The ninth circle, second ring; Ugolino's story; the third ring, Ptolomea; Fra Alberigo and Branca d'Oria

canto summary and diagram

return to menu

1 Raising his mouth from the repulsive meal Of the skull, the sinner wiped his lips on the hair Of the shade he'd been devouring with such zeal. inferno xxxiii 4 He began: "You want me to return to a despair So painful that even before I relate the deed Its remembrance is more than my heart can bear. 7 However, if my speech is to be the seed Which bears the fruit of infamy for This traitor whom I gnaw, I'll surely need 10 To speak and weep at once, as you'll see before Too long. I don't know who you might be, Nor how you got down to this hellish floor, inferno xxxiii 13 But your speech seems Florentine to me. Know that I was Count Ugolino, and Ruggieri * The Archbishop was this soul here; you'll see 16 Why we're so neighborly when you hear my story: I needn't tell you that I was taken and killed through The evil schemes of this one, whom I'm sorry 19 I ever trusted. You know all this, but what you Couldn't know is how cruelly he engineered it. Hear me and then decide if he was wrong to do inferno xxxiii 22 What he did. Peering out through a narrow slit From the tower of hunger, (named for me, though * In the future many others will submit 25 To its torture), I had glimpsed several moons go Round in their orbit when one night I had an evil dream which ripped aside time's veil so 28 I could see the future. This shade was quite * The lord and master in my dream, putting The wolf and his cubs to flight inferno xxxiii 31 And chasing them up the mountain shutting Pisa off from Lucca. Ahead of him he sent Lean hounds, well trained, with fierce, cutting 34 Teeth—Gualandi, Sismondi and Lanfranchi went Right in front. The father and his sons appeared Weary before long, and I thought I saw their sides rent 37 By those sharp fangs. I awoke as daybreak neared And heard my sons weeping for bread As they slept beside me. What my heart feared inferno xxxiii 40 Then was so grievous that your own heart would be dead With cruelty if you didn't already ache At the thought of it. Indeed, if your eyes aren't red 43 With weeping now, what would ever make Them weep? The hour at which they brought our meal Drew near, and all of my sons were now awake, 46 Agitated from their dreams. I heard them seal The door to that horrible tower down below, And without a word I looked at the mute appeal inferno xxxiii 49 In the faces of my sons. I did not weep, so Stony did I grow inside; but my sons did, And my little Anselmuccio wanted to know: * 52 'Father, you look strange, what's wrong?' I hid My feelings, shedding no tears and staying silent All day and all night until the dawning sun slid 55 A thin ray of light into our dismal compartment; In their faces I could see my own reflected Fourfold, and in anguish at our imprisonment inferno xxxiii 58 I bit into both my hands. Believing that I acted Out of hunger, my sons at once arose and drew Nearer to me, saying: 'Father, we'd be less afflicted 61 With pain if you'd feed on us; for it was you Who gave us this wretched flesh, and therefore You can take it away.' Then I deliberately grew 64 Calm so as not to sadden them any more. That day and the next we said nothing at all; Oh hard earth! Why did you not open up before inferno xxxiii 67 That fourth day, when Gaddo could merely crawl Toward my feet and cry: 'Why don't you help me, Father!' He died right there, and I saw the others fall 70 During the fifth and sixth days, one by one, all three. By now I'd gone blind, and had begun Groping over the beloved bodies I couldn't see. 73 Though they were dead, I called out for two days to each son; But then grief was overcome by the power of hunger." * And with eyes contorted, his narrative now done, inferno xxxiii 76 He attacked the wretched skull with renewed anger, His teeth as fit as a dog's for gnawing bone. O Pisa—whose scandal is the bringer 79 Of shame to that fair land whose people intone The sound of si—since your neighbors are slow To punish you, let us see Caprara and Gorgona grown * 82 Together in a dam which blocks the Arno's flow At the mouth and reverses its direction, Sending every Pisan to a watery death below! inferno xxxiii 85 For even if Count Ugolino had a reputation * For betraying your castles, you'd no right to torment His sons and bring about their destruction. 88 Their youth (O new Thebes!) made them innocent, * All four—Uguccione, Brigata, and that other pair Already shown in their imprisonment. 91 We moved farther on, to a place where * Frozen slush was packed coarsely around Another group of sinners, compelled to stare inferno xxxiii 94 Up and not down. Here tears themselves confound Tears, and the grief blocked from expression Turns inward to make the agony more profound, 97 For the first drops freeze and fill the hollow depression Around the eyes like a visor of crystal. Though the cold had driven all tactile impression 100 From my face, so that like a callus it had no sensual Awareness, I still seemed to feel a current of air, And inquired: "Master, there are no thermal * inferno xxxiii 103 Sources down in these depths, are there? What could be producing this gust?" " Very soon," he replied, "you'll be where 106 You can receive the anwer to that question, if you trust Your own eyes; you'll see where the wind begins." And one of the wretches in the icy crust 109 Yelled at us: "O cruel souls, whose sins Are so wicked that this ultimate place Is where you've been sent, remove these hard skins inferno xxxiii 112 From my eyes, these veils covering my face, So the grief which fills my heart can be Released until fresh tears freeze and refill the space." 115 And I told him: "If you want help from me, Tell me who you are; and may I descend inside This ice to the very bottom if I don't set you free." 118 "I'm Fra Alberigo of that fruit," he replied, * " Which was cultivated in the evil garden bed; Here I'm given dates for the figs I supplied." inferno xxxiii 121 "So then," I asked him, "Are you already dead?" "I know nothing about the state Of my body in the world above," he said, 124 "For Ptolomea possesses a peculiar trait: * A soul often falls down here before The moment Atropos was due to send it to its fate. * 127 And so that I may encourage and induce more Willingness in you to scrape the tears away Which glaze my face, let me satisfy your inferno xxxiii 130 Curiosity with this: should a soul ever betray Another, as I did, a demon invades Its body and governs it until the day 133 Its time above is finished. The soul cascades Down into this cistern; and it may be That up above there still appears this shade's 136 Body—the one who winters there behind me. But since you've just come from above you know This man, Ser Branca d'Oria; the position you see * inferno xxxiii 139 Him in is the way he's been trapped below The ice for years." "I think you're lying," I said, "For Branca d'Oria can still eat and drink and go 142 To sleep and wear clothes—he's not dead!" "Michel Zanche," he explained, "hadn't yet declined * "Into the Malebranche's hot, sticky tar overhead, 145 When this one came here, leaving a devil behind In his body; this also happened to his accomplice, A kinsman who helped in the treachery. Now be so kind inferno xxxiii 148 As to stretch out your hand and fulfill your promise To open my eyes." But I did not open his eyes, For to abuse him was to do good service. 151 Ah, people of Genoa, a land which defies Morality and welcomes vice of every style, Why hasn't the earth yet fashioned your demise? 154 For I found right next to Romagna's most vile * Soul one of your own, whose deeds were so abysmal That his soul already bathes in Cocytus while inferno xxxiii 157 Up above his body appears alive and normal.

return to menu


14. In 1275 Ugolino della Gherardesca, the Count of Donoratico, a Ghibelline, was exiled from Pisa for plotting to replace Ghibelline rule with Guelph. With the aid of the Florentine Guelphs he returned to Pisa the next year, becoming chief magistrate in 1284, an office he then shared with his grandson, Nino Visconti, the next year. By 1288 the two were feuding, and were forced out of office. Ugolino then conspired with the Ghibelline Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, who betrayed him, putting him in prison together with his sons Gaddo and Ugiccione, and grandsons Anselm and Nino (different from the Nino above.) They were kept in the tower of the Gualandi for nine months, and in March 1289 the Archbishop had the tower locked up and the keys thrown into the river, thus starving the prisoners. ^
23–25. The tower of the Gualandi was a prison until 1318. ^
28–34. "This shade" is Ruggieri; the "wolf and his cubs" are Ugolino and his sons and grandsons; the mountain is Mount San Giuliano, between Pisa and Lucca; the "lean hounds" are the common people; "Gualandi, Sismondi and Lanfranchi" are prominent Ghibelline families of Pisa. ^
51. Documents indicate that Anselm was about fifteen at the time. ^
74. One interpretation, supported by Ugolino's chewing of Ruggieri's skull, is that he resorted to cannibalism, but it can be argued that he would have survived longer if he'd eaten the flesh of his children. A less horrible meaning is simply that hunger and not grief finally caused his death. ^
81. Two islands then belonging to Pisa. ^
85–86. In 1284, after the Genoese defeated Pisa at Meloria, Ugolino ceded certain castles to the Florentines and Lucchese. ^
88. Dante often utilizes Thebes as a reference for hate, murder and vengeance. ^
91. Dante is moving into the third division of Cocytus, named Ptolomea in line 124. ^
102–104. Since wind was supposed to result from discrepancies of heat, Cocytus should have no winds, since it is frozen. ^
118–120. Alberigo di Ugolino dei Manfredi was a Jovial Friar (see Canto XXIII, 103 and note.) He killed his relative Manfred and Manfred's son during a dinner in his own house, signalling the asassins by calling for fruit. Here he is complaining that he is punished more than his fair share, since a date is more valuable than a fig. ^
124. Ptolomea may be named after Ptolomy, the captain of Jericho who killed Simon, his father–in–law and high priest, and two of his sons, while dining with them. Another candidate is the Egyptian king, Ptolomy XII, who killed Pompey after welcoming him to Egypt. Both are possible, since the shades punished here are those who betrayed their guests. ^
126. Atropos is the Fate which severs the thread of life. ^
138. Branca d'Oria, of the famous Ghibelline family of Genoa,murdered his father–in–law, Michel Zanche, at dinner. See Canto XXII, 88 and note. ^
143–147. Even before Michel arrived in the fifth bolgia, a demon entered the body of his murderer, Branca d'Oria, and expelled his soul down to Cocytus. Branca d'Oria's body is therefore still alive on earth, but his soul is down in Hell. ^
154–155. The "most vile soul" is Fra Alberigo, and "one of your own" is Branca d'Oria. ^

return to menu