The Wolf and the Zombie

  • detheologizing clears the way for historicizing
  • the role of the family in dynastic politics: in Inferno we move from Francesca, a dynastic wife, to Ugolino, a dynastic wolf
  • the Ugolino episode highlights the toxic effects of subordinating love to the demands of power
  • Dante defies the social order, claiming that Ugolino’s children are not guilty by association with their father
  • Sardinia in the Inferno: from the barraters of Inferno 22 to the traitors of Inferno 33
  • language and consolation
  • the theologically unorthodox category of zombies, the “undead”: Dante again flirts with the determinism of which Cecco d’Ascoli accused him
  • the theme of animated death looks forward to Lucifer and Inferno 34
  • the use of the undead category to manipulate the suspension of disbelief

[1] While writing the pages on Ugolino della Gherardesca in The Undivine Comedy (1992), my analytical lens shifted from the meta-narrative to include more historicist material (see pp. 96-97). In retrospect I realize that writing these pages was perhaps the first time I experienced in practice how detheologizing clears the way for historicizing, long before I understood in theoretical terms how this is in fact the case. In making my case for historicizing, I do not mean to suggest that history has not been amply used in considerations of the Commedia, but to indicate that we can see the possibilities for historicist readings in a fresh light once we are less blinkered by an overdetermined hermeneutic template engineered by the author to prescribe our readings.

[2] Thus, in the essay “Only Historicize” (2009), I give the example of the still under-explored historical context of Ugolino, stressing the Ugolino episode as the Inferno’s most painful exploration of the role of family in politics: “Dante’s thinking on the role of the casato as a key to the tragedy of Italian history is an unexplored feature of the Ugolino episode” (“Only Historicize,” p. 49).

[3] Inferno 33 and the Ugolino episode are steeped in history: in the people and events that shaped Ugolino’s politics. A central node of Pisan politics (and therefore of Ugolino’s politics) was the island of Sardinia, a Pisan possession. I rehearse some of the elements of Ugolino’s Sardinian politics in The Undivine Comedy, connecting Inferno 33 to the Sardinian grafters in Inferno 22 (for whom, see the Introduction to Inferno 22):

Ugolino was the Sardinian vicar of Re Enzo, son of Frederic II; Ugolino’s son Guelfo married Elena, Enzo’s daughter, and Ugolino’s grandchildren inherited Enzo’s Sardinian possessions. Ugolino’s son-in-law, Giovanni Visconti, was also a power on the island as judge of Gallura, as was Giovanni’s son, Ugolino’s grandson, Nino Visconti, whom Dante hails in the valley of the princes by his Sardinian title: “giudice Nin” (Purg. 8.53). These connections begin to manifest themselves in Inferno 33 when Ugolino says that Ruggieri appeared to him, in his dream, as “maestro e donno” (Inf. 33.28]): donno is a Sardinianism that occurs only here and in Inferno 22, where it is used in the description of the Sardinian barraters. One is friar Gomita of Gallura (“frate Gomita, / quel di Gallura” [Inf. 22.81-2]), vicar of Nino Visconti, the lord or donno whose enemies he freed for money. The other is “donno Michel Zanche / di Logodoro” (Inf. 22.88-9), a Sardinian noble who originally sided with Genova rather than Pisa; he was killed by his Genovese son-in-law Branca Doria, either out of greed for his Sardinian holdings or because of his later leanings toward Pisa. Sardinia as a catalyst of greed figures in all these dramas, and indeed frate Gomita, betrayer of Nino Visconti, and Michel Zanche, betrayed by Branca Doria, talk of Sardinia in the bolgia of barratry: “e a dir di Sardigna / le lingue lor non si sentono stanche” (in talking of Sardinia their tongues do not grow weary [Inf. 22.89-90]). Sardinia unites all these sinners as the object of their greed and strife, and Ugolino was as rapacious a player (not for nothing does he see himself as a wolf in his dream) as the others. (The Undivine Comedy, pp. 96-7)

[4] The Guelph Visconti and Ghibelline Gherardesca families, traditionally opposed, became allies to protect their Sardinian holdings. Their alliance led to the ill-fated shared magistracy of Ugolino and his grandson Nino Visconti, the same Nino whom Dante hails as a personal friend in Purgatory’s Valley of Princes, calling him by his Sardinian title “giudice Nin gentil” (Purg. 8.53; Nino’s title is “giudice” because the provinces of Sardinia were called “giudicati”).

[5] Ugolino’s career was marked by continuous switching back and forth of party allegiance. Originally Ghibelline, Ugolino was exiled from Ghibelline Pisa in 1275. He returned with the help of Florentine Guelphs. In 1284 he became podestà of Pisa. To protect Pisa from Guelph threats he negotiated with Florence and Lucca and ceded three castles to them, an incident that Dante notes in ambiguous fashion:

Che se ’l conte Ugolino aveva voce
d’aver tradita te de le castella,
non dovei tu i figliuoi porre a tal croce. 
(Inf. 33.85-7) 
For if Count Ugolino was reputed
to have betrayed your fortresses, there was
no need to have his sons endure such torment.

[6] In 1285 Ugolino’s grandson, Guelph Nino Visconti, was called to share the office of chief magistrate with his Ghibelline grandfather. However, as well summarized by Guy Raffa, Ugolino apparently “connived with the Pisan Ghibellines, led by the Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini; Ugolino agreed to Ghibelline demands that his grandson Nino be driven from the city, an order that was carried out — with Ugolino purposefully absent from the city — in 1288”. The Archbishop then turned on his co-conspirator: “upon Ugolino’s return to Pisa, Ruggieri incited the public against him (by cleverly exploiting Ugolino’s previous ‘betrayal of the castles’) and had the count — along with two sons (Gaddo and Uguiccione) and two grandsons (Anselmo and Brigata) — arrested and imprisoned”(http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/circle9.html#ugolino).

[7] We cannot be entirely sure which particular perfidious action Dante has in mind. Nassime Chida, the author of “Kinship and Local Power in Dante’s Inferno” (Columbia U. dissertation, 2019), and an expert on the historical circumstances that inform the Commedia (see Chida’s Digital Dante tabulation of divergences between leading biographers of Dante) has studied Ugolino and reviewed all the historical literature. She elegantly clarifies the murkiness of the situation:

The sin that puts Ugolino in Antenora is not specified by Dante; this may or may not be because his sin was obvious to contemporary readers, for the early commentators do not all agree on what the sin might be. Ugolino was more of a diplomat than a warrior and his achievements can easily be construed as betrayals: for example the ceding of the castles, a gesture designed to break the alliance between Pisa’s enemies, was in fact a successful act of diplomacy. In other cases, his “betrayal” may seem much more obvious to modern readers if not contemporaries, for example when he went to war against the city of Pisa as head of a group of noble “fuoriusciti” and won (like Farinata). Finally: would his “conversion” to the parte guelfa be considered a political betrayal? It is not clear.

According to all the historical accounts I have read, including relatively recent research (Il conte Ugolino della Gherardesca tra antropologia e storia, ed. Francesco Mallegni and Maria Luisa Lemut, Pisa 2003), Ugolino cannot be said to have “led” the Pisan forces, although he did participate in the battle. However he was later and often blamed for the defeat, considered to be the start of Pisa’s permanent decline. Furthermore, Ugolino was elected because of this defeat, not in spite of it, precisely because the election of a known Guelph would appease Pisa’s Guelph enemies and provide a suitable interlocutor with whom they could negotiate the terms of peace.

There was a rift between Ugolino and Nino, because supporters of the Gherardesca faction and the Visconti faction seem to have come to blows. However the reasons for the rift, to my knowledge, cannot be established for sure since we lack the testimony of the parties involved. It could be because of the ceded castles, but it could also be because of the failed negotiations involving the return of Pisa’s prisoners of war, held captive in Genoa, who happened to include Ugolino’s eldest son. As for his responsibility for Nino’s expulsion from the city, while all the historians I have read do suspect it, and such an expulsion would have been difficult or impossible without Ugolino’s complicity, the details are also difficult to confirm. Nino Visconti in any case did not hold it against Ugolino, whom he tried unsuccessfully to rescue after his downfall. The toppling of the regime of the due signori (Ugolino and Nino) was  a Ghibelline coup and it involved the manipulation of the Pisan crowds. (Nassime Chida, email communication to Teodolinda Barolini, dated 11/16/2015)

[8] Chiavacci Leonardi writes that Ugolino’s true betrayal — from Dante’s perspective — was not the ceding of the castles but more likely his betrayal of his grandson, Nino Visconti: “Ma il vero tradimento per cui egli sta nell’ultimo cerchio non sembra poter essere questo, se era solo una voce. Si tratta più probabilmente del suo improvviso voltafaccia quando era signore della città, per cui tradì Nino Visconti accordandosi con l’arcivescovo Ubaldini, secondo una versione da Dante seguita” (The true betrayal committed by Ugolino, for which he is placed in the lowest circle, is most likely not this [the ceding of the castles], given that this was only a rumor. Most likely it was his sudden about-turn when, as lord of the city, he betrayed Nino Visconti and allied himself with Archbishop Ubaldini, according to the version of events that Dante followed [Chiavacci Leonardi commentary to Inferno 33, at verse 86, my trans.]).

[9] I agree that the behavior likely of greatest interest to Dante is Ugolino’s treatment of his grandson Nino Visconti, during the period in which the two men shared power in Pisa. There are two features of Dante’s account that are unambiguous and that I believe are linked. One is the importance of Ugolino’s children in Dante’s telling. (They are two sons, Gaddo and Uguiccione, and two grandsons, Anselmo and Brigata, but Dante’s Ugolino refers to them collectively and repeatedly as “figliuoli”, “sons”.) The other is the unexpected presence of Nino Visconti in Purgatorio 8 and the deep affection that Dante displays for Nino (an affection for which we have no independent verification). Dante’s concerns in this story center on love and affection: on the nature of the ties that bind us as family members and as friends. Family members should never be reduced to political players and political pawns.

[10] In Dante’s view, Ugolino used and abused his family members in securing and consolidating power over Pisa. However murky the politics and history of the Ugolino episode, the story as Dante tells it is devastatingly clear: it portrays the exploitation of family bonds for political ends. This form of exploitation, while taken to the extreme in Ugolino’s case, was systemic in Dante’s society. Such exploitation is built into the dynastic model: family members are expressions of power to be leveraged for the maintenance and survival of the dynasty.

[11] The Inferno is full of dynastic families, discussed as a historical phenomenon in the Introductions to Inferno 5, Inferno 12, and Inferno 27. We saw the exploitation of women for dynastic purposes in Inferno 5: Francesca da Polenta was married to Gianciotto Malatesta as a dynastic pawn, for the mutual advantage of the ruling Polenta family of Ravenna and the ruling Malatesta family of Rimini. In Inferno 33 Dante is again reminding us that all members of a powerful family are exploitable, including children, and that all family members, including children, will suffer.

[12] Technically, Antenora is reserved for political traitors while Caina is for traitors of family, but Dante’s point is that the boundary between the two types of betrayal is blurred. The story of Ugolino and his “figliuoli”, like that of Francesca da Rimini, indicts dynastic politics for not distinguishing between the political unit and the family unit.

* * *

[13] Dante’s account of Ugolino della Gherardesca dramatizes the subordination of love to power. In this encounter with the last great charismatic sinner of Inferno, as with the first, we come back to love, albeit paternal rather than romantic. As occurs in Inferno 5, which moves from its topic (love) to its meta-topic (reading and writing about love), so also Inferno 33 moves from its topic, the family/power nexus, to the meta-topic that Dante proposes: our responsibility as humans to use language to console. We have an obligation to comfort each other with words. Specifically, in this instance a father has a moral obligation to comfort his children, who are dying in inexpressibly grim circumstances.

[14] At stake for Dante in the story of the deaths of Ugolino and his figliuoli is the absence of the paternal word: the father’s failure to speak. The Ugolino episode is an in malo expression of the following principle, passionately held by the author of the Commedia: we have an obligation to speak our love and solidarity, a sacred responsibility to use our human birthright of language to sustain, guide, help and console each other. Language used to comfort and console is a major theme of the Commedia, discussed in my commentary on Inferno 2, “Beatrix loquax and Consolation”. In coming to Dante’s aid, Beatrice is compelled to speak: “Amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare” (Love prompted me, that Love which makes me speak [Inf. 2.72]). For further discussion of language and consolation, see my essay “A Philosophy of Consolation: The Place of the Other in Life’s Transactions”, cited in Coordinated Reading.

[15] Before discussing Ugolino’s responsibility to his children, we must stipulate that there is good reason for the long tradition of sympathy for Ugolino as father, a tradition to which the secolare commento eloquently testifies. It is difficult to sit in judgment upon Ugolino, for he is not exaggerating when he tells the pilgrim that no one can know how cruel his death was:

però quel che non puoi avere inteso,
cioè come la morte mia fu cruda,
udirai, e saprai s’e’ m’ha offeso. 
(Inf.33.19-21)
however, that which you cannot have heard —
that is, the cruel death devised for me —
you now shall hear and know if he has wronged me.

[16] Ugolino narrates to Dante the tortured days of imprisonment in the tower and his death by starvation, a death that takes him only after he has witnessed the deaths by starvation one by one of the children and grandchildren. Faced with such a story (the only story in Inferno that focuses at great length on the manner of death), a certain moral pudor on the part of the reader seems advisable; after all, we have not experienced such circumstances. But the rules of Dante’s parlor game involve responding to what we learn, in imitation of the pilgrim. In this case, the pilgrim responds with silence to Ugolino — as Ugolino responded with silence to his figliuoli. Dante models the “correct” response to Ugolino, showing the Count no sympathy and leaving him without a word.

[17] In Dante’s view, humans are gifted by their maker with reason and hence with the ability to create language. (There are, of course, some stumbles along the way: see the story of the Tower of Babel, discussed in my commentary to Inferno 31.) In this scheme of things, language is our fundamental privilege and our fundamental responsibility. As Dante feels obliged to seek heroically to use language to describe the indescribable in the exordium of Inferno 32, so Ugolino was — in Dante’s view — obliged to seek heroically to use language to console the inconsolable.

[18] Instead, Ugolino’s heart turns to stone — “sì dentro impetrai” (within, I turned to stone [Inf. 33.49]) — and his tongue dries up, as Dante fears his own tongue will do when he first addresses the Count (Inf. 32.139). The verb impetrare, to turn to stone, echoes the rima petrosa that informs Inferno 32, signalling again that the cold and love-denying ethos of the petrose prevails. Ugolino’s children weep, but the father does not weep; Ugolino’s sons query him, but the father does not answer.

[19] How talkative Ugolino is now, to the pilgrim, how willing to communicate his point of view and his sense of his own pain, and how he failed utterly to offer a word of consolation to his dying children! Dante revises the historical record, making Ugolino’s grown sons and grandsons into children at the time of imprisonment, thus generating pathos and underscoring the stony-heartedness of the father. The children offer more comfort to the father — they speak more words to him — than the father does to them.

[20] Ugolino’s discourse to Dante is polished, rhetorically well structured, and deeply manipulative, as Bàrberi Squarotti showed in his classic essay “L’orazione del conte Ugolino” (cited in Coordinated Reading). I find most chilling the logical connectors with which Ugolino suggests that he had no choice but to keep silent: “Perciò non lagrimai né rispuos’ io” (Therefore I shed no tears and did not answer [Inf. 33.52]), and Queta’mi allor per non farli più tristi” (Then I became silent, so that I not make them more sad [Inf. 33.64]). But why would words make his children more sad? They are humans, not the wolf-cubs of Ugolino’s dream.

[21] Ugolino sees himself in dream as a wolf being hunted with its cubs: he is ‘‘il lupo’’ with its ‘‘lupicini’’ (Inf. 33.29). The wolf holds a particular place in Dante’s imaginary: by characterizing the Count as a wolf, Dante signals that Ugolino is a figure of rapacious greed, in whom hunger for power was paramount. The lupa (she-wolf) of Inferno 1 is a fearsome figure of lack and insatiable cupidigia. As the masculine variant of the lupa, Ugolino is the father who inflicts on his sons fearsome lack: material lack and starvation in the tower, but also spiritual deprivation with respect to language and comfort and consolation.

[22] Ugolino’s speech is geared to the solicitation of pity. He exploits his children as oratorical pawns in his infernal narrative (as in life they were political pawns in his quest for power). He asks Dante a rhetorical question — “e se non piangi, di che pianger suoli?” (and if you don’t weep now, when would you weep? [Inf. 33.42]) — that is in effect an exhortation to weep for him. And yet, by his own telling, he did not weep for or with his children, as he did not reply to the question that “Anselmiuccio mio” addressed to him:

Io non piangëa, sì dentro impetrai:
piangevan elli; e Anselmuccio mio
disse: “Tu guardi sì, padre! che hai?”.
Perciò non lagrimai ne rispuos’ io ...
(Inf. 33.49-52)
I did not weep; within, I turned to stone.
They wept; and my poor little Anselm said:
‘Father, you look so . . . What is wrong with you?’
Therefore I shed no tears and did not answer . . .

[23] Ugolino recounts Gaddo’s last words before dying, which are a request for help, also in the form of a question: “Padre mio, ché non m’aiuti?’” (Father, why do you not help me?’[Inf. 33.69]). Again, Ugolino records no reply.

[24] Dante-pilgrim refuses Ugolino’s direct invitation to weep for him. He gives him as response only silence. Dante-narrator, on the other hand, explodes into an apostrophe to Pisa, wishing for Pisa’s destruction and excoriating the city for having tortured the innocent sons, who deserved to be treated with compassion:

Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti
del bel paese là dove ’l sì suona,
poi che i vicini a te punir son lenti,
muovasi la Capraia e la Gorgona, 
e faccian siepe ad Arno in su la foce, 
sì ch’elli annieghi in te ogne persona! 
Ché se ’l conte Ugolino aveva voce 
d’aver tradita te de le castella, 
non dovei tu i figliuoi porre a tal croce.
Innocenti facea l’età novella, 
novella Tebe, Uguiccione e ’l Brigata
 e li altri due che ’l canto suso appella. 
(Inf. 33.79-90)
Ah, Pisa, you the scandal of the peoples
of that fair land where sì is heard, because
your neighbors are so slow to punish you,
may, then, Caprara and Gorgona move
and build a hedge across the Arno's mouth, 
so that it may drown every soul in you!
For if Count Ugolino was reputed
to have betrayed your fortresses, there was
no need to have his sons endure such torment.
O Thebes renewed, their years were innocent
and young — Brigata, Uguiccione, and
the other two my song has named above!

[25] Dante insists on the innocence of youth: “Innocenti facea l’età novella” (their youth made them innocent [Inf. 33.88]). Once again, as in the Geri del Bello episode in Inferno 29, Dante resists violence whose justification is kinship. In Inferno 29 he rejects the logic whereby he himself was obliged to become a killer to avenge the violent death of his cousin Geri del Bello. In Inferno 33 he rejects the logic whereby Ugolino della Gherardesca’s male descendants are killed along with their father. Ugolino’s sins should not have been visited upon his male descendants. Dante counters the logic of tribe and family and insists that youth guarantees innocence. In a society where dynastic politics inevitably leads to the imprisonment and murder of children, this is a radical statement.

[26] Dante will eventually offer the theoretical basis for his position, claiming in Purgatorio 7 that virtue is given by God and does not flow down the branches of a family tree from father to son (Purg. 7.121-23). By the same token that virtue does not pass down genealogically, neither does sin: Guido da Montefeltro is damned (see Inferno 27), while his son Bonconte is saved (see Purgatorio 5). Similarly, Ugolino is damned, while his grandson Nino Visconti is saved.

* * *

[27] After his bitter apostrophe to Pisa, Dante turns his back on Ugolino, and the narrator moves onward. The travelers come to Tolomea, the third zone of Cocytus, reserved for traitors of guests. Here Dante meets Alberigo dei Manfredi, whose family returned from exile to Faenza with the aid of the traitor Tebaldello de’ Zambrasi, another resident of the ninth circle (see Inferno 32, paragraph 22, for Tebaldello’s connection to Gianciotto Malatesta). Alberigo introduces himself as “Frate Alberigo” (118), referring to his status as a frate godente or jovial friar (for the lay order of Frati Godenti, see the hypocrites Catalano and Loderingo, Inferno 23, paragraph 37). Frate Alberigo explains that the souls of Tolomea have a special distinction: they die in the very moment that they commit their heinous act of betrayal, and their bodies, now inhabited by devils, only appear to be still alive on earth. Thus, Dante is amazed that Frate Alberigo (who is thought to have died circa 1307) is already dead: “«Oh», diss’ io lui, «or se’ tu ancor morto?»” (“But then,” I said, “are you already dead?” [Inf. 33.121]).

[28] The sinners of Tolomea are medieval versions of the modern “zombie”: an undead being created through the animation of a corpse. Dante shows interest in this idea already in Inferno 9, where Virgilio describes the sorceress Erichtho as a maker of animated death: “quella Eritón cruda / che richiamava l’ombre a’ corpi sui” (that savage witch Erichtho, she who called the shades back to their bodies [Inf. 9.23-4]). The theme of animated death governs the last canti of Inferno, and anticipates Dante’s conception of Lucifer.

[29] Frate Alberigo’s language plays up the ambiguous “undead” status of these souls. On the one hand, at the moment of the act of betrayal the soul vacates the body and falls to Hell, and the body is inhabited by a devil (Inf. 33.124-35). On the other, Atropos has not yet pushed the soul away (126), cutting the thread of life; thus the devil takes over the body “until its years have run their course completely”: “mentre che ’l tempo suo tutto sia vòlto” (Inf. 33.132). We infer that the body has a temporal “set-point”, and that the violence of the sin is sufficient to disrupt the fore0rdained life span, a life span that yet cannot be fully deleted.

[30] Dante ventures onto theologically thin ice when he damns folks who have not yet died. He has gone in this dangerous direction before. We noted the flagrant case of Pope Boniface VIII, whose arrival in the bolgia of simony after his death in 1303 is predicted in an encounter with Pope Nicholas III in Inferno 19. There is also the case of Fra Dolcino, the heretic who died in 1307 and whose arrival in the bolgia of the schismatics is predicted by Mohammed in Inferno 28.

[31] In his treatment of Tolomea in Inferno 33, Dante is effectively saying that the gravity of this sin causes the sinner to be damned while still alive, despite a theology of repentance that holds that there is never a day before death when salvation is beyond our grasp. Dante has deprived the souls of Tolomea — like Boniface VIII and Fra Dolcino —  of the fundamental “right” to repent for their sins up to the last moment of life. As I have noted previously in this commentary, Dante here flirts with the very determinism of which Cecco d’Ascoli accused him. See the discussion of Cecco d’Ascoli in the Appendix to Inferno 7 and also the discussion of determinism in the commentary on Inferno 20.

[32] At the end of this canto, the zombie/undead category allows the poet another opportunity to manipulate our suspension of disbelief, offering him yet another way to use the unbelievable to command belief. Frate Alberigo now points to the sinner behind him, and tells Dante that he likely knows him: “Tu ’l dei saper, se tu vien pur mo giuso: / elli è ser Branca Doria” (you must know him, if you’ve just come down; he is Ser Branca Doria [Inf. 33.136-37]). Dante must have known Branca, says Alberigo, given that Dante is a recent arrival in Hell. In fact, we too know of Branca, for Branca is already inscribed into the text of Inferno: Branca Doria is a Genovese nobleman condemned for the murder of his father-in-law, Michele Zanche, a Sardinian whom Dante placed among the grafters in Inferno 22.

[33] At this, the poet stages the bewilderment of the pilgrim, who accuses Frate Alberigo of deceiving him (as per the Geryon principle). The pilgrim is incredulous. Alberigo must be lying, for Branca “eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes”: “‘Io credo’, diss’io lui, ‘che tu m’inganni; / ché Branca Doria non morì unquanche, / e mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni’” (I said to him: “I think that you deceive me, for Branca Doria is not yet dead; he eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes” [Inf. 33.139-41]).

[34] Branca Doria was indeed still alive. Although the theological risk that Dante courts in putting a man in Hell who is not yet dead is the same for Boniface VIII who died in 1303 as for Branca Doria who died in 1325, there is a notable difference —  one that emphasizes Dante’s audacity. The Inferno was not yet written when Boniface was alive. It had been circulating for years when Branca Doria died in 1325, four years after Dante’s own death in 1321.

[35] A legend grew up, according to which Branca Doria took revenge on the poet for putting him in Hell by having him beaten (see The Undivine Comedy, p. 297, note 45). The existence of this legend shows that Dante’s early readers were at some level aware of the particular outrageousness of Branca’s case.

[36] In creating the category of the undead in the final episode of Inferno 33, Dante tropes his master fiction, as I explain in The Undivine Comedy. He offers us dead living people in the place of his customary living dead people: “Dante is here troping his master fiction: instead of living dead people, we now must contend with the idea of dead living people. As the outlines of the fiction become harder to hold onto, we succumb to it more readily, especially when the text reproduces our relation to it within itself” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 94).

[37] In order to counter the pilgrim’s disbelief, Frate Alberigo, the fictional character, appeals to the “reality” of the virtual world that Dante-poet has created: he refers to the contents of Dante’s Inferno. Alberigo describes in detail the bolgia of baratteria in Inferno 22, referring to the Malebranche, Michel Zanche, and the “tenace pece” in which the grafters are immersed:

«Nel fosso sù», diss’el, «de’ Malebranche,
là dove bolle la tenace pece,
non era ancor giunto Michel Zanche
che questi lasciò il diavolo in sua vece
nel corpo suo, ed un suo prossimano
che ’l tradimento insieme con lui fece. 
(Inf. 31.142-47)
“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 —
together with a kinsman, who had done
the treachery together with him — left
a devil in his stead inside his body.”

[38] I analyze this extraordinary truth claim in The Undivine Comedy, noting that “the pilgrim is now in the reader’s position, faced with an unbelievable truth, a ‘ver c’ha faccia di menzogna’ (as earlier, in canto 28’s version of this mirror game, the sinners played the reader’s role)” (p. 94). As we saw, Alberigo persuades the pilgrim to believe him by appealing to “reality”, namely the fiction to which he himself belongs. Alberigo’s reply is one of the most remarkable intratextual moments within the Commedia, as the text buttresses the text, the fiction supports the credibility of the fiction. By way of Alberigo’s references to the text of Inferno 22 — to the Malebranche and the boiling pitch of the bolgia of baratterua — the pilgrim is convinced.

[39] The poet, who has mirrored and thereby mounted a sneak attack on the reader’s reluctance to believe, concludes Inferno 33 by stating as simple fact what he learned from Frate Alberigo. In this place, says the poet, he found — “trovai” (I found [Inf. 33.155) a spirit whose soul was in Cocytus, while his body was on earth. The last verse of Inferno 33 repeats as fact the canto’s most startling  assertion. There are souls in Hell whose bodies appear alive on earth: “e in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra” (and up above appears alive, in body [Inf. 33.157]).

[40] We see the poet’s willingness to embrace theologically unorthodox concepts that derive from popular culture (here the concept of the undead), bending those concepts to his needs (the idea of animated death is fundamental to Dante’s vision of Hell’s lowest pit), while also using them to manage our suspension of disbelief in the service of his virtual reality.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy (Princeton: Princeton U. Press, 1992), Chapter 4, “Narrative and Style in Lower Hell,” pp. 94-97; “Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender,” Speculum 75 (2000): 1-28; “Only Historicize,” Dante Studies, 127 (2009): 37-54 (especially pp. 44, 49); “A Philosophy of Consolation: The Place of the Other in Life’s Transactions,” in Boccaccio 1313-2013, ed. F. Ciabattoni, E. Filosa, K. Olson (Ravenna: Longo, 2015), pp. 89-105; Bàrberi-Squarotti, Giorgio, “L’orazione del conte Ugolino,” Lettere Italiane 23 (1971): 3-28.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 33: The Wolf and the Zombie.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2018. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-33/
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Commento Table of Contents

1La bocca sollevò dal fiero pasto
2quel peccator, forbendola a’ capelli
3del capo ch’elli avea di retro guasto.

4Poi cominciò: «Tu vuo’ ch’io rinovelli
5disperato dolor che ’l cor mi preme
6già pur pensando, pria ch’io ne favelli.

7Ma se le mie parole esser dien seme
8che frutti infamia al traditor ch’i’ rodo,
9parlar e lagrimar vedrai insieme.

10Io non so chi tu se’ né per che modo
11venuto se’ qua giù; ma fiorentino
12mi sembri veramente quand’ io t’odo.

13Tu dei saper ch’i’ fui conte Ugolino,
14e questi è l’arcivescovo Ruggieri:
15or ti dirò perché i son tal vicino.

16Che per l’effetto de’ suo’ mai pensieri,
17fidandomi di lui, io fossi preso
18e poscia morto, dir non è mestieri;

19però quel che non puoi avere inteso,
20cioè come la morte mia fu cruda,
21udirai, e saprai s’e’ m’ha offeso.

22Breve pertugio dentro da la Muda,
23la qual per me ha ’l titol de la fame,
24e che conviene ancor ch’altrui si chiuda,

25m’avea mostrato per lo suo forame
26più lune già, quand’ io feci ’l mal sonno
27che del futuro mi squarciò ’l velame.

28Questi pareva a me maestro e donno,
29cacciando il lupo e ’ lupicini al monte
30per che i Pisan veder Lucca non ponno.

31Con cagne magre, studïose e conte
32Gualandi con Sismondi e con Lanfranchi
33s’avea messi dinanzi da la fronte.

34In picciol corso mi parieno stanchi
35lo padre e ’ figli, e con l’agute scane
36mi parea lor veder fender li fianchi.

37Quando fui desto innanzi la dimane,
38pianger senti’ fra ’l sonno i miei figliuoli
39ch’eran con meco, e dimandar del pane.

40Ben se’ crudel, se tu già non ti duoli
41pensando ciò che ’l mio cor s’annunziava;
42e se non piangi, di che pianger suoli?

43Già eran desti, e l’ora s’appressava
44che ’l cibo ne solëa essere addotto,
45e per suo sogno ciascun dubitava;

46e io senti’ chiavar l’uscio di sotto
47a l’orribile torre; ond’ io guardai
48nel viso a’ mie’ figliuoi sanza far motto.

49Io non piangëa, sì dentro impetrai:
50piangevan elli; e Anselmuccio mio
51disse: “Tu guardi sì, padre! che hai?”.

52Perciò non lagrimai né rispuos’ io
53tutto quel giorno né la notte appresso,
54infin che l’altro sol nel mondo uscìo.

55Come un poco di raggio si fu messo
56nel doloroso carcere, e io scorsi
57per quattro visi il mio aspetto stesso,

58ambo le man per lo dolor mi morsi;
59ed ei, pensando ch’io ’l fessi per voglia
60di manicar, di sùbito levorsi

61e disser: “Padre, assai ci fia men doglia
62se tu mangi di noi: tu ne vestisti
63queste misere carni, e tu le spoglia”.

64Queta’mi allor per non farli più tristi;
65lo dì e l’altro stemmo tutti muti;
66ahi dura terra, perché non t’apristi?

67Poscia che fummo al quarto dì venuti,
68Gaddo mi si gittò disteso a’ piedi,
69dicendo: “Padre mio, ché non m’aiuti?”.

70Quivi morì; e come tu mi vedi,
71vid’ io cascar li tre ad uno ad uno
72tra ’l quinto dì e ’l sesto; ond’ io mi diedi,

73già cieco, a brancolar sovra ciascuno,
74e due dì li chiamai, poi che fur morti.
75Poscia, più che ’l dolor, poté ’l digiuno».

76Quand’ ebbe detto ciò, con li occhi torti
77riprese ’l teschio misero co’ denti,
78che furo a l’osso, come d’un can, forti.

79Ahi Pisa, vituperio de le genti
80del bel paese là dove ’l sì suona,
81poi che i vicini a te punir son lenti,

82muovasi la Capraia e la Gorgona,
83e faccian siepe ad Arno in su la foce,
84sì ch’elli annieghi in te ogne persona!

85Che se ’l conte Ugolino aveva voce
86d’aver tradita te de le castella,
87non dovei tu i figliuoi porre a tal croce.

88Innocenti facea l’età novella,
89novella Tebe, Uguiccione e ’l Brigata
90e li altri due che ’l canto suso appella.

91Noi passammo oltre, là ’ve la gelata
92ruvidamente un’altra gente fascia,
93non volta in giù, ma tutta riversata.

94Lo pianto stesso lì pianger non lascia,
95e ’l duol che truova in su li occhi rintoppo,
96si volge in entro a far crescer l’ambascia;

97ché le lagrime prime fanno groppo,
98e sì come visiere di cristallo,
99rïempion sotto ’l ciglio tutto il coppo.

100E avvegna che, sì come d’un callo,
101per la freddura ciascun sentimento
102cessato avesse del mio viso stallo,

103già mi parea sentire alquanto vento;
104per ch’io: «Maestro mio, questo chi move?
105non è qua giù ogne vapore spento?».

106Ond’ elli a me: «Avaccio sarai dove
107di ciò ti farà l’occhio la risposta,
108veggendo la cagion che ’l fiato piove».

109E un de’ tristi de la fredda crosta
110gridò a noi: «O anime crudeli
111tanto che data v’è l’ultima posta,

112levatemi dal viso i duri veli,
113sì ch’ïo sfoghi ’l duol che ’l cor m’impregna,
114un poco, pria che ’l pianto si raggeli».

115Per ch’io a lui: «Se vuo’ ch’i’ ti sovvegna,
116dimmi chi se’, e s’io non ti disbrigo,
117al fondo de la ghiaccia ir mi convegna».

118Rispuose adunque: «I’ son frate Alberigo;
119i’ son quel da le frutta del mal orto,
120che qui riprendo dattero per figo».

121«Oh», diss’ io lui, «or se’ tu ancor morto?».
122Ed elli a me: «Come ’l mio corpo stea
123nel mondo sù, nulla scïenza porto.

124Cotal vantaggio ha questa Tolomea,
125che spesse volte l’anima ci cade
126innanzi ch’Atropòs mossa le dea.

127E perché tu più volentier mi rade
128le ’nvetrïate lagrime dal volto,
129sappie che, tosto che l’anima trade

130come fec’ ïo, il corpo suo l’è tolto
131da un demonio, che poscia il governa
132mentre che ’l tempo suo tutto sia vòlto.

133Ella ruina in sì fatta cisterna;
134e forse pare ancor lo corpo suso
135de l’ombra che di qua dietro mi verna.

136Tu ’l dei saper, se tu vien pur mo giuso:
137elli è ser Branca Doria, e son più anni
138poscia passati ch’el fu sì racchiuso».

139«Io credo», diss’ io lui, «che tu m’inganni;
140ché Branca Doria non morì unquanche,
141e mangia e bee e dorme e veste panni».

142«Nel fosso sù», diss’ el, «de’ Malebranche,
143là dove bolle la tenace pece,
144non era ancora giunto Michel Zanche,

145che questi lasciò il diavolo in sua vece
146nel corpo suo, ed un suo prossimano
147che ’l tradimento insieme con lui fece.

148Ma distendi oggimai in qua la mano;
149aprimi li occhi». E io non gliel’ apersi;
150e cortesia fu lui esser villano.

151Ahi Genovesi, uomini diversi
152d’ogne costume e pien d’ogne magagna,
153perché non siete voi del mondo spersi?

154Ché col peggiore spirto di Romagna
155trovai di voi un tal, che per sua opra
156in anima in Cocito già si bagna,

157e in corpo par vivo ancor di sopra.

That sinner raised his mouth from his fierce meal,
then used the head that he had ripped apart
in back: he wiped his lips upon its hair.

Then he began: “You want me to renew
despairing pain that presses at my heart
even as I think back, before I speak.

But if my words are seed from which the fruit
is infamy for this betrayer whom
I gnaw, you’ll see me speak and weep at once.

I don’t know who you are or in what way
you’ve come down here; and yet you surely seem—
from what I hear—to be a Florentine.

You are to know I was Count Ugolino,
and this one here, Archbishop Ruggieri;
and now I’ll tell you why I am his neighbor.

There is no need to tell you that, because
of his malicious tricks, I first was taken
and then was killed—since I had trusted him;

however, that which you cannot have heard—
that is, the cruel death devised for me—
you now shall hear and know if he has wronged me.

A narrow window in the Eagles’ Tower,
which now, through me, is called the Hunger Tower,
a cage in which still others will be locked,

had, through its opening, already showed me
several moons, when I dreamed that bad dream
which rent the curtain of the future for me.

This man appeared to me as lord and master;
he hunted down the wolf and its young whelps
upon the mountain that prevents the Pisans

from seeing Lucca; and with lean and keen
and practiced hounds, he’d sent up front, before him,
Gualandi and Sismondi and Lanfranchi.

But after a brief course, it seemed to me
that both the father and the sons were weary;
I seemed to see their flanks torn by sharp fangs.

When I awoke at daybreak, I could hear
my sons, who were together with me there,
weeping within their sleep, asking for bread.

You would be cruel indeed if, thinking what
my heart foresaw, you don’t already grieve;
and if you don’t weep now, when would you weep?

They were awake by now; the hour drew near
at which our food was usually brought,
and each, because of what he’d dreamed, was anxious;

below, I heard them nailing up the door
of that appalling tower; without a word,
I looked into the faces of my sons.

I did not weep; within, I turned to stone.
They wept; and my poor little Anselm said:
‘Father, you look so . . . What is wrong with you?’

At that I shed no tears and-all day long
and through the night that followed—did not answer
until another sun had touched the world.

As soon as a thin ray had made its way
into that sorry prison, and I saw,
reflected in four faces, my own gaze,

out of my grief, I bit at both my hands;
and they, who thought I’d done that out of hunger,
immediately rose and told me: ‘Father,

it would be far less painful for us if
you ate of us; for you clothed us in this
sad flesh—it is for you to strip it off.’

Then I grew calm, to keep them from more sadness;
through that day and the next, we all were silent;
O hard earth, why did you not open up?

But after we had reached the fourth day, Gaddo,
throwing himself, outstretched, down at my feet,
implored me: ‘Father, why do you not help me?’

And there he died; and just as you see me,
I saw the other three fall one by one
between the fifth day and the sixth; at which,

now blind, I started groping over each;
and after they were dead, I called them for
two days; then fasting had more force than grief.”

When he had spoken this, with eyes awry,
again he gripped the sad skull in his teeth,
which, like a dog’s, were strong down to the bone.

Ah, Pisa, you the scandal of the peoples
of that fair land where si is heard, because
your neighbors are so slow to punish you,

may, then, Caprara and Gorgona move
and build a hedge across the Arno’s mouth,
so that it may drown every soul in you!

For if Count Ugolino was reputed
to have betrayed your fortresses, there was
no need to have his sons endure such torment.

O Thebes renewed, their years were innocent
and young—Brigata, Uguiccione, and
the other two my song has named above!

We passed beyond, where frozen water wraps—
a rugged covering—still other sinners,
who were not bent, but flat upon their backs.

Their very weeping there won’t let them weep,
and grief that finds a barrier in their eyes
turns inward to increase their agony;

because their first tears freeze into a cluster,
and, like a crystal visor, fill up all
the hollow that is underneath the eyebrow.

And though, because of cold, my every sense
had left its dwelling in my face, just as
a callus has no feeling, nonetheless,

I seemed to feel some wind now, and I said:
“My master, who has set this gust in motion?
For isn’t every vapor quenched down here?”

And he to me: “You soon shall be where your
own eye will answer that, when you shall see
the reason why this wind blasts from above.”

And one of those sad sinners in the cold
crust, cried to us: “O souls who are so cruel
that this last place has been assigned to you,

take off the hard veils from my face so that
I can release the suffering that fills
my heart before lament freezes again.”

To which I answered: “If you’d have me help you,
then tell me who you are; if I don’t free you,
may I go to the bottom of the ice.”

He answered then: “I am Fra Alberigo,
the one who tended fruits in a bad garden,
and here my figs have been repaid with dates.”

“But then,” I said, “are you already dead?”
And he to me: “I have no knowledge of
my body’s fate within the world above.

For Ptolomea has this privilege:
quite frequently the soul falls here before
it has been thrust away by Atropos.

And that you may with much more willingness
scrape these glazed tears from off my face, know this:
as soon as any soul becomes a traitor,

as I was, then a demon takes its body
away— and keeps that body in his power
until its years have run their course completely.

The soul falls headlong, down into this cistern;
and up above, perhaps, there still appears
the body of the shade that winters here

behind me; you must know him, if you’ve just
come down; he is Ser Branca Doria;
for many years he has been thus pent up.”

I said to him: “I think that you deceive me,
for Branca Doria is not yet dead;
he eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes.”

“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—

together with a kinsman, who had done
the treachery together with him—left
a devil in his stead inside his body.

But now reach out your hand; open my eyes.”
And yet I did not open them for him;
and it was courtesy to show him rudeness.

Ah, Genoese, a people strange to every
constraint of custom, full of all corruption,
why have you not been driven from the world?

For with the foulest spirit of Romagna,
I found one of you such that, for his acts,
in soul he bathes already in Cocytus

and up above appears alive, in body.

HIS mouth uplifted from his grim repast,
That sinner, wiping it upon the hair
Of the same head that he behind had wasted

Then he began: “Thou wilt that I renew
The desperate grief, which wrings my heart already
To think of only, ere I speak of it;

But if my words be seed that may bear fruit
Of infamy to the traitor whom I gnaw,
Speaking and weeping shalt thou see together.

I know not who thou art, nor by what mode
Thou hast come down here; but a Florentine
Thou seemest to me truly, when I hear thee.

Thou hast to know I was Count Ugolino,
And this one was Ruggieri the Archbishop;
Now I will tell thee why I am such a neighbour.

That, by effect of his malicious thoughts
Trusting in him I was made prisoner,
And after put to death, I need not say;

But ne’ertheless what thou canst not have heard,
That is to say, how cruel was my death,
Hear shalt thou, and shalt know if he has wronged me.

A narrow perforation in the mew,
Which bears because of me the title of Famine,
And in which others still must be locked up,

Had shown me through its opening many moons
Already, when I dreamed the evil dream
Which of the future rent for me the veil.

This one appeared to me as lord and master,
Hunting the wolf and whelps upon the mountain
For which the Pisans cannot Lucca see.

With sleuth—hounds gaunt, and eager, and well trained,
Gualandi with Sismondi and Lanfianchi
He had sent out before him to the front.

After brief course seemed unto me forespent
The father and the sons, and with sharp tushes
It seemed to me I saw their flanks ripped open.

When I before the morrow was awake,
Moaning amid their sleep I heard my sons
Who with me were, and asking after bread.

Cruel indeed art thou, if yet thou grieve not,
Thinking of what my heart foreboded me,
And weep’st thou not, what art thou wont to weep at ?

They were awake now, and the hour drew nigh
At which our food used to be brought to us,
And through his dream was each one apprehensive;

And I heard locking up the under door
Of the horrible tower; whereat without a word
I gazed into the faces of my sons.

I wept not, I within so turned to stone;
They wept; and darling little Anselm mine
Said: ‘ Thou dost gaze so, father, what doth ail thee ?’

Still not a tear I shed, nor answer made
All of that day, nor yet the night thereafter,
Until another sun rose on the world.

As now a little glimmer made its way
Into the dolorous prison, and I saw
Upon four faces my own very aspect,

Both of my hands in agony I bit,
And, thinking that I did it from desire
Of eating, on a sudden they uprose,

And said they: ‘ Father, much less pain ’twill give us
If thou do eat of us; thyself didst clothe us
With this poor flesh, and do thou strip it off.’

I calmed me then, not to make them more sad.
That day we all were silent, and the next.
Ah ! obdurate earth, wherefore didst thou not open i

When we had come unto the fourth day, Gaddo
Threw himself down outstretched before my feet,
Saying, ‘ My father, why dost thou not help me ? ‘

And there he died; and, as thou seest me,
I saw the three fall, one by one, between
The fifth day and the sixth; whence I betook me,

Already blind, to groping over each,
And three days called them after they were dead;
Then hunger did what sorrow could not do.”

When he had said this, with his eyes distorted,
The wretched skull resumed he with his teeth,
Which, as a dog’s, upon the bone were strong.

Ah ! Pisa, thou opprobrium of the people
Of the fair land there where the _Si_ doth sound,
Since slow to punish thee thy neighbours are,

Let the Capraia and Gorgona move,
And make a hedge across the mouth of Arno
That every person in thee it may drown !

For if Count Ugolino had the fame
Of having in thy castles thee betrayed,
Thou shouldst not on such cross have put his sons.

Guiltless of any crime, thou modern Thebes !
Their youth made Uguccione and Brigata,
And the other two my song doth name above !

We passed still farther onward, where the ice
Another people ruggedly enswathes,
Not downward turned, but all of them reversed.

Weeping itself there does not let them weep,
And grief that finds a barrier in the eyes
Turns itself inward to increase the anguish;

Because the earliest tears a cluster form,
And, in the manner of a crystal visor,
Fill all the cup beneath the eyebrow full.

And notwithstanding that, as in a callus,
Because of cold all sensibility
Its station had abandoned in my face,

Still it appeared to me I felt some wind;
Whence I: “My Master, who sets this in motion ?
Is not below here every vapour quenched ?”

Whence he to me: “Full soon shalt thou be where
Thine eye shall answer make to thee of this,
Seeing the cause which raineth down the blast.”

And one of the wretches of the frozen crust
Cried out to us: “O souls so merciless
That the last post is given unto you,

Lift from mine eyes the rigid veils, that I
May vent the sorrow which impregns my heart
A little, e’er the weeping recongeal.”

Whence I to him: “If thou wouldst have me help thee
Say who thou wast; and if I free thee not,
May I go to the bottom of the ice.”

Then he replied: “I am Friar Alberigo;
He am I of the fruit of the bad garden,
Who here a date am getting for my fig.”

“O,” said I to him, “now art thou, too, dead?”
And he to me: “How may my body fare
Up in the world, no knowledge I possess.

Such an advantage has this Ptolomaea,
That oftentimes the soul descendeth here
Sooner than Atropos in motion sets it.

And, that thou mayest more willingly remove
From off my countenance these glassy tears,
Know that as soon as any soul betrays

As I have done, his body by a demon
Is taken from him, who thereafter rules it,
Until his time has wholly been revolved.

Itself down rushes into such a cistern;
And still perchance above appears the body
Of yonder shade, that winters here behind me.

This thou shouldst know, if thou hast just come down;
It is Ser Branca d’ Oria, and many years
Have passed away since he was thus locked up.”

“I think,” said I to him, “thou dost deceive me;
For Branca d’ Oria is not dead as yet,
And eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and puts on clothes.”

“In moat above,” said he, “of Malebranche,
There where is boiling the tenacious pitch,
As yet had Michel Zanche not arrived,

When this one left a devil in his stead
In his own body and one near of kin,
Who made together with him the betrayal.

But hitherward stretch out thy hand forthwith,
Open mine eyes ;”— and open them I did not,
And to be rude to him was courtesy.

Ah, Genoese ! ye men at variance
With every virtue, full of every vice
Wherefore are ye not scattered from the world

For with the vilest spirit of Romagna
I found of you one such, who for his deeds
In soul already in Cocytus bathes,

And still above in body seems alive !

That sinner raised his mouth from his fierce meal,
then used the head that he had ripped apart
in back: he wiped his lips upon its hair.

Then he began: “You want me to renew
despairing pain that presses at my heart
even as I think back, before I speak.

But if my words are seed from which the fruit
is infamy for this betrayer whom
I gnaw, you’ll see me speak and weep at once.

I don’t know who you are or in what way
you’ve come down here; and yet you surely seem—
from what I hear—to be a Florentine.

You are to know I was Count Ugolino,
and this one here, Archbishop Ruggieri;
and now I’ll tell you why I am his neighbor.

There is no need to tell you that, because
of his malicious tricks, I first was taken
and then was killed—since I had trusted him;

however, that which you cannot have heard—
that is, the cruel death devised for me—
you now shall hear and know if he has wronged me.

A narrow window in the Eagles’ Tower,
which now, through me, is called the Hunger Tower,
a cage in which still others will be locked,

had, through its opening, already showed me
several moons, when I dreamed that bad dream
which rent the curtain of the future for me.

This man appeared to me as lord and master;
he hunted down the wolf and its young whelps
upon the mountain that prevents the Pisans

from seeing Lucca; and with lean and keen
and practiced hounds, he’d sent up front, before him,
Gualandi and Sismondi and Lanfranchi.

But after a brief course, it seemed to me
that both the father and the sons were weary;
I seemed to see their flanks torn by sharp fangs.

When I awoke at daybreak, I could hear
my sons, who were together with me there,
weeping within their sleep, asking for bread.

You would be cruel indeed if, thinking what
my heart foresaw, you don’t already grieve;
and if you don’t weep now, when would you weep?

They were awake by now; the hour drew near
at which our food was usually brought,
and each, because of what he’d dreamed, was anxious;

below, I heard them nailing up the door
of that appalling tower; without a word,
I looked into the faces of my sons.

I did not weep; within, I turned to stone.
They wept; and my poor little Anselm said:
‘Father, you look so . . . What is wrong with you?’

At that I shed no tears and-all day long
and through the night that followed—did not answer
until another sun had touched the world.

As soon as a thin ray had made its way
into that sorry prison, and I saw,
reflected in four faces, my own gaze,

out of my grief, I bit at both my hands;
and they, who thought I’d done that out of hunger,
immediately rose and told me: ‘Father,

it would be far less painful for us if
you ate of us; for you clothed us in this
sad flesh—it is for you to strip it off.’

Then I grew calm, to keep them from more sadness;
through that day and the next, we all were silent;
O hard earth, why did you not open up?

But after we had reached the fourth day, Gaddo,
throwing himself, outstretched, down at my feet,
implored me: ‘Father, why do you not help me?’

And there he died; and just as you see me,
I saw the other three fall one by one
between the fifth day and the sixth; at which,

now blind, I started groping over each;
and after they were dead, I called them for
two days; then fasting had more force than grief.”

When he had spoken this, with eyes awry,
again he gripped the sad skull in his teeth,
which, like a dog’s, were strong down to the bone.

Ah, Pisa, you the scandal of the peoples
of that fair land where si is heard, because
your neighbors are so slow to punish you,

may, then, Caprara and Gorgona move
and build a hedge across the Arno’s mouth,
so that it may drown every soul in you!

For if Count Ugolino was reputed
to have betrayed your fortresses, there was
no need to have his sons endure such torment.

O Thebes renewed, their years were innocent
and young—Brigata, Uguiccione, and
the other two my song has named above!

We passed beyond, where frozen water wraps—
a rugged covering—still other sinners,
who were not bent, but flat upon their backs.

Their very weeping there won’t let them weep,
and grief that finds a barrier in their eyes
turns inward to increase their agony;

because their first tears freeze into a cluster,
and, like a crystal visor, fill up all
the hollow that is underneath the eyebrow.

And though, because of cold, my every sense
had left its dwelling in my face, just as
a callus has no feeling, nonetheless,

I seemed to feel some wind now, and I said:
“My master, who has set this gust in motion?
For isn’t every vapor quenched down here?”

And he to me: “You soon shall be where your
own eye will answer that, when you shall see
the reason why this wind blasts from above.”

And one of those sad sinners in the cold
crust, cried to us: “O souls who are so cruel
that this last place has been assigned to you,

take off the hard veils from my face so that
I can release the suffering that fills
my heart before lament freezes again.”

To which I answered: “If you’d have me help you,
then tell me who you are; if I don’t free you,
may I go to the bottom of the ice.”

He answered then: “I am Fra Alberigo,
the one who tended fruits in a bad garden,
and here my figs have been repaid with dates.”

“But then,” I said, “are you already dead?”
And he to me: “I have no knowledge of
my body’s fate within the world above.

For Ptolomea has this privilege:
quite frequently the soul falls here before
it has been thrust away by Atropos.

And that you may with much more willingness
scrape these glazed tears from off my face, know this:
as soon as any soul becomes a traitor,

as I was, then a demon takes its body
away— and keeps that body in his power
until its years have run their course completely.

The soul falls headlong, down into this cistern;
and up above, perhaps, there still appears
the body of the shade that winters here

behind me; you must know him, if you’ve just
come down; he is Ser Branca Doria;
for many years he has been thus pent up.”

I said to him: “I think that you deceive me,
for Branca Doria is not yet dead;
he eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes.”

“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—

together with a kinsman, who had done
the treachery together with him—left
a devil in his stead inside his body.

But now reach out your hand; open my eyes.”
And yet I did not open them for him;
and it was courtesy to show him rudeness.

Ah, Genoese, a people strange to every
constraint of custom, full of all corruption,
why have you not been driven from the world?

For with the foulest spirit of Romagna,
I found one of you such that, for his acts,
in soul he bathes already in Cocytus

and up above appears alive, in body.

HIS mouth uplifted from his grim repast,
That sinner, wiping it upon the hair
Of the same head that he behind had wasted

Then he began: “Thou wilt that I renew
The desperate grief, which wrings my heart already
To think of only, ere I speak of it;

But if my words be seed that may bear fruit
Of infamy to the traitor whom I gnaw,
Speaking and weeping shalt thou see together.

I know not who thou art, nor by what mode
Thou hast come down here; but a Florentine
Thou seemest to me truly, when I hear thee.

Thou hast to know I was Count Ugolino,
And this one was Ruggieri the Archbishop;
Now I will tell thee why I am such a neighbour.

That, by effect of his malicious thoughts
Trusting in him I was made prisoner,
And after put to death, I need not say;

But ne’ertheless what thou canst not have heard,
That is to say, how cruel was my death,
Hear shalt thou, and shalt know if he has wronged me.

A narrow perforation in the mew,
Which bears because of me the title of Famine,
And in which others still must be locked up,

Had shown me through its opening many moons
Already, when I dreamed the evil dream
Which of the future rent for me the veil.

This one appeared to me as lord and master,
Hunting the wolf and whelps upon the mountain
For which the Pisans cannot Lucca see.

With sleuth—hounds gaunt, and eager, and well trained,
Gualandi with Sismondi and Lanfianchi
He had sent out before him to the front.

After brief course seemed unto me forespent
The father and the sons, and with sharp tushes
It seemed to me I saw their flanks ripped open.

When I before the morrow was awake,
Moaning amid their sleep I heard my sons
Who with me were, and asking after bread.

Cruel indeed art thou, if yet thou grieve not,
Thinking of what my heart foreboded me,
And weep’st thou not, what art thou wont to weep at ?

They were awake now, and the hour drew nigh
At which our food used to be brought to us,
And through his dream was each one apprehensive;

And I heard locking up the under door
Of the horrible tower; whereat without a word
I gazed into the faces of my sons.

I wept not, I within so turned to stone;
They wept; and darling little Anselm mine
Said: ‘ Thou dost gaze so, father, what doth ail thee ?’

Still not a tear I shed, nor answer made
All of that day, nor yet the night thereafter,
Until another sun rose on the world.

As now a little glimmer made its way
Into the dolorous prison, and I saw
Upon four faces my own very aspect,

Both of my hands in agony I bit,
And, thinking that I did it from desire
Of eating, on a sudden they uprose,

And said they: ‘ Father, much less pain ’twill give us
If thou do eat of us; thyself didst clothe us
With this poor flesh, and do thou strip it off.’

I calmed me then, not to make them more sad.
That day we all were silent, and the next.
Ah ! obdurate earth, wherefore didst thou not open i

When we had come unto the fourth day, Gaddo
Threw himself down outstretched before my feet,
Saying, ‘ My father, why dost thou not help me ? ‘

And there he died; and, as thou seest me,
I saw the three fall, one by one, between
The fifth day and the sixth; whence I betook me,

Already blind, to groping over each,
And three days called them after they were dead;
Then hunger did what sorrow could not do.”

When he had said this, with his eyes distorted,
The wretched skull resumed he with his teeth,
Which, as a dog’s, upon the bone were strong.

Ah ! Pisa, thou opprobrium of the people
Of the fair land there where the _Si_ doth sound,
Since slow to punish thee thy neighbours are,

Let the Capraia and Gorgona move,
And make a hedge across the mouth of Arno
That every person in thee it may drown !

For if Count Ugolino had the fame
Of having in thy castles thee betrayed,
Thou shouldst not on such cross have put his sons.

Guiltless of any crime, thou modern Thebes !
Their youth made Uguccione and Brigata,
And the other two my song doth name above !

We passed still farther onward, where the ice
Another people ruggedly enswathes,
Not downward turned, but all of them reversed.

Weeping itself there does not let them weep,
And grief that finds a barrier in the eyes
Turns itself inward to increase the anguish;

Because the earliest tears a cluster form,
And, in the manner of a crystal visor,
Fill all the cup beneath the eyebrow full.

And notwithstanding that, as in a callus,
Because of cold all sensibility
Its station had abandoned in my face,

Still it appeared to me I felt some wind;
Whence I: “My Master, who sets this in motion ?
Is not below here every vapour quenched ?”

Whence he to me: “Full soon shalt thou be where
Thine eye shall answer make to thee of this,
Seeing the cause which raineth down the blast.”

And one of the wretches of the frozen crust
Cried out to us: “O souls so merciless
That the last post is given unto you,

Lift from mine eyes the rigid veils, that I
May vent the sorrow which impregns my heart
A little, e’er the weeping recongeal.”

Whence I to him: “If thou wouldst have me help thee
Say who thou wast; and if I free thee not,
May I go to the bottom of the ice.”

Then he replied: “I am Friar Alberigo;
He am I of the fruit of the bad garden,
Who here a date am getting for my fig.”

“O,” said I to him, “now art thou, too, dead?”
And he to me: “How may my body fare
Up in the world, no knowledge I possess.

Such an advantage has this Ptolomaea,
That oftentimes the soul descendeth here
Sooner than Atropos in motion sets it.

And, that thou mayest more willingly remove
From off my countenance these glassy tears,
Know that as soon as any soul betrays

As I have done, his body by a demon
Is taken from him, who thereafter rules it,
Until his time has wholly been revolved.

Itself down rushes into such a cistern;
And still perchance above appears the body
Of yonder shade, that winters here behind me.

This thou shouldst know, if thou hast just come down;
It is Ser Branca d’ Oria, and many years
Have passed away since he was thus locked up.”

“I think,” said I to him, “thou dost deceive me;
For Branca d’ Oria is not dead as yet,
And eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and puts on clothes.”

“In moat above,” said he, “of Malebranche,
There where is boiling the tenacious pitch,
As yet had Michel Zanche not arrived,

When this one left a devil in his stead
In his own body and one near of kin,
Who made together with him the betrayal.

But hitherward stretch out thy hand forthwith,
Open mine eyes ;”— and open them I did not,
And to be rude to him was courtesy.

Ah, Genoese ! ye men at variance
With every virtue, full of every vice
Wherefore are ye not scattered from the world

For with the vilest spirit of Romagna
I found of you one such, who for his deeds
In soul already in Cocytus bathes,

And still above in body seems alive !