After crossing the river of boiling blood, Dante and Virgil enter a dense forest where they hear moans coming from within. Dante can’t tell where the sounds are coming from. Responding, his guide Virgil points him to the actual bushes and trees of the forest. These plants are the souls of the damned who committed suicide. They are only able to speak when one of their branches are broken off (which also causes them pain and weeping of blood).
Since these souls have rejected the earthly bodies given to them by God, they suffer the punishment of losing all control over their “bodies” in Hell. The are also constantly tormented by Harpies (beasts with the body of a large bird and the head of a woman) who rend and tear their branches, causing them constant pain. At the second coming of Christ, when other souls will be united with their earthly bodies, these souls will retain their plant bodies and must hang their earthly bodies from the branches.
Dante and Virgil then see the souls of the profligate (those who extravagantly wasted their riches) running through the forest, only to be tracked down and torn apart by wild dogs. They then leave the forest and encounter a stretch of desert with burning sand and flames falling from the sky.
Next – The Blasphemers