As Dante journeys through the Inferno he encounters sinners condemned to eternal damnation because of their actions or in some cases inaction while on earth.
One can gain a deeper understanding of Dante's Inferno by studying the seven deadly sins which brought these souls to this miserable place.
In the 6th Century AD, the Catholic Pope Gregory the Great listed the the seven deadly sins are as follows: Luxuria (extravagance, later lust), Gula (gluttony), Avaritia (greed), Acedia (sloth), Ira (wrath, more commonly known as anger), Invidia (envy), and Superbia (pride). Each of the seven deadly sins has an opposite among the corresponding seven holy virtues: chastity, abstinence, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility.
The seven deadly sins are also called the chief sins. They are a classification of vices used in Christian teaching.
The sinners that Dante encounters in the Inferno are each punished in accordance with which of the seven deadly sins they were most guilty of while they were alive.
The First Deadly Sin: Lust
- The first deadly sin is the sin of Lust. Lust is usually thought of as involving obsessive or excessive thoughts or desires of a sexual nature. In Dante's view lust led to "excessive love of others," which therefore made love and devotion to God secondary.
- The second deadly sin is the sin of gluttony. Gluttony is the over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste. It can refer to over-eating, which is a sin because it witholds food from the needy and also debases the glutton by making him a slave to base, animal desires, such as his appetite. As such gluttony distracts the sinner from the spiritual life.
- The third deadly sin is the sin of greed or avarice. Like gluttony, this sin is a sin of excess. Its most common form is the excessive love of money, manifested in various forms such as miserliness and unethical business practices. This sin turns the sinner away from God by promoting selfishness, destroying charity, and creating a preoccupation with the acquisition and preservation of material things and possessions. As such this sin blinds the sinner to the fact that material possessions such as gold are worthless compared to the everlasting rewards of heaven. But because the sinner guilty of greed does not see that what he covets the most is worthless, he ignores the treasure and rewards of Heaven and therefore does not follow the right path.
- The fourth deadly sin is the sin of sloth. This sin has a somewhat ambiguous definition and has gone through some changes over the centuries. Originally, sloth referred to sadness, apathy and joylessness, which reflected the sinners failure to see God's gifts and His goodness. Dante defined sloth as the "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." Dante felt that this was the "middle sin" in that it was the only sin characterised by an absence or inadequcy of love. In modern times sloth is interpreted as the sin of laziness, of an unwillingness to act, an unwillingness to care (rather than a failure to love God and His works).
- the fifth deadly sin is the sin of wrath (anger or hatred). This sin leads to other serious sins and transgressions including violence, a desire to seek revenge, and a failure to forgive. Dante described vengeance as "love of justice perverted to revenge and spite".
- the sixth deadly sin is the sin of envy or jealousy. Thomas Aquinas described Envy as "sorrow for another's good". People who commit this sin desire the qualities or possessions or situation of another person which they perceive as lacking in themselves. Dante defined this sin as "love of one's own good perverted to a desire to deprive other men of theirs."
- the seventh deadly sin is the sin of pride. Despite being listed as the seventh deadly sin, the sin of pride is considered the first and foremost sin. It is the sin which led to Lucifer's downfall and which plagues mankind in various forms. Indeed pride is the ultimate sin from which all the others arise. Dante's definition was "love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbor." The Catholic Encyclopedia has a great article on why pride is such a serious sin.
The nine circles of Dante's inferno were illustrated by Gustave Dore in a series of classic engravings, which are presented here in full.
a gloomy wood
a panther, nimble, light,
And cover'd with a speckled skin, appear'd