Divine Comedy On The Road: Dante’s 9 Circles of Hell, Commuters Edition

For commuters, medical students, or both: I like having real talks with people, heart to hearts; so let’s go heart to heart on the fact that commuting is hell. According to one of my favorite writers Dante Alighieri, there are nine circles of hell, a person is placed in one of them based upon their sins.  Have you sinned on your commute? Let’s find out.


You and all the other zombies on that train, you know them.  Or maybe when your in your car pumping out casual jazz music to relax before a long day of surgeries and you look over and see all the other cars stuck in traffic with you, doing the same exact thing. Limbo. Stuck in endless casual peril.  Nothing bad is happening, but there sure is nothing good going on. Let’s be real there’s only so much smooth jazz you can listen to.


Now while defined differently then Dante had intended it to be, commuter lust does exist.  Jazz pumping in your ear, you can almost hear the sound of all the babies crying in your pediatric office later that day. Glancing out the window you see an open lane that leads right to the exit off the highway and you could be home free within 30 minutes.  Take that route, and you’ll end up in the second circle of commuter hell.


Go ahead, take the last Starbucks caramel frappuccino on the shelf.  The last bagel in the case? Go for it. If you reach the office and there’s the last Keurig cup, someone has to drink it. But be careful, commuter hell works in mysterious ways, if you do find yourself having that last sip of instant brewed vanilla espresso; go out and replace them.  Buy a new pack. Redeem yourself for your co workers. If not, this circle may cause a coffee drought, now how’s that for hell.


The subway and the bus is where this circle exists.  You know exactly what I am talking about, there’s that one clean seat right next to the door, eyes dart to it, perfection.  As the train fills you get that look, the darting eyes of the old lady or pregnant woman, almost not asking you to get up, but telling you.  But hey, you stitched together a kids chin, casted a broken arm, and dealt with a strong case of croup; your not moving. It’s ok, as long as you don’t mind being in the fourth circle of commuter hell.


In my opinion, this should not be a circle, but a deeper mind thought it to be.  To me, on a commute anger is common. No one wants to sit in traffic; no one wakes up and looks forward to their train ride with a bunch of other commuter zombies.  Every now and then you push another commuter or maybe trip them simply because your really not feeling it that day and they rubbed you wrong. Hey, it’s ok by my book, but then again I fall within the fifth circle of commuter hell, so what do I know.


Do you believe in the commute? This circle is reserved for the non believers, the ones who go against the commute. The ones who take an Uber, or work from home. The ones who fly in on a plane, or do something healthy like bike.  Weaklings and non believers who choose to not listen to smooth jazz and smell the perfume from the 1970’s that Janis from the subway wears everyday at 7:20 am. The ones who don’t believe in getting crumbs and coffee stains on their scrubs before they even see their first patient.  Go ahead, laugh it up that your Uber got you there in 20 minutes, or that your calves look like Cristiano Ronaldo’s from your daily 3 mile bike ride. Your in the sixth circle.


Don’t end up in this circle, unlike the others this can really get you in legal trouble.  The circle of anger just involved being a bit unclassy on the commute, this involves fully being violent.  Which hey you know, it happens. If you find yourself dreading the surgery you have to give later and the dude next to you spills some nice piping hot soy late on your new banana republic jeans, yea maybe you just go for it at that point.  You’ll end up in the circle, maybe jail, but I bet it’s great stress relief. Don’t end up in this circle please, the commute is bad enough. The last thing you want to do is make it in the back of officer Rodney’s four seater.


I’m addressing the train car switcher on this one.  The ticket avoider. The guy on the train who has been doing this since residency in 89’.  Dodging that nice seven dollar ticket by switching seats left and right to avoid the conductor.  See two seats marked as paid for? One person gets up and you just hop in like it’s normal business.  You’ll also end up in this circle if your the one who ducks under the metro turnstyle to avoid the three dollar fee.  I think as a thoracic heart surgeon you should be able to afford it. But if you’re doing it, welcome to the eighth circle.  


The final circle.  Dante reserved this circle for four figures who, in his eyes, committed the most heinous sins; Cain, Anthenor of Troy, Ptolemy, and Judas.  So who falls in our final circle. The guy who takes calls in the quiet car, the one who snores and drools in the set of four seats, The guy whose car breaks down in the middle lane of traffic and has to move it to the outside, and finally the guy who eats leftover Chinese food on the subway at 7:22 am, absolutely reeking up the whole car.  Those will put you here, the final circle of commuter hell.

A commute is always hell (unless your in the 6th circle), try to make it better and try to mix it up.  It’s hard to make it fun, but it could make you avoid ending up in one of these circles.

If you want to read a quick summary of each of Dante’s circles, click the link here.

Featured image source: Wikimedia

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Nick Provenzano

Nick is a contributor to The Almost Doctor’s Channel and current business student at the University of Pittsburgh. H2P.