The ninth circle, second ring; Ugolino's story; the third ring, Ptolomea;
Fra Alberigo and Branca d'Oria
canto summary and diagram
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 following 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. ^
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.
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,
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
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
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 TeethGualandi, 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
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
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
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
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,
76 He attacked the wretched skull with renewed anger,
His teeth as fit as a dog's for gnawing bone.
O Pisawhose scandal is the bringer
79 Of shame to that fair land whose people intone
The sound of sisince 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!
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 fourUguccione, 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
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 *
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
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."
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
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 Bodythe 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 *
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 clotheshe'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
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
157 Up above his body appears alive and normal.
2325. The tower of the Gualandi was a prison until 1318. ^
2834. "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. ^
8586. 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. ^
102104. Since wind was supposed to result from discrepancies
of heat, Cocytus should have no winds, since it is frozen. ^
118120. 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
assassins 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 fatherinlaw 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 fatherinlaw, Michel Zanche, at dinner. See
Canto XXII, 88 and note. ^
143147. 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. ^
154155. The "most vile soul" is Fra Alberigo, and "one of your
own" is Branca d'Oria. ^