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Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Ninth Circle. Treachery. Cocytus
Traitors to their Country, and to their Guests

From his grim meal that sinner raised his mouth,
and wiped it on the hair of that same head,
which he had spoiled behind. He then began:

"Thou wouldst that I renew a hopeless grief,
the thought of which already breaks my heart,
before I speak of it. But if my words
are likely to be seeds, and bear the fruit
of infamy upon the traitor whom I gnaw,
speaking and weeping shalt thou see together.

I know not who thou art, nor by what means
thou 'rt come down here, but when I hear thee speak,
thou truly seemst to me a Florentine.
Know, then, that I Count Ugolino was,
and this man here Ruggieri, the Archbishop;
and now I 'll tell thee why I 'm thus his neighbor.

That, as the outcome of his evil thoughts,
I, trusting him, was seized, and afterward
was put to death, there is no need to say;
but that which thou canst not have heard, that is,
how cruel was my death, thou now shalt hear,
and whether he have wronged me thou shalt know.

A narrow slit within the moulting-tower,
which bears, because of me, the name of Hunger,
and in whose walls still others must be locked,
had through its opening shown me many a moon
already, when I had the evil dream,
which rent apart the curtain of the future.
This one therein a lord and huntsman seemed,
chasing the wolf and wolfings toward the mount
which hinders Pisans from beholding Lucca,
with bitches lean and eager and well trained;
for he had set before him in his van
Gualandi with Sismondi and Lanfranchi.
After a little run both father and sons
seemed weary to me; then methought I saw
their flanks torn open by sharp-pointed fangs.

When, just before the morning, I awoke,
I heard my children, who were with me there,
sob in their sleep, and ask me for their bread.
Cruel indeed thou art, if, thinking what
my heart forebode, thou grievest not already;
and if thou weepest not, at what art wont
to weep? Awake they were, and now the hour
was drawing nigh when food was brought to us,
hence each, by reason of his dream, was worried;
and then I heard the dread tower's lower door
nailed up; whereat, without a word, I looked
my children in the face. I did not weep,
so like a stone had I become within;
they wept; and my poor little Anselm said:
'Father, thou lookest so! What aileth thee?'
But still I did not weep, nor did I answer
through all that day, or through the following night,
till on the world another sun had dawned.
Then, when a little beam had made its way
into our woeful prison, and I perceived
by their four faces, how I looked myself,
I bit in anguish both my hands. And they,
thinking it done because I craved to eat,
immediately stood up, and said to me:
'Father, much less shall we be pained, if us
thou eat; thou with this wretched flesh didst clothe us,
do thou, then, strip it from us now.' Thereat,
to sadden them no more, I calmed myself;
through that day and the next we all kept mute.
Ah, why, hard earth, didst thou not open up?

Then Gaddo, when the fourth day we had reached,
stretched himself out at length before my feet,
and said: "My father, why dost thou not help me?"
And there he died; and, ev'n as thou seest me,
between the fifth day and the sixth I saw
the three fall one by one; and, blind already,
I gave myself to groping over each,
and two days called them, after they were dead;
then fasting proved more powerful than pain."

When he had spoken thus, with eyes awry,
he seized again the wretched skull with teeth,
which for the bone were strong as are a dog's.

Ah, Pisa, foul reproach of those that dwell
in that fair country where the sė is heard;
since slow thy neighbors are to punish thee,
then let Caprara and Gorgona move,
and make a hedge across the Arno's mouth,
that every person in thee may be drowned!
for though Count Ugolino had the name
of traitor to thee in thy castle-towns,
thou shouldst not thus have crucified his sons.
Their youthful age had made, thou modern Thebes,
Brigata and Uguccione innocent,
and the other two my canto names above.

Further along we went, to where the ice
roughly enswathes another class of people,
not downward turned, but wholly on their backs.
Weeping itself allows not weeping there,
and tears, which find a barrier in their eyes,
turn back, to cause their suffering to increase;
because the first ones form a solid block,
and thus like crystal visors wholly fill
the hollow cup beneath the brow. And though,
as in a callous spot,
because of cold
all feeling had departed from my face,
it seemed to me that now I felt some wind;
whence I to him: "My Teacher, who moves this?
Is not all moving air quenched here below?"

And he: "Ere long shalt thou be where thine eyes,
seeing the cause which raineth down the blast,
will make an answer to thee as to this."

One of the wretches of the icy crust
called out to us thereat: "O souls, so cruel,
that unto you the last place is assigned,
remove for me the hard veils on my face,
that I may somewhat vent the pain that fills
my heart, before the tears freeze up again."

Whence I to him: "If thou wouldst have me help thee,
say who thou art; and should I not relieve thee,
may I needs reach the bottom of the ice!"

Then he: "I Frate Alberigo am,
he of the evil garden's fruit, who here
for every fig I gave get back a date."

Then "Oh!" said I, "art thou already dead?"
And he to me replied: "I have no knowledge
how in the world above my body fares.
Such is the privilege of this Ptolomča,
that frequently a soul falls into it,
ere Atropos have caused it to move on.
But that thou scrape more gladly from my face
these glassy tears, know, then, that just as soon
as any soul betrays, as I betrayed,
its body is taken from it by a demon,
who then takes charge of it, until its time
be all revolved. Into a well like this
it rushes headlong down; and so, perhaps,
the body of the shade that winters here
behind me, is still visible above.
This thou shouldst know, if just come down, for he
Ser Branca d' Oria is, and many years
have now gone by, since he was thus shut up."

"I think" said I, "that thou deceivest me,
for Branca d' Oria is not dead as yet,
but eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and dons his clothes."

"Above us, in the Malebranche's ditch,"
he said, "there, where the sticky pitch is boiling,
not yet had Michel Zanche's soul arrived,
when in his stead this fellow left behind
a devil in his body, as did also
one of his kinsmen, who with him performed
the treachery. But stretch thy hand here now,
and ope mine eyes!" And yet I oped them not,
for rudeness shown to him was courtesy.

Ah, Genoese! ye men estranged from all
morality, and full of every vice,
why from the earth are ye not wholly driven?
for with the meanest spirit of Romagna,
I found one such of you, that, for his deeds,
in soul he bathes already in Cocytus,
and seems in body still alive above.


4. As he approaches the bottom of Hell Dante seems to revert to a mood in some ways similar to one he was in at the beginning. As in spite of her sin he sympathized with Francesca on account of the wrong done her, so here with Ugolino, in spite of his detestation of his treachery. Both are given a full chance to win the reader's sympathy. Line 4 recalls line 121 of Canto V: "There is no greater pain, etc," while line 9 is almost the same as line 126: "as one who weepeth while he speaks." As Francesca was moved to speak by loving sympathy, so is Ugolino by hateful vengeance.
13. Count Ugolino della Gherardesca had been a Ghibelline leader, but in 1275 went over to the Guelphs, and later obtained supreme power in Pisa. In 1288 he was treacherously betrayed by his friend Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini and imprisoned in a tower to die of hunger with two sons and two grandsons.
19. Dante's contribution transcends the limits of history.
22. The tower of Gualandi in which the moulting eagles of the municipality had been kept.
26. From July, 1288 to May, 1289.
28. Ugolino's dream turned Ruggieri into a hunter, himself and his children [[lxxi]] into wolves, and the Pisan mob into hounds urged on by leading Pisans mentioned below.
30. Mt. Giuliano lying between Pisa and Lucca, from which latter Ugolino may have expected help.
42. An undeniable appeal for sympathy bursting from an ice-bound revengeful traitor's heart.
49. This is one of the lines quoted by Matthew Arnold in his Essay on Poetry as a touchstone for detecting the presence of the highest poetic qualities.
50. The younger of the two grandchildren.
67. Ugolino's oldest son.
75. Hunger killed him.
80. In Italian sė is used for "yes," as oc was in Provenįal, and oil in old French.
82. Two islands off the mouth of the Arno near Pisa.
86. Pisan castles yielded to Florence and Lucca for patriotic reasons, as some held.
88. Pisa called modern or new Thebes, because comparable to the most notoriously wicked of ancient cities, the Thebes of Greece, of which it was thought to have been a colony.
89. The other son and grandson of Ugolino.
91. Here the poets pass into the third ring, called Tolomea after Ptolemy, a captain of Jericho, who killed certain relatives of his who were his guests at a banquet; in this ring traitors are on their backs in the ice with their faces turned up.
105. There being no sun, there could be no natural wind in Hell.
110. They are supposed to be on their way to the innermost ring, Giudecca.
117. They are going there anyhow, so that technically Dante was making a safe promise.
118. Alberigo de' Manfredi of Faenza, who in 1285 had two of his relatives murdered at his own table, his signal to the cut-throats being "Bring on the fruit!" Alberigo, as Dante knew, was still living in 1300.
126. The Fate who cut the thread of men's physical life.
131. Starting from the Gospel statement that "after the sop Satan entered into" Judas, Dante's imagination here invents a means not of having the soul of a traitor to his guest expected, but of being actually seen, in Hell, long before the death of its body.
137. Branca d'Oria of Genova, in 1275, though his host at the time, murdered his father-in-law, the Michel Zanche whom Dante had heard of as a grafter in the fifth trench of Malebolge. He seems to have lived a soulless life until 1325, which was long enough for him to have [[lxxii]] known where Dante had reported his soul to be.
141. A famous summary of what most parasitic people fill the largest part of their time with.
148. Called upon to keep his promise Dante does not break the ice which covers up the traitor's eyes. Those who are not satisfied with the usual casuistic explanation that treachery to a traitor was not treachery, can explain that Dante's refusal was indeed "courtesy" on his part, since, had Alberigo's eyes been momentarily opened, he could have seen that it was to a living man, who would report him on earth, that he had betrayed himself.
151. After Florence, Pistoia and Pisa, Genova here receives her share in the bitter condemnation of Italy's great moral prophet.
154. Alberigo of Faenza in Romagna, and Branca d'Oria of Genova.

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