What Are Dante's Circles Of Hell? 'Inferno' Rearranges Them For A Big Mystery

A billionaire scientist, Bertrand Zobrist, has created a virus that will kill half of the Earth's population. As the Earth's population continues to grow at an exponential rate, Zobrist believes that, for mankind to survive, they must lower the population. Before the virus could be unleashed, Zobrist kills himself, and the only clue that could lead to the virus is hidden in Dante's Inferno, as painted by Botticelli. If this sounds like a plot from a Dan Brown book, that's because it is. In the third Dan Brown film adaptation, Inferno , Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) must solve the clues left by Zobrist to save the world from a new plague. And, while watching Langdon put together the pieces himself is more than entertaining, the movie doesn't quite explain what Dante's Circles of Hell are and how they help Langdon find a virus.

The very first clue in Zobrist's evil plot is hidden in Botticelli's map of Dante's version of hell, detailed in Inferno. When Langdon finds it, with Dr. Sienna Brooks by his side, he immediately identifies it. In fact, he's been having dreams and visions of a twisted dystopia clearly modeled after Dante's view of hell. But, there's something off about the painting, small details imperceptible to viewers who don't know anything about Dante's Circles of Hell. So, it you want to be able to follow along, here's what you need to know about Dante's Inferno .

Dante wrote Inferno as part of an epic poem, and in it he described what he saw as the Nine Circles of Hell, each more horrible than the last. The first circle is Limbo, for those who are still good, but unbaptized. The second is populated by those guilty of lust, third is gluttony, fourth greed, fifth wrath and sloth, and sixth heresy. It's in levels seven through nine that things get really interesting. The seventh circle, violence, is separated into three rings depending on what kind of violence was committed. The eighth circle, fraud, is divided into 10 ditches, and the ninth, treachery, is made up of four rounds. All of these subcategories are also depicted in Botticelli's map of hell, as are the eternal punishments given out in Dante's Inferno.

Just knowing the basics of Dante's hell will make Inferno the movie a bit easier to follow. In the film, Zobrist has rearranged the levels of hell, shifting some of the punishments and adding in discreet letters into the painting as a clue. And it's much easier to follow Langdon as he takes the audience through finding these clues if you know about Dante's Inferno and Botticelli's painting. (Trust me.)

Depending on your level of familiarity with Botticelli's painting and its relation to Dante, you might even be able to solve the clues alongside Langdon. So, study up, and get ready to put all that AP World History class to use.

Images: Sony Pictures