The Divine Comedy by Dante ALIGHIERI · Digital Dante Edition with Commento Baroliniano · MMXV ·   Columbia University

Inferno 22


Diabolic Sport

The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 4, “Narrative and Style in Lower Hell”, pp. 81-82; “Sociology of the Brigata: Gendered Groups in Dante, Forese, Folgore, Boccaccio – From ‘Guido, i’ vorrei’ to Griselda,” Italian Studies 67.1 (2012): 4-22; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 163-79.
  • a manifesto of the mixed style: “ma ne la chiesa / coi santi, e in taverna coi ghiottoni” (Inf. 22.14-15)
  • from urban corruption in Lucca to the courtly setting of the kingdom of Navarre: the issues of “wealth management” as discussed in the Introduction to Inferno 16 are here applied to the hangers-on of a great court
  • Sardinian barraters, part of an intratextual network connected to characters in other canti
  • a specific society is formed by the sinners of the fifth bolgia, one that includes communication systems and sporting events: the “nuovo ludo” (new sport [Inf. 22.118]) has features of the beffa from the novella tradition (see “buffa” in Inf. 22.133 and “beffa” in Inf. 23.14)

Act 2, Continued.  Inferno 22, verses 1-30

Inferno 22 continues the drama initiated in Inferno 21, into which a secondary drama will soon be inserted.

Inferno 22 opens with a mock-heroic passage that continues the military imagery from Inferno 21 and is a repertory of different kinds of military communication and semiosis. In the context of the bolgia that treats corrupt governance, the emphasis on the sign-systems necessary for effective communication in the military, and on the trust that we place in shared sign-systems in a healthy and functioning society, is a way of commenting on the break-down in governance and trust in the Italian cities.

For the same reason, the mock-epic opening of Inferno 22 takes the form of an apostrophe addressed to the citizens of Arezzo: “Aretini” in Inferno 22.5. The continuing references throughout Malebolge to Italian city-states, evoked through their citizens and through rhetorical devices like the simile of the Venetian arsenal in the previous canto (Inf. 21.7-18) or this apostrophe implicating Arezzo, is a way of continuing the connection between Italy and the fraudulence into which its citizens are sunk.

The targeting of the citizens of Arezzo in the apostrophe that opens Inferno 22 recalls Dante’s own participation in the recent military history of Florence. Dante tells us in Inferno 21.95 that he participated in the seige of Caprona, which occurred in August 1289. Dante was also among the cavalry at the battle of Campaldino in June 1289, the battle in which Guelf Florence defeated Ghibelline Arezzo.

In all his experience of military communication, says the narrator, an experience replete with trumpets (“trombe” [7]), bells (“campane” [7]), drums (“tamburi” [8]), and signals from castle walls (“cenni di castella” [Inf. 22.8]), he has never seen troops moved by so strange a bugle (“sì diversa cennamella” [10]) as that resounding fart at the end of Inferno 21.

The “cenni di castella” of Inferno 22.8 recall the “cenni” exchanged between diabolic watch-towers as the travelers approach the city of Dis at the beginning of Inferno 8:

Io dico, seguitando, ch’assai prima
che noi fossimo al piè de l’alta torre,
li occhi nostri n’andar suso a la cima
per due fiammette che i vedemmo porre
e un’altra da lungi render cenno
tanto ch’a pena il potea l’occhio tòrre.  (Inf. 8.1-6)

I say, continuing, that long before
we two had reached the foot of that tall tower,
our eyes had risen upward, toward its summit,
because of two small flames that flickered there,
while still another flame returned their signal,
so far off it was scarcely visible.

We are reminded that all encounters with devils have involved challenge, obstruction, and the need to decode hostile semiosis.

The mock-epic opening of Inferno 22 was interpreted by Pietro di Dante as an apology for the exceedingly vulgar ending of Inferno 21. Pietro di Dante comments apropos the opening of canto 22 that the author “vult se excusare de turpi recitatione quam fecit supra in Capitolo precedenti in fine, per id quod scribit Socrates, dicens: ‘Que facere turpe est, ea nec dicere honestum puto’” (Guido Biagi, ed., La Divina Commedia nella figurazione artistica e nel secolare commento, 3 vols. [Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice Torinese, 1924-1929], 1:531). More perceptively, Jacopo della Lana writes of the end of canto 21: “Circa la quale locuzione si pò excusare l’Autore a chi l’acusasse de parladura porca e villana sì in questo logo commo eziamdeo in lo XVIIIo Capitolo de Tayde, che la materia del logo lo constrenge, zoè l’Inf., in lo quale è omme dexordinazione” (Biagi, La Divina Commedia 1:529).

Pietro di Dante considered the exordium of Inferno 22 a way of making amends for the offensively low conclusion of the preceding canto. Instead, the opening of canto 22 draws attention to the purposefulness of the conclusion of canto 21 and to these canti as an intentional recital of the disparate elements that make up the mixed style.

The canti of Malebolge are notable for their stylistic plenitude, for their fearless veering from high to low: following the arrival of Geryon and the announcement of comedìa at the end of Inferno 16, Dante more aggressively promotes the mixed style. Comedìa is not qualified by an adjective that limits it, like Vergil’s alta tragedìa in Inferno 20 (verse 113). Comedìa is not the opposite of alta tragedìa because it is not limited to one manner. It is not low, but it includes low; it is not high, but it includes high.

These canti are a manifesto for the mixed style; like the mock-epic exordium of Inferno 22, they are neither high nor low. Language must adapt to represent all facets of reality: “whether in church with saints or with guzzlers in the tavern”. The narrator uses proverbial language in verses 14-15 in order to synthesize the comedìa’s manifesto of stylistic decorum, which he does in a proverb declaring that representation must coincide with the requirements of location/reality: “ma ne la chiesa / coi santi, e in taverna coi ghiottoni” (And yet / “in church with saints, with guzzlers in the tavern” [Inf. 22.14-15]).

Act 3. Inferno 22, verse 31-end

Into the overarching plot-line about Dante, Virgilio and the devils (a more elaborate version of the story of the encounter with devils at the gate of Dis in Inferno 8-Inferno 9), the poet now inserts a remarkable secondary plot about the devils and their interaction with one of the damned souls of this bolgia.

We recall that at the end of canto 21 Malacoda sent a reconnaissance party, led by Barbariccia, on a mission to make sure that no damned souls are outside of the boiling pitch. Dante and Virgilio have thus set out with ten devils: “Noi andavam con li diece demoni” (We made our way together with ten demons [Inf. 22.13]). Occasionally they see a sinner show his back above the surface like a dolphin (19-24), but most of all they see sinners partly exposed at the edges of the bolgia, like frogs at the margins of a ditch (25-28). These souls rush to submerge themselves when the devils approach, but one unlucky soul is captured by Graffiacane:

e Graffiacan, che li era più di contra,
li arruncigliò le ’mpegolate chiome
e trassel sù, che mi parve una lontra.  (Inf. 22.34-36)

And Graffiacane, who was closest to him, 
then hooked him by his pitch-entangled locks
and hauled him up; he seemed to me an otter.  

This protagonist-barrater is not named in the text but is commonly known in the commentary tradition as Ciampolo (an Italian corruption of the French name Jean Paul). Ciampolo explains that he is from the kingdom of Navarre in France, that his mother placed him in the service of a lord—“Mia madre a servo d’un segnor mi puose” (Inf. 22.49)—and that his father was a rake who squandered his possessions and killed himself: “che m’avea generato d’un ribaldo, / distruggitor di sé e di sue cose” ([my mother] had had me by a wastrel, / destroyer of himself and his possessions [Inf. 22.50-51]). Eventually he served in the household of King Thibaut II of Navarre, where he began to practice graft: “Poi fui famiglia del buon re Tebaldo: / quivi mi misi a far baratteria” (Then I was in the household of the worthy / King Thibault; there I started taking graft [Inf. 22.52-53]).

Ciampolo’s brief but rich narrative transitions the poet’s lens from the urban graft of Lucca in the previous canto to a courtly setting in the south of France. Suddenly we are in the homeland of the courtly culture to which Dante had been so drawn as a young poet. Thibaut II was King of Navarre from 1253 to his death at 1270; his father Thibaut I was a courtly poet who wrote in French and who is the only Old French poet named and cited in Dante’s De vulgari eloquentia

The language that Ciampolo uses is taken from feudal and courtly culture. The word “famiglia” in verse 52 indicates that he became a familiaris of “re Tebaldo”: familiaris is the technical term for a courtier in the service of a lord.

In her commentary to this canto, Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi cites Tommaseo to indicate that the term Ciampolo uses for his father, “ribaldo” in verse 50, originally signified a man of the court before taking on negative connotations, and that the shift in the word occurred precisely because of the negative habits associated with courtiers: “in origine uomo di corte, devoto a signore (Tommaseo); termine poi passato a cattivo senso, per i costumi propri dei cortigiani” (Chiavacci Leonardi, ed., Inferno [Milan: Mondadori, 2005], p. 662; also available through the Dartmouth Dante Project).

Natalino Sapegno adds to our understanding of “ribaldo”, citing Barbi:

Il vocabolo era usato per estensione a indicare ogni uomo che menasse unesistenza viziosa e dissipata, frequentando assiduamente bische, taverne e postriboli. Il padre di Ciampolo è detto qui ribaldo, «non perché tale di condizione sociale (ha un patrimonio da distruggere), ma perché menava vita da ribaldo, in ciò che aveva di meno umiliante, ma di piú vizioso, cioè giocare, gozzovigliare e stare in bordello» (cfr. BARBI, Probl., I, 212-13, 242). (Sapegno, ed., Inferno [Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1968], p. 244; also available through the Dartmouth Dante Project)

The life of a ribaldo is thus the dissipated life of a rake: a man who gambles, drinks, and whores. It is the life evoked by the “taverna” in the proverb cited above: “ma ne la chiesa / coi santi, e in taverna coi ghiottoni” (And yet / “in church with saints, with guzzlers in the tavern” [Inf. 22.14-15]). The life of Ciampolo’s father is a veritable rake’s progress, as he proceeds from dissipation of his possessions to destruction of his self, from squandering to suicide: he is, in his son’s words, “distruggitor di sé e di sue cose” (Inf. 22.51). Verse 51 encapsulates both types of violence against the self featured in the second rung of the circle of violence (Inferno 13).

Ciampolo’s story and the story of his father offer a keyhole onto the world of a court and its satellites, onto the ethically-challenged lives of the hangers-on who inhabit the margins of a great court. Ciampolo’s story suggests the difficulty of maintaining equilibrium—“misura”—toward material goods in such an environment. He was the son of a ribaldo, of a man who was not poor but who had (as Barbi points out in the above citation) an inheritance to squander, and who destroyed first his means and then himself.

In other words, Ciampolo was born into an environment of dismisura. Such a man is then put into service, into a life in which he is surrounded by luxury and magnificence that is not his. His biography sounds like a recipe for the making of an embezzler.

I think of Dante’s canzone Poscia ch’Amor, where he inveighs against those who squander their wealth while posing as generous citizens. I am not suggesting that Ciampolo’s father falls into the latter camp; he was a ribaldo, a rake pure and simple, never mistakenly considered a good citizen like the men whom Dante castigates in his canzone. But the story of Ciampolo’s father, like Ciampolo’s own, do suggest the pressures generated by life in an environment where financial prudence was much less valued than largesse in spending. For more on these issues, and for the contradictions between courtly and Christian values regarding material goods, see the essays “Sociology of the Brigata” and “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura,” cited in Coordinated Reading, and the Introduction to Inferno 16 in this commentary.

The same courtly culture of southern France whose literature and values were of vital importance to Dante in his youth and throughout his life is featured in Paradiso 6.112-142, where Dante (through the character of Justinian) will tell of a man called Romeo of Villeneuve (1170-1250). Again the focus is on the balanced and ethical deployment of material goods, this time in bono whereas Ciampolo’s case was in malo. Romeo was a minister and chamberlain to Count Raymond Berenger IV of Provence (reigned 1209-1245) and was the opposite of a barrater: Romeo enhances the Count’s prestige, successfully marries his four daughters, and yet is unjustly exiled.

* * *

Now begins the build-up to a diabolic sport, which will culminate at the canto’s end and to which the poet will draw our attention with a solemn address to the reader that features the high Latin word ludus (play or game), here barely vernacularized as ludo: “O tu che leggi, udirai nuovo ludo” (O you who read, hear now of this new sport [Inf. 22.118]).

In a wonderful emblem of the mixed style—both Latinate and vernacular, both high and low—the ludo of verse 118 involves the “buffa”—i.e. beffa—of verse 133, the trick that enrages Calcabrina: “Irato Calcabrina de la buffa” (But Calcabrina, raging at the trick [Inf. 22.133]).

The term beffa will be used again at the beginning of Inferno 23, where we learn that the devils’ malice toward the travelers has been stoked by the “beffa” or trick that they have suffered (a beffa is a deceitful trick that uses action rather than simply language):

Io pensava così: “Questi per noi
sono scherniti con danno e con beffa
sì fatta, ch’assai credo che lor nòi.”  (Inf. 23.13-15)

I thought: “Because of us, they have been mocked,
and this inflicted so much hurt and scorn
that I am sure they feel deep indignation.”

The term beffa signals the tricks and tricksters of the novella tradition, and carries connotations of literary genre. That the sport played by devils and barraters in Hell is both ludo and beffa speaks volumes about the mixed mode that the author of the Commedia is forging.

The sport that is played in Hell—a “nuovo ludo” with features of the vernacular beffa from the novella tradition—is a reflection of the society that invented it: it is a game of interlocking and mutual and complete deception.

Barratry is the corruption of civic governance, and the result of barratry is the corruption of the social order. Hence in the canti devoted to barratry Dante will create the contours of a small society that is deeply corroded by mutual and absolute lack of trust. That small society is on display in the latter part of Inferno 22.

First the devils hook Ciampolo,  and then offer the travelers the opportunity to speak with the barrater before they shred him (Inf. 22.31-63). Virgilio knows what interests Dante, and he asks Ciampolo whether there are any Italians under the pitch: “Or dì: de li altri rii / conosci tu alcun che sia latino / sotto la pece? (Now tell: among the sinners / who hide beneath the pitch, / do you know any who are Italian?” [Inf. 23.64-66]). In detailing the fellow sinners from whose company he recently parted, Ciampolo focuses on two important figures from Sardinia: Frate Gomita and Michele Zanche (Inf. 22.81-90).

The two Sardinian barraters are part of a Sardinian network in the Commedia. Frate Gomita refers to the lord he betrayed by the Sardinian term “donno” (from dominus): “ebbe i nemici di suo donno in mano” (he had his master’s enemies in hand [Inf. 22.83]). Sardinia was conquered by Pisa in 1117, and Frate Gomita’s lord was Nino Visconti, who ruled the giudicato of Gallura for Pisa from 1275-1296. Nino Visconti was grandson of the Pisan noble Ugolino della Gherardesca and Sardinia will be implicated in the story of Ugolino in Inferno 32. Nino Visconti was also Dante’s personal friend, as we learn in Purgatorio 8, where he carries his Sardinian title of “judge”: “giudice Nin gentil” (Noble Judge Nino [Purg. 8.53]).

The other Sardinian barrater is “donno Michel Zanche / di Logodoro” (lord Michel Zanche of Logodoro [Inf. 22.88-89]), whose son-in-law is the traitor Branca d’Oria of Inferno 33. Branca d’Oria had his father-in-law Michele Zanche murdered in order to acquire his lands and dominion, his sin so heinous that his soul went to hell at the moment of his betrayal while his body—only apparently alive—was inhabited by a devil. In Inferno 33 the account of Branca’s betrayal and Michele Zanche’s death offers the poet an opportunity to invoke the Malebranche and the tar of the fifth bolgia:

Nel fosso sù”, diss’ el, “de’ Malebranche,
là dove bolle la tenace pece,
non era ancora giunto Michel Zanche,
che questi lasciò il diavolo in sua vece
nel corpo suo.”                (Inf. 33.142-46)

“There in the Malebranche’s ditch above,
where sticky pitch boils up, Michele Zanche
had still not come,” he said to me, 
“when this one left a devil in his stead
inside his body.” 

Inferno 32 and 33 will be the dark locus in which the corruption and politics of Pisa—and therefore of Sardinia—will come to a head.

After telling of the Sardinians, Ciampolo offers to call other Italians for Dante and Virgilio. He says he will use the sign-system shared by the sinners to indicate that the coast is clear, and that by whistling he will succeed in obtaining Tuscans and Lombards for Dante and Virgilio to interview (Inf. 22.97-105). He has deduced that Dante and Virgilio will be particularly interested in “Toschi o Lombardi” (99): we know that Dante speaks like a Tuscan, because Farinata recognizes him on the basis of his Tuscan speech, but does Virgilio then sound like a Lombard? We will return to this question in the Introduction to Inferno 27.

Ciampolo is offering to abuse the trust of his companions in order to secure Tuscans and Lombards. In return, the travelers will induce the devils to stand away from him. He is trying to negotiate a truce like the one under whose terms the Pisan foot-soldiers left the castle of Caprona (see Inferno 21.94-96). The castle of Caprona is one of the castles whose delivery to the Florentines was involved in Ugolino’s fall from power in Pisa: again, all roads lead to Inferno 32-33.

Ciampolo tries to secure the devils’ compliance by stressing the magnitude of his offer to deceive his fellows; he must be telling them the truth because he is offering to harm his friends! There is a brief standoff as each “team” tries to ascertain the level of deceit of the other (Inf. 22.106-117). Then mayhem ensues as Ciampolo finds a moment to free himself and to dive back into the pitch, with the devils in hot pursuit (Inf. 22.121-123). In their anger and spite at being deceived by a sinner the devils turn upon each other and, at canto’s end, the “cooks are cooked”: “ch’eran già cotti dentro da la crosta” (they were already cooked within that crust [Inf. 22.150]).

In sum: Ciampolo offers to betray his fellows in order to betray the devils, who betray each other in their eagerness to betray the sinners and in their eagerness to have Ciampolo betray his comrades.

A complex and perverse social order unfolds in Inferno 22: a micro-society furnished with its own sign-systems and even its own sports. The sinners have their own communications and codes of governance, all deeply rooted in malice and betrayal.

Act 4, which returns us to the overarching plot-line of the deceit practiced by Malacoda on Dante and Virgilio, is delayed to the next canto, Inferno 23.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. "Inferno 22 : Diabolic Sport." Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. Center for Digital Research and Scholarship. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2015.

Coordinated Reading