- the landslide that the travelers encounter at the beginning of Inferno 12 is a “ruina”: ruine are caused by Christ’s Harrowing of Hell, they function as Christological signposts scattered throughout the infernal landscape
- a new installment in the Virgilio-narrative: discussion of the landslide/ruina serves to recall yet again the moment in which Virgilio witnessed Christ’s liberation of many souls from Limbo, and to remind us therefore that the group that does not include Virgilio himself
- the pilgrim is substantial, endowed with a real body that causes him to move rocks with his feet; the souls are insubstantial, as we can infer from verse 96 (describing the pilgrim): “ché non è spirto che per l’aere vada” (for he’s no spirit who can fly through air)
- the distinction between a specific action or sin and the underlying vice, a distinction previously discussed in the Commento on Inferno 6; here violent actions such as murder and pillage are the sins, while greed and anger — “cieca cupidigia e ira folle” (Inf. 12.49) — are the underlying vices
- cupidigia is a “super-vice”: an unbridled desire that is a composite of three of the sins of incontinence; it embraces excess desire for carnal pleasure, excess desire for food, and excess desire for money, honors, and advancement
- in this canto Dante uses the word cupidigia for the first time in the Commedia, as also the word tirannia
- in Dante’s analysis, cupidigia and ira lead to violence, including the political violence that he invokes through his emphasis on tyrants
- the concept of tirannia refers not only to the tyrants of antiquity but is also part of an ongoing political analysis of forms of governance on the Italian peninsula (see Inferno 27 and Monarchia), with particular consideration of the Malatesta clan of Rimini, whose dynasty is featured in Inferno 5 (indirectly), Inferno 27, and Inferno 28
 Inferno 12 begins with a difficult climb down a steep and mountainous rock face: it is passable, albeit tortuous, terrain, as in the wake of an alpine landslide. On the edge of the cliff there is a monster from classical mythology which guards the way down to the seventh circle: the Minotaur, “l’infamia di Creti” (infamy of Crete [Inf. 12.12]). As with the previous classical guardians of Hell, Virgilio manages Dante’s safe passage, in this case by infuriating the Minotaur and taking advantage of its irate distraction to make a run for the pass.
 The first section of Inferno 12, through verse 45, is an important installment in the ongoing story of Virgilio and his ability to negotiate Hell: the poet lets us see both Virgilio’s limitations vis-à-vis Christianity and his correct intuitions. Here Virgilio, who recently failed to guide Dante through the gate of Dis, which was guarded by Christian devils, once more shows himself adept at handling classical monsters and guides Dante safely past the Minotaur.
 Perhaps having learned from the experience of watching the angel open the gate of Dis, Virgilio taunts the Minotaur by reminding him of Theseus (“the duke of Athens” of verse 17). Theseus is, as Virgilio states, the Greek hero who was able to defeat the Minotaur on Crete: “Forse / tu credi che qui sia ’l duca d’Atene, / che sù nel mondo la morte ti porse?” (Perhaps / you think this is the Duke of Athens here, / who, in the world above, brought you your death [Inf. 12.16-18]). Similarly, in Inferno 9, the Furies are still haunted by the “assault” of Theseus on Hades (Inf. 9.54), and the angel taunts the infernal throng with the memory of Hercules, who once defeated Cerberus (Inf. 9.97-99).
 Theseus and Hercules are classical forerunners of Christ, early harrowers of Hell whose actions symbolize infernal defeat. As I wrote in Dante’s Poets:
Both Theseus and Hercules are flgurae Christi, heroes who descended to the underworld to rob it of its booty, and as such both are mentioned in Inferno IX: Theseus by the Furies, who still clamor for revenge (“mal non vengiammo in Teseo l’assalto” badly did we not avenge ourselves on Theseus [Inf. IX, 54]); and Hercules implicitly by the angel, who reminds the devils of Cerberus’ ill-fated attempt to withstand the hero in Inferno IX, 97-99. (Dante’s Poets, pp. 209-10)
 By invoking Theseus in Inferno 12, Virgilio shows how well he has learned the lesson of the celestial agent who arrived in Inferno 9.
 There are echoes in Inferno 12 of the previous episode with the devils. The discussion of the causes of “questa ruina” (this ruin [Inf. 12.32]) — “ruina” is Dante’s word for the landslide that they are climbing down — induces Virgilio to reminisce about “the other time” — “l’altra fiata” (Inf. 12.34) — that he made this trip through Hell. At that time, he says, the boulders that they are picking their way through had not yet fallen:
Or vo’ che sappi che l’altra fïata ch’i’ discesi qua giù nel basso inferno, questa roccia non era ancor cascata. (Inf. 12.34-36)
Now I would have you know: the other time that I descended into lower Hell, this mass of boulders had not yet collapsed.
 In the context of the novel sighting of a ruina, a change in the landscape of Hell, Virgilio thus references the “other time” he came this way. However, any reference to Virgilio’s first trip to lower Hell only serves to problematize our beloved guide, since it reminds us that he once undertook this same journey under the aegis of a very different power from the one that sends him now. In Inferno 2 Virgilio explains to Dante-pilgrim (and thus to us) that he was sent to Dante’s aid by ladies from heaven, particularly Beatrice. In Inferno 9 Virgilio explains to Dante-pilgrim (and thus to us) that he had been summoned to undertake the trip into lowest Hell on a prior occasion. The agent then was Erichtho, mistress of the dark arts.
 Dante’s invented Virgilian backstory of Erichtho, the sorceress from Lucan’s Pharsalia who had the power to send Virgilio on a mission to lowest Hell, raises issues that problematize not only Virgilio, but also the status of Hell itself. How can Hell’s territorial integrity have been violated in such a way and by a pagan practitioner of the dark arts? True, Erichtho did not enter Hell herself; she instead used Virgilio as her agent. But how did she have even such limited power?
 This section of Inferno 12 generates such latent questions, because of its emphasis on the Harrowing of Hell: Christ’s divinely ordained violation of Hell’s territorial integrity. First presented in Inferno 4, Christ’s violation of Hell is the divine act that caused the crumbling of the infernal infrastructure that we now see as the ruine.
 With respect to the ongoing Virgilio-narrative, a complex picture emerges. On the one hand, there are the troubling associations raised by the implied reference to Erichtho of verses 34-36. On the other hand, in Inferno 12 Dante scripts a Virgilio who shows impressive powers to intuit Christian verities.
 Virgilio correctly intuits what has happened in the time elapsed between his first journey to lower Hell and his current mission. First, he temporally situates the earthquake that caused the rock slide, connecting it to the moment when Christ entered Hell and liberated the Biblical righteous, here called the “great booty” of the “highest circle” (the “highest circle” is Limbo). With precision, Virgilio evokes the Harrowing of Hell, an event that he personally witnessed (see Inferno 4.52-54). Now he mentions that the earth shook just before — “poco pria” (37) — the arrival of “the One who took / from Dis the highest circle’s splendid spoils”: “colui che la gran preda / levò a Dite del cerchio superno” (Inf. 12.38-39). Thus, the earth quaked just before the arrival in Hell of Christ.
 The periphrasis that Virgilio uses for Christ, calling Him the One who robbed Lucifer of his prey by taking the Biblical righteous out of “the highest circle” of Hell, sets the militaristic tone: this passage is devoted to Christ’s historical conquest of Hell. The marks of Hell’s ignominious defeat remain visible in the ruine, which function as reminders of Hell’s true impotence.
 Christ’s arrival in Limbo and His liberation of some of the souls from the first circle is a fixed reference point for Virgilio, an event that he has never forgotten — no doubt in part because he himself was not one of the liberated souls. Virgilio articulates this moment for the first time in the canto devoted to Limbo, Inferno 4 (see 52-54), and returns to it in confronting the devils at the gate of Dis (Inf. 8.124-26). That fixed reference point is the moment when, newly arrived in the first circle — “Io era nuovo in questo stato, / quando ci vidi venire un possente” (I was new-entered on this state / when I beheld a Great Lord enter here [Inf. 4.52-53]) — Virgilio first realized that some of Limbo’s residents would be liberated to a different and higher reality that is not accessible to him.
 The unfolding theme of Virgilio’s melancholy, with its most poignant expressions in Purgatorio, is rooted in the moment of realization constituted by Christ’s Harrowing of Hell, a moment first referenced in Inferno 4.52-54. That first moment of realization is supplemented as Virgilio comes to understand the full scope of Christ’s act of liberation. For Christ did not liberate only the Biblical righteous; He saved also some virtuous pagans, as we will learn in Purgatorio 1 and as first discussed in the Commento on Inferno 4.
 Virgilio now explains the earthquake in terms of the Empedoclean doctrine whereby order depends on the discord of the elements, and chaos would result from their concord. At the moment of the quake, Virgilio says, he believed that the universe “felt love”: “’i’ pensai che l’universo / sentisse amor” (I thought the universe / felt love [Inf. 12.41-42]). Although Virgilio is technically wrong in ascribing the earth’s tremor to the concord of the elements, in saying that the universe “felt love” he has in fact intuited the correct cause of the quake: the universe felt love in that it felt the arrival of Christ.
 Beginning in Inferno 12.46, the travelers see what lies before them in the first ring of the circle of violence. Dante tells us of a river of blood, Phlegethon, in which are immersed and boiled the sinners who committed violence against their neighbors, those who “did harm to others through violence”: “qual che per violenza in altrui noccia” (Inf. 12.48). The degree of the shades’ immersion in the boiling blood is determined by the degree of violence that they committed.
 The narrator interrupts with an impassioned apostrophe that begins “Oh cieca cupidigia e ira folle” (O blind cupidity and insane anger [Inf. 12.49]). The phrase “ira folle” in Dante’s apostrophe echoes and anticipates a series of references to anger that accrue in Inferno 12, a canto that contains four uses of the word ira, more than any other canto in the poem. Through characterizations of the Minotaur (to whom Dante also applies the verb infuriare, in verse 27), and of the centaur Pholus, as well as in his apostrophe, Dante communicates the key role of anger in the production of acts of violence: “sì come quei cui l’ira dentro fiacca” (like one whom rage devastates within [Inf. 12.15]),, “ira bestial” (bestial rage [Inf. 12. 33]), “ira folle” (insane anger [Inf. 12.49]), “Folo, che fu sì pien d’ira” (Pholus, who was so full of rage [Inf. 12.72]).
 The canto’s textual emphasis on ira raises the distinction between a specific action or sin and the underlying vice, a distinction previously discussed in the Commento on Inferno 6. The confusing overlap that sometimes occurs between the label for the vice and the label for the sin should also be clarified. We remember that Dante’s infernal circle of lust punishes not the vice of lust but specific sinful acts caused by lust. Similarly, his infernal circle of anger punishes not the vice of anger but specific sinful acts caused by anger. In the apostrophe of Inferno 12, on the other hand, “ira folle” refers to the underlying impulse toward anger. Anger is a vice that, Dante claims, “spurs” the soul to sinful action.
 In his apostrophe, Dante addresses cupidity and anger, describing them as internal impulses that goad the soul; he uses the verb spronare, suggesting that we are spurred by cupidity and anger in the same way that spurs goad a horse. This is an image that Dante first encountered in the context of love poetry and that he subsequently grafted into the Aristotelian ethics of the Convivio (see “Dante and Wealth, Between Aristotle and Cortesia”, in Coordinated Reading). Unable to withstand the vicious spurs that goad us during our brief lives on earth (“ne la vita corta”), humans are driven to the violent actions that then cause them to spend eternal life immersed in a river of blood:
Oh cieca cupidigia e ira folle, che sì ci sproni ne la vita corta, e ne l’etterna poi sì mal c’immolle! (Inf. 12.49-51)
O blind cupidity and insane anger, which goad us on so much in our short life, then steep us in such grief eternally!
 The sinners punished in the first ring of the circle of violence committed sins of violence against others, sins that took the form of actions such as murder and robbery. The sins punished in Dante’s Hell are the precise actions that the sinner committed in historical time: in this particular sub-circle of Hell, therefore, they are acts of murder, robbery, and so forth. The vice, on the other hand, is the underlying motivator of that action. That internal goad can be anger, it can be greed — it can be any of the seven capital vices. Indeed, the vices often work together. Thus, in Inferno 6 we learn that pride, envy, and avarice are the vices that inflame Florentine hearts: “superbia, invidia e avarizia sono / le tre faville c’hanno i cuori accesi” (Three sparks that set on fire every heart /are envy, pride, and avariciousness [Inf. 6.74-5]).
 In this canto, Dante gives us the opportunity to consider a “super-vice”, one that embraces more than one capital vice: this super-vice is cupidity. As always in human behavior, the underlying vices that spur an individual soul to sin are various and complex. Hence the narrator’s apostrophe to “blind cupidity and insane anger” — “cieca cupidigia e ira folle” (Inf. 12.49 ) — indicts not only the most obvious vice that leads us to violence, namely anger (“ira folle”), but also blind cupidity (“cieca cupidigia”). Cupidigia is a profoundly rapacious and greedy form of inordinate and immoderate desire. We remember that the most fearsome obstacle to the pilgrim’s aborted ascent in Inferno 1 is the lupa (shewolf), who can be seen as embodying cupidigia.
 In Inferno 12 Dante uses the word cupidigia for the first time (he will use it only five times in the Commedia: once in Inferno, once in Purgatorio, and three times in Paradiso). This important term is at the heart of Dante’s analysis of human sin. Cupidigia blinds us, and thus, in Dante’s final employment of the term cupidigia, he circles back to Inferno 12 and to his early coupling of cupidigia with the adjective cieca: “La cieca cupidigia che v’ammalia” (the blind greediness that bewitches us [Par. 30.139]). The “cieca cupidigia” of Paradiso 30.39 reprises the “cieca cupidigia” of Inferno 12.49 and constitutes Dante’s final comment on a vicious impulse that he has examined from the beginning of the Commedia to its end. Not for nothing does the Bible define cupidity as “the root of all evil”: “radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas” (1 Timothy 6:10).
 I argue that Dante understands cupidity/cupidigia as a composite of lust, gluttony, and avarice. In other words, cupidigia embraces all forms of excessive and aggravated desire: excessive desire for carnal pleasure, excessive desire for food, excessive desire for wealth, honors, glory, and advancement. This concept of cupidigia as a composite of three sins of incontinence will be discussed in my commentary on the top three terraces of Purgatory, the terraces whose sins are represented by the siren of Purgatorio 19. Indeed, the siren’s capacities to bewitch and to blind are recalled in Paradiso 30.139, where Dante declares that blind cupidity bewitches us, using the verb ammaliare with its connotations of seduction and enchantment: “La cieca cupidigia che v’ammalia” (Par. 30.139).
 In Purgatorio 19 Virgilio explains that the siren of the pilgrim’s dream represents the sins being purged on all three upper terraces of Mount Purgatory. Dante thus effectively acknowledges that he has deliberately conflated the three vices of lust, gluttony, and avarice into a composite cupidigia. Moreover, Dante will make explicit in Purgatorio 19 that he has extended avarice beyond excessive desire for wealth to include unbridled lust for power, honor, and glory. For this reading of the top three terraces of Mount Purgatory, see The Undivine Comedy, chapter 5, “Purgatory as Paradigm” (especially pp. 105-6), and this site’s commentaries to the appropriate canti of Purgatorio.
 The yoking of cupidigia with ira in the apostrophe of Inferno 12 signals that the vices of emotional excess cause violence. Similarly, the yoking of cupidigia to tirannia (a word also used for the first time in Inferno 12) is congruent with Dante’s vision of rapacity and greed as a driving force behind political violence.
 The theme of classical antiquity continues. The travelers meet a group of Centaurs, creatures from classical mythology known for their violent tempers, but also for their better traits: the leader of the troop is the Centaur Chiron (Inf. 12.71), famed in antiquity as the tutor of Achilles. Chiron greets the travelers. He has realized that Dante is alive, because he sees that Dante’s feet move the rocks that he touches as he picks his way down the landslide to the plain. His feet, notes Chiron, are unlike the feet of the dead:
Siete voi accorti che quel di retro move ciò ch’el tocca? Così non soglion far li piè d’i morti. (Inf. 12.80-82)
Have you noticed how he who walks behind moves what he touches? Dead soles are not accustomed to do that.
 Since he is alive, Dante’s feet are substantial (in the etymological sense of the word) and able, as he descends to the first ring of the seventh circle, to move rocks. Given that he possesses substantial and rock-moving feet, Dante is unable to fly through the air as do the shades, in their virtual bodies; this is a point that Virgilio will make in the verses cited below. Because he cannot fly, Dante will need to be carried over the boiling blood when they are ready to leave this ring for the next. Consequently, Virgilio asks Chiron for an escort who will lead them to a ford and who will transport the living traveler over the river:
danne un de’ tuoi, a cui noi siamo a provo, e che ne mostri là dove si guada e che porti costui in su la groppa, ché non è spirto che per l’aere vada. (Inf. 12.93-96)
give us one of your band, to serve as companion; and let him show us where to ford the ditch, and let him bear this man upon his back, for he’s no spirit who can fly through air.
 Chiron delegates the centaur Nessus to guide the travelers to the ford and to carry the pilgrim over the river. This is the first occasion in which one of the infernal guardians is assigned to serve as a local guide and assistant for the travelers.
 This passage constitutes an important installment with respect to the nature of the virtual bodies that Dante-poet has designed for his afterlife. From verse 96, “ché non è spirto che per l’aere vada” — “for he’s no spirit who can fly through air” — we infer that the dead are able to move through air. We have already learned, in Inferno 6, that the virtual bodies of the dead are insubstantial, “empty images that seem like persons”: “lor vanità che par persona” (Inf. 6.36). The description of Inferno 6 accords well with the information offered here regarding the ability of dead souls to navigate through the medium of air: “per l’aere” (Inf. 12.96).
 Later in Hell the pilgrim will encounter a sinner whose body is described as though substantial: Dante pulls on the hair of the traitor Bocca degli Abati in Inferno 33. But in this instance Dante is functioning as a deliverer of infernal torment, and his ability to “touch” Bocca must be categorized as analogous to the ability of the devils to throw the barrator Ciampolo back into the pitch or to wound the schismatics.
 In sum, Dante’s body is substantial: it moves rocks in Inferno 12 and causes Charon’s boat to sink in Inferno 3. The souls in contrast are insubstantial: thus when Dante tries to embrace his friend Casella in Purgatorio 2, Casella’s body is an insubstantial image that cannot be embraced. The souls only appear substantial in the context of infernal (and purgatorial) torment.
 Virgilio also offers the centaur Chiron a concise and important description of the journey and of its principal protagonists: they are himself, Beatrice, and Dante. He was appointed the task of guiding the pilgrim, he explains, on a journey that is no pleasure trip: “mostrar li mi convien la valle buia / necessità ’l ci ’nduce, e non diletto” (it falls to me to show him the dark valley. / Necessity has brought him here, not pleasure [Inf. 12.85-86]). Necessity has brought them here, and Virgilio is performing an “officio” that was commissioned by Beatrice, described as one who departed from “singing alleluia” in order to give him his novel assignment: “Tal si partì da cantare alleluia / che mi commise quest’ officio novo” (For she who gave me this new task was one / who had just come from singing halleluiah [Inf. 12.88-89]). Beatrice is here aligned, through the use of the pronoun “Tal” (such a one), with the celestial agent who opens the gate of Dis. As we saw in Inferno 8 and Inferno 9, the same pronoun is repeatedly used by Virgilio to predict the arrival of the mysterious agent of deliverance.
 Chiron tasks Nessus with guiding the travelers to a place where the river narrows and with carrying Dante across Phlegethon. Having executed this function, Nessus immediately goes back over the ford; his return is communicated in Inferno 12’s last verse. At the beginning of Inferno 13 the narrator uses Nessus’ retreating haunches in order to indicate the speed with which the travelers enter the wood in front of them: “Non era ancor di là Nesso arrivato, / quando noi ci mettemmo per un bosco” (Nessus had not yet reached the other bank / when we began to make our way across a wood [Inf. 13.1-2]).
* * *
 As they proceed along the shore of Phlegethon heading for the place to ford, the travelers learn that the violent souls are immersed in the boiling blood in a graduated fashion, according to the gravity of their sins.
 The sinners boiled in Phlegethon include both the violent against others in their persons and the violent against others in their possessions. The gravest sinners in this ring are the tyrants (“tiranni” in verse 104), despotic rulers who committed violence against their subjects both in their persons (by killing them) and in their possessions (by plundering their goods). The tiranni are therefore indicted on both counts and are immersed in blood up to their brows (Inf. 12.103-4). They both murdered and plundered, and hence are the worst offenders in the category of violence against others: “«E’ son tiranni / che dier nel sangue e ne l’aver di piglio” (These are the tyrants / who plunged their hands in blood and plundering [Inf. 12.104-5]).
 In his late political treatise Monarchia Dante makes a synthetic but telling comment about the nature of tyrants, a type of ruler that he had previously featured in Inferno 12, Inferno 27, Inferno 28, and Purgatorio 6 using the terms tiranno /tiranni/tirannia. In Monarchia 3.4.10, Dante defines tyrants as rulers who do not observe “publica iura” (public laws). Rather, they are pitted against the common welfare (“comunem utilitatem”) and seek only private gain (“ad propriam”):
si vero industria, non aliter cum sic errantibus est agendum, quam cum tyrampnis, qui publica iura non ad comunem utilitatem secuntur, sed ad propriam retorquere conantur. (Mon. 3.4.10)
but if such things are done deliberately, those who make this mistake should be treated no differently from tyrants who do not observe public rights for the common welfare, but seek to turn them to their own advantage.
 In Inferno 12, Dante presents tyrants from classical antiquity as well as from contemporary Italy. Immersed in the river Phlegethon in the first ring of the circle of violence are the classical tyrants Alexander and Dionysius (verse 107) and also contemporary tyrants: the “Azzolino” of verse 110 is Ezzelino III da Romano, lord of the Marca Trevigiana (died 1259), while “Opizzo da Esti” in verse 111 is Obizzo II d’Este, lord of Ferrara (died 1293). The ravages of Ezzelino da Romano on the Marca Trevigiana are reprised in Paradiso 9, where his sister Cunizza da Romano identifies herself as coming from that hill whence descended a firebrand that destroyed the surrounding country: “là onde scese già una facella / che fece a la contrada un grande assalto” (from which a firebrand descended, / and it brought much injury to all the land about [Par. 9.29-30]).
 The terms “tiranni” (tyrants ) and “tirannia” (tyranny ) initiate an ongoing Dantean political analysis of a form of governance then emerging in Italy: lordship, despotic rule concentrated in the hands of one lord and his family.
 For Dante the concept he calls tirannia is a key element of his assessment of the political ills that plague the Italian peninsula. Dante uses the term tirannia again in Inferno 27, in order to describe the form of governance that has taken shape in the city-states of Romagna. Queried about the condition of life in Romagna, the pilgrim replies with a resume of all the nascent despotisms that have taken root throughout the region. Only Cesena has not succumbed completely: it hovers still “between tyranny and freedom” (“tra tirannia si vive e stato franco” [Inf. 27.54]).
 In his book Italy in the Age of Dante and Petrarch (1216–1380), historian John Larner describes the steps by which the medieval communes fell into the hands of despots. Eventually the rule of the despot (tiranno) was legalized, with the result that the tirannie became signorie (see especially Chapter 7, “Party-leaders and signori”). In other words, as Larner cogently describes, the later signorie of the Renaissance are really legalized tirannie. Given that “the formalization of lordship in the legal institutions of the towns” occurred in Romagna mainly after Dante’s death (see Larner, p. 139), Dante was on sound footing in considering the towns of Romagna to be tirannie rather than signorie.
 As noted above, Dante returns to the question of contemporary tirannia in Inferno 27, a canto that begins with the drawn-out simile of the “Sicilian bull”: the gruesome instrument of torture devised for his victims by the classical tyrant Phalaris of Sicily. Interestingly, Phalaris is cited by Aristotle as an example of bestiality in Nicomachean Ethics 7.5. We remember that the Minotaur flaunts a rage that is bestial: “ira bestial” (bestial rage [Inf. 12.33]).
 The connections between Inferno 12 and Inferno 27 are strong. The coordination of the ancient Phalaris with contemporary tyrants in Inferno 27 recalls the pairing of classical and contemporary tiranni in Phlegethon in Inferno 12. All the tiranni whom Dante names in Inferno 27 are worthy candidates for immersion in Phlegethon.
 In Inferno 27, Dante moves from the classical tyrant Phalaris to a roll-call of the contemporary tiranni of the Romagna region. Canto 27’s resume of despots mentions both the Polenta family of Ravenna and the Malatesta family of Rimini. These are the families into which Francesca da Polenta of Inferno 5 (now better known as Francesca da Rimini) was born, and into which she married, becoming the wife of Gianciotto Malatesta. I discuss the connection of Inferno 5 to Inferno 27 in my essay on Francesca da Polenta in Malatesta: “Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender” (see Coordinated Reading).
 Special attention is given to the Malatesta dynasty in Inferno 27’s catalogue of Romagnol tyrants. Malatesta da Verucchio and his eldest son Malatestino, the first and second lords of Rimini, are mastiffs who “make an auger of their teeth” (48). They use their teeth, in other words, to pierce their subjects’ flesh as a tool with a screw point might bore through wood:
E ’l mastin vecchio e ’l nuovo da Verrucchio, che fecer di Montagna il mal governo, là dove soglion fan d’i denti succhio. (Inf. 27.46-48)
Both mastiffs of Verrucchio, old and new, who dealt so badly with Montagna, use thier teeth to bore where they have always gnawed.
 While in Inferno 27 the Malatesta are one of a group of castigated tiranni, in Inferno 28 Dante isolates the clan, describing at length one of Malatestino’s political murders achieved through the typical Romagnol method: betrayal. Based on Dante’s comments in Inferno 28, Malatestino too is a plausible modern candidate for submersion in Phlegethon.
 Malatestino became lord of Rimini after the death of his father, Malatesta da Verucchio, the founder of Malatesta rule in Rimini. In Inferno 28, Malatestino is called a “tiranno fello” or “foul tyrant” (Inf. 28.81), an indictment that Dante backs up by reference to a particularly heinous crime. Malatestino is guilty of having treacherously invited to parley the two noblest citizens of Fano and then having them foully tortured and murdered:
gittati saran fuor di lor vasello e mazzerati presso a la Cattolica per tradimento d’un tiranno fello. (Inf. 28.79-81)
they will be cast out of their ship and drowned, weighed down with stones, near La Cattolica, because of a foul tyrant’s treachery.
 The two noblest citizens of Fano were Guido del Cassero and Angiolello da Carignana; they were treacherously murdered near Cattolica. They were “mazzerati” (Inf. 28.80): tied in a sack, thrown overboard, and drowned. For mazzerare, see the discussion of the Commedia’s contemporary forms of torture in the Commento on Inferno 27.
 Dante’s meditation on tirannia in the Commedia merits greater consideration, as I suggest in the essay “Only Historicize: History, Material Culture (Food, Clothes, Books), and the Future of Dante Studies”:
Dante’s meditation on tirannia may be gleaned even from a glance at his use of the words tirannia and tiranno/tiranni in the Commedia, words that are concentrated in Inferno 12 and 27 (the ‘‘tiranno fello’’ of Inf. 28.81, a reference to Malatestino Malatesta, takes us back to the Malatesta family of Inferno 5 and 27). The reconstruction of this meditation through an investigation of these passages and especially of the families to which Dante alludes would be a most worthwhile project. (“Only Historicize,” p. 17)
Since the original publication of this essay in 2009, I am happy to report that Nassime Chida has embraced this topic; see her “Guido da Montefeltro and the Tyrants of Romagna in Inferno 27,” in Coordinated Reading).
 The travelers see many shades in the river: the souls of murderers and violent brigands as well as tyrants. There is no encounter between the pilgrim and these souls, who are merely named by Nessus and viewed by the travelers. After pointing to perhaps history’s quintessential and most infamous tyrant, Attila (ruler of the Huns from 434 CE until his death in March 453 CE), called here with the traditional label “scourge of the earth” (“flagello in terra” [Inf. 12.134]), Nessus concludes his resume with the two contemporary highway robbers Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo (Inf. 12.137). He then turns away from the travelers and, in the canto’s last verse, goes back across the ford: “Poi si rivolse e ripassossi ’l guazzo” (Then he turned round and crossed the ford again [Inf. 12.139]).