Please Enjoy Your Descent through the Circles of Hell and Thank You for Riding with Us!
Welcome to Hell!
I’m Virgil, your guide, and it’s my job to give you one Hell of a time!
We like jokes here.
So, does everyone have their coats and hats? Yes? Then let’s go! If you’ll follow me right through these gates and abandon all hope, we’ll be off!
Please keep your hands and arms inside the boat… everyone wave at Charon!... as we head towards Limbo. No, Ma’am, please don’t lean out that far, the river Acheron is quite cold this time of year. And, you know, every other time of year.
I’d like to take just a moment to thank you for choosing us for your descent into Hell. We know there are a lot of ways to get here, and we appreciate your good intentions in choosing our company.
As we go down, please take a moment to notice some virtuous pagans right over there! There’s Hippocrates himself, and I think that’s Socrates behind him…he seems to have some sort of problem, doesn’t he? If only he had accepted Christ!
Now it’s going to get a mite windy! If you’ll look to the left, you’ll see some insatiable carnal appetites, and to your right…isn’t Helen of Troy lovely? Make sure to snap a pic!
And here comes the rain! Yes ma’am, it’s always this icy, because we find the muddy slush kind of allegorical, you know?. We’ve got the gluttons mired away in it, and – oh, look there, just right there, it’s Cerberus! You might think you want to pet Cerberus, but…you really don’t.
You also might be wondering why I’m working as a tour guide here in Hell. Well, it was a bit of a comedy of errors, but essentially – Hell is totally capitalist, and I need to eat.
And down, down, down we go.
Ok, Madames and Monsieurs, hold onto your hats. We’ve got some angry souls fighting each other here on your left, and in every other direction, we’ve got the River Styx. It might look like black slime, but I assure you, it’s water!
And look at that! We’ve revolved all the way down to Dis, the city that houses lower Hell, and aren’t these flaming tombs just glorious?
And now we’re getting into the really bad stuff.
You’ll see the river of boiling blood in the distance, but first do I have a treat for you! Just wait for it…and wait for it…and wait…YES! Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Minotaur himself, and we’re just going to go a bit…faster…right past him.
Ok, passing the river of boiling blood, we’re just going to skirt around everyone who’s ever died by suicide…you see how they’re made into gnarled trees with the corpses of their former bodies hanging from the branches? That doesn’t happen anywhere else!...and hurry right down to the next ring. Ma’am, I know you were excited for this part, do you see the Sodomite way over there in the distance?
And here we have Fraud, with the panderers and seducers getting whipped for all eternity, and you’ll notice the Popes being baptized by fire right there. Did you know they just keep replacing each other here, one after the other? Isn’t that neat?
Ok, next…ninth floor, menswear!
Just another joke. We have fun.
So…the ninth circle! Yes, it certainly is cold, isn’t it? Being encapsulated in ice is kind of our signature thing here, so you’ll probably want to bid farewell to your fingertips and parts of your nose.
Here on nine, we have the traitors. They’re just some nasty, nasty people, and, trust me, you’ll be glad we’re leaving them behind. Especially because…ta DAH!...here we are in the center of Hell! Yes sir, that’s Lucifer himself, and isn’t he just the most? See the bat wings?
Oh, gentleman in the front, what’s that you’re saying? Yes, yes, he was a seraphim! Are you out to take my job, good sir??
Anyway, you’ll note his three heads, and I’m sure NO ONE needs me to say that it’s Brutus, Longinus, and Judas Iscariot who are caught up in those razor-sharp teeth! Yup, that’s Judas right there in the center mouth, and if you want to talk about torture…well, he’ll be gnawed on for eternity while he’s flayed by the claws of Satan, and that, my friends, is a prime example of Lucifer working smart and not just hard.
Well, that pretty much wraps up our tour!
To circle back, I’d like to thank you for choosing us for your orientation needs. I know some of you must be nervous – your first day in Hell and all – but as you can see…well…did I mention we really like jokes here??
Now…into the boiling river of blood with you.
Shannon Frost Greenstein (she/her) is the author of “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things” (Poetry, 2024), “Correspondence to Nowhere” (Nonfiction, 2022), and “Pray for Us Sinners” (Fiction, 2020). She is a multi-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy. On Twitter: @ShannonFrostGre, or shannonfrostgreenstein.com.