Ten characters from pre-1400 literature who were major sinners, and the sins they were guilty of:
- Vanni Fucci (Inferno by Dante Alighieri; stole holy objects from a cathedral in Pistoia)
- May ("The Merchant's Tale," The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer; committed adultery with her husband's squire)
- Grendel (Beowulf; murdered several of Hrothgar's warriors)
- Goronwy ("Blodeuedd," The Mabinogion; attempted to murder Lleu Llaw Gyffes after committing adultery with his wife Blodeuedd)
- Ganelon (The Song of Roland; betrayed Roland to the Saracens)
- Oedipus (Oedipus Rex by Sophocles; murdered his father and married his mother)
- Judas Iscariot (The Bible; betrayed Jesus)
- Atreus (Thyestes by Lucius Annaeus Seneca; killed his brother's children, cooked them, and fed them to his brother)
- Clytaemestra (Agamemnon by Aeschylus; murdered her husband)
- Medea (Medea by Euripides; murdered Glauce, Jason's second wife, and her own children)
This list was requested by misterweasel. A few annotations are in order here, I think:
- Since "major" is a relative term, I chose to follow Dante's example. His version of Hell is composed of nine circles in descending order of severity. That is, the worse the sin, the lower the circle. With the possible exception of May from "The Merchant's Tale," everyone in this list likely would have ended up in one of the three lowest circles. I think Dante would have consigned May to the Second Circle, which is reserved for the lustful. On the other hand, she did deceive January into thinking he hadn't actually seen her having sex with Damian, so it's possible Dante may have consigned her to a lower circle.
- Vanni Fucci, like many of the characters in Inferno, was an actual historical figure. Dante claims to have known him; it's probably safe to assume that they weren't the best of friends.
- One might claim that Grendel is not a sinner per se, but is merely acting according to his nature. On the other hand, Grendel's mother didn't attack anyone until Beowulf killed Grendel and she felt the need to avenge her son's death, which suggests that there was an element of free will involved in his repeated attacks on Hrothgar's castle.
- Regarding Goronwy, I'm not sure how Dante would treat someone who tried but failed to murder someone. He might subscribe to Sideshow Bob school of thought: "Hah! Attempted murder? Now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel prize for attempted chemistry?"