon hearing Francesca's speech, Dante becomes overwhelmed with pity and faints.  He falls to the ground as though he were dead:  “While the one spirit said this / the other wept, so that for pity / I swooned as if in death”. [2]


Amor, ch'ha nullo amato amar perdona,
mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
che, come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona. (Inf. V. 103-105)




Bertran de Born 

Bertran de Born suffers eternal torment among the schismatics of the Eighth Circle of the Inferno.  Bertran was a troubadour poet who used his gift to stir up strife and division between King Henry II of England and his son, Young King Henry.  The Son demanded that his father give him more territory, but he refused, and so, the son began a bloody rebellion.  For ten long years he waged war against his father, and whenever Young King Henry grew weary of fighting, Bertran renewed his strength by singing him one of his songs.  In the Inferno, Bertran is gruesomely punished for using poetry to incite discord amongst family members and his countrymen.  Within his own body, he must suffer the same unnatural division that he caused between father and son.  He holds his severed head by its hair and it swings to and fro like a lantern.  Bertran speaks through his decapitated head and tells Dante and Virgil that his punishment is perfectly just and in accordance with the law of the contrapasso.  The contrapasso rules the Dantean system of divine retribution and states that sinners must endure in the afterlife an exact and reciprocal punishment for their wicked deeds on earth.  [3]






Count Ugolino of Gherardesca

Count Ugolino's eternal place of torment is located in the depths of the Inferno among the political traitors of the ninth circle of hell.  His hunger for political power led him to shift political alliances between the feuding Guelf and Ghibelline factions, and to commit several treacherous deeds against the city of Pisa.  Archbishop Ruggieri, a former political ally, betrayed Ugolino by having him arrested and put to death in a most cruel manner.  Imprisoned in a tower without any food or water, Ugolino and his sons slowly and painfully starved to death.  In the Inferno, Ugolino will spend eternity immersed in a pool of ice and will forever gnaw at the nape of Ruggieri's neck. [4]




The Penitent of the Purgatorio


Buonconte of Montefeltro

Among the late penitents of the Ante-Purgatorio, Dante and Virgil meet Buonconte of Montefeltro, a man who had spent his entire life in sin.  He was mortally wounded during the Battle of Campaldino in 1289, and in the last moments of his life, he repented of all his wicked deeds.  Both an Angel and a Demon came to claim his soul and soon they began to fight over Buonconte's eternal fate.  The Angel wins his soul, and the demon takes revenge upon Buonconte's body by conjuring up a violent storm.  The flood waters carry Buonconte's body to the Arno River and bury it deep within the river bank.  [5]






Marco Lombardo

Marco Lombardo was a virtuous man who lived in the second half of the thirteenth century.  Dante and Virgil meet him on the smoke-filled terrace of the wrathful.  The smoke represents the blindness of anger and forces the penitent to walk carefully and slowly.  Dante asks Lombardo if the motion of the Heavens causes the world and its people to become corrupt.  Lombardo explains to the pilgrim the stars are not responsible for people's bad behavior.  Everyone is born with free will and has the capacity to chose between good and evil.  Lombardo argues that without free will, God would unjustly condemn or reward mankind for actions over which they had no control. [6]


The Purification of the Penitent


While suffering from starvation, the Gluttons of the sixth terrace of the Purgatorio sing Psalm 51:  “Lord, you will open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise"  [7].  Meanwhile, the Avaricious and Prodigal of the fifth terrace stretch themselves out upon the ground and sing Psalm 119:  “My soul has cleaved to the pavement: quicken me according to your word”  [8].

Domine, labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.  (Psalm 51)

Adhaesit pavimento anima mea:  vivifica me secundum verbum tuum.  (Psalm 119)




Gallery of Sinners of the Inferno 



Gallery of the Penitent of the Purgatorio






1.  Citation:  Inf. V.  104-105.  Dante Alighieri, and Mark Musa. Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

2.  Citation:  Inf. V.  142.  Dante Alighieri, and Mark Musa. Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

3.  Bertran de Born.  Inf.  XXVIII

4.  Count Ugolino.  Inf.  XXXII-XXXIII.

5.  Buonconte of Montefeltro.  Purg. V.

6.  Marco Lombardo.  Purg.  XVI.

7.  Citation:  Purg.  XXIII.  11.  Dante Alighieri, and Mark Musa. Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

8.  Citation.  Purg.  XIX.  73.  Dante Alighieri, and Mark Musa. Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.

9.  All Psalms from The New American Bible.

10.  Carroll, John S. Exiles of Eternity: An Exposition of Dante's Inferno. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971.

11.  Carroll, John S. Prisoners of Hope: An Exposition of Dante's Purgatorio. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971.

12.  Raffa, Guy P. The Complete Danteworlds: A Reader's Guide to the Divine Comedy. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

13.  Reade, W. H. V. 1872-1943. The Moral System of Dante's Inferno. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1969.