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Free Study Guide-The Divine Comedy-The Inferno by Dante Alighieri-Notes
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The soul stops chewing on his companion’s neck to answer the Pilgrim. He is willing to reveal his sad story that will show the sin of his companion. He reveals that he is Count Ugolino and the soul he is chewing on is Ruggieri the Archbishop. Although they were friends Ruggieri had Ugolino and his sons and grandsons imprisoned in a tower. As time passed Ugolino had a dream about the future. He saw Ruggieri, the leading families of Pisa and the people of Pisa killing a father and his sons. (Ugoliona and his family.) Ruggieri had Ugoliona and his family imprisoned in a tower. Eventually Ruggieri has the Tower door nailed closed and stops any supply of food to the prisoners. After four days of starvation Gaddo dies and in the next two days the remaining three children die. Two days after their death Ugolino is forced to feed on their dead bodies. It is this memory that causes him now to angrily chew Ruggieri’s head.

Dante curses the city of Pisa and its people for causing the death of innocents. And calls upon the Islands of Capraia and Gorgona to block the River Arno and flood the city of Pisa. So as to drown all its citizens. For although Ugolino was guilty the four young children (Anselmuccio, Gaddo, Brigata and Uguiccione) were innocent.

The two poets move on and reach the next division of Cocytus: Tolomea, where those who have betrayed their guests are punished. The sinner’s heads emerge above the ice and face upwards. The tears they shed are frozen into ice, covering their eyes. Although it’s very cold the Pilgrim feels a breeze and asks Virgil where it comes from, since there is no heat around to produce it. Virgil says that he’ll soon see the source of the wind with his own eyes.

One soul asks the two travelers to remove the ice covering his eyes. The Pilgrim says he’ll remove the ice if the sinner reveals his name. He adds that if he doesn’t keep his promise he may he descend even deeper into Hell. The sinner reveals himself to be Friar Alberigo, punished in Hell for his sin (elaborated in the Notes). The Pilgrim is surprised that Alberigo is dead. The latter reveals that his body is alive on Earth. He adds that in this zone of Tolomea a soul can be placed before its allotted time of death by Atropos. People committing the type of sin Alberigo did have their bodies possessed by a demon. The demon occupies it for the rest of its life span. But the sinful soul falls in this region of Tolomea. He tells the Pilgrim that the soul buried behind him is of Ser Branca D Oria and has been there for a number of years. The Pilgrim isn’t convinced for he has seen Brance D Oria alive. He is told that the soul of Branca and one of his relatives fell here for their crime against Michel Zanche. They reached Tolomea even before the soul of the murdered Zanche reached the fifth Bolgia where Barrators are consigned. After saying this Alberigo asks the Pilgrim to keep his side of the bargain and crack the ice covering his eyes. The Pilgrim refuses to do so and is pleased at having deceived Alberigo.

Then he addresses all the sinners to Genova and states that it would be better if the world is rid of them. He adds that along with Alberigo ("Romagna’s rankest soul") he has found another man from Genova, whose soul lies in Cocytus while his lady is still alive on Earth. The Pilgrim is referring to Brance D Oria.


The man engaged in chewing his companion’s head is Ugolino della Gherardesca, the Count of Donoratico. He and his family were on the side of Ghibellines. But in 1275, with the help of his son-in-law, Giovanni Visconti, he tried to help the Guelfs to rise to power in Pisa. Thus he betrayed his own party (Ghibelline) and is now in Antenora--Hell, for betraying them. Mark Musa adds that. Although exiled for this subversive, Ugolino (Nino) Visconti took over the Guelf government of the city. Three years later (1288) he plotted with Archbishop Ruggieri Degli Waldini to rid Pisa of the Visconti Ruggiere, however, he had other plans, and with the aid of the Ghibellines, he seized control of the city and imprisoned Ugolino, together with his sons and grandsons, in the "tower of hunger". Thus Ruggieri betrayed his friend and is now punished in Tolomea, where traitors to their friends are punished. The two men are at the boundary between Antenora and Tolomea, with Ugolino in the farmer and Ruggieri in the latter.

Ugolino relates how his family was starved to death in their tower prison. They were imprisoned in June of 1288 and starved to death in February 1289. While in their tower prison, Ugolino has a dream about his and his family’s future. He sees Ruggieri ("land and huntsman") along with the powerful Ghibelline families of Pisa ("Gualandi sismondi and lanfranchi") and the general population, hunt down himself and his family ("the wolf and the wolf cubs"). His family is killed "up the mountain". Gaddo and llguiccione were Ugolino’s sons and Anselmuccio and Brigate were his grandsons. Dante describes these four in very poignant words. The way he shows Anselmuccio’s unawareness of coming death, when he doesn’t realize what the nailed tower door signifies. And the way the children offer themselves as food for Ugolino, together with Gaddo’s dying words "why don’t you help me? Why, my father". All serve to show the grief Ugolino must have endured at seeing his family suffering. The readers can sympathize with him at seeing the way in which the four innocents, still loving Ugoline, die of starvation. In spite of dying themselves their love for Ugolino makes them offer themselves as food for him. This is the most heart-rending part of the story.

After they are dead, Ugolino has turned blind due to his grief. And he mourns the four dead bodies for two days, calling out their names, even though they are dead. Now Dante provides his master's stroke. Driven by hunger the desperate Ugolino is forced to eat the bodies of his dead offspring. The man who drove him to such desperation is Ruggieri, and so now he obtains his revenge by feeding on Ruggieri the way he was forced to feed on his family. He is remorseless with the man who forced him to that pathetic act (cannibalizing his own kith and kin). No matter how bad Ugolino’s political treachery is, his children were innocent and suffered unjustly. On this point the reader can fully sympathize with him. Dante supports him in this as well. Which is why he calls down a curse on the city of Pisa. He asks the islands of Capraia and Gorgone to block the path of River Arno, thereby flooding Pisa and drowning all its citizens. The reader must remember that Dante is angry because the innocent children were punished. Not because Ugolino was imprisoned. His imprisonment was just because he betrayed his political party. But to make an innocent suffer needlessly is what he sees as an unforgivable crime. This shows the white-hot anger of Dante at this injustice. He refers to Pisa as a "newborn Thebes" equating it with the Greek city that has many evil deeds and scandals connected to its history (Dante also mentions Thebes in Cantos XIV, XX, XXV, XXX and XXXII).

The two poets move onwards and enter Tolomea, the third division of Cocytus, where those who betrayed their guests are punished. Tolomea possibly derives its name from Ptolemy, the captain of Jericho. He called his father-in-law Simon and two of his sons to dinner. And then killed them. Commentators like Mark Musa also advance a second theory about the name of this division. It could also derive its name from Ptolemy XII, an Egyptian King. He welcomed Pompey to his kingdom and then killed him. Thus both Ptolemys betrayed their guests, the sin that is punished in this division of Cocytus.

The sinners are ice-bound like in other divisions, with a slight difference. Instead of looking downwards, their faces are turned upwards. So the tears they weep gather around their eyes and are frozen. Forming a crust of ice around their eyes, pruning them from weeping. Thus increasing their torture by preventing them from easing their pain by crying. In addition the frozen ice walls their eyes and increases their discomfort. Thus these souls who betrayed their guests now find themselves in a position where even the free expression of their pain is denied them. Since they didn't distinguish right from wrong on Earth, now their eyes are blinded with the ice-crust. A symbolic representation of their moral blindness.

One particular soul hears them and asks them to remove the ice from his eyes, so that he can freely weep. The pilgrim strikes a bargain with him : he will clear his eyes if he reveals his name. The pilgrim adds that if he doesn't keep his side of the bargain may he be forced to descend deeper into hell. He knows he will descend deeper into Hell because that is where he is going after all. Thus his words are deceptive. He has no sympathy for the sinners and has learnt how to get the better of them. The sinner is taken in by these words and reveals he is Friar Alberigo.

Friar Alberigo is Alberigo di Ugolino dei Manfred, he was one of the Jouial Friars and from the town of Faenza. In 1285 he invited his relatives Manfred and his son Alberghetto to dinner. At that time they were engaged in a family feud and Alberigo gave the dinner as an olive branch. But as the dinner was progressing, Alberigo signaled for the fruit to be brought. This signal actually was for Alberigo's men, who seeing it murdered the two guests, as was planned beforehand. This explains why Alberigo uses the "fruit" imagery to lament his fate. His saying "here dates are served to me for the figs I gave" means he is suffering more than his share since a date costs more than a fig.

This story surprises the pilgrim because Alberigo is alive on Earth. Alberigo explains that this is a special zone of Tolomea. And although his soul is here, his body possessed by a demon is alive on Earth. Mark Musa relates that, " According o Church doctrine, under certain circumstances a living person may, through acts of treachery, lose possession of his soul before he dies ("before the time that Atropos [the fate who cuts man's thread of life] should send it"). Then, on earth, a devil inhabits the body until its natural death."

Alberigo points out to the soul of Ser Branca Soria lying in the ice nearby that suffers the same fate as his. As the pilgrim knows Branca's body is alive on earth. But in truth Branca's soul is in Tolomea and the body is possessed by a demon on Earth.

Alberigo explains to the pilgrim how this has come about. Branca D Oria was an important citizen of Grenea. In 1275, he invited Michel Zanche, his father-in-law to dinner and then murdered him. Branca's body was alive on earth till 1325. But his soul came to Tolomea in 1275 along with the soul of one of his relatives who helped him carry out the murder. The souls of these two men reached Tolomea even before the soul of the murdered Zanche reached the fifth Bolgia where the Barrrators are punished (in the Eighth Circle, Zanche is mentioned in Canto XXII).

The Pilgrim having obtained the information he desired refuses to keep his side of the bargain. He doesn’t remove the ice from Alberigo's eyes. And is proud of his act against the sinner. Thus the reader will note, the Pilgrim has progressed very far spiritually. Not only has he stopped pitying the sinners, he has gone one step ahead. He actually realizes that they deserve their pain. And now he is on the side of Divine Justice and refuses to lessen the suffering of these evil souls. Thus his journey through Hell, aided by Reson (in the form of Virgil) has made him morally educated. To feel pity for a sinner who deserves his pain is going against God and Divine Justice.

Dante ends the Canto with a dramatic apostrophe addressed to the city of Genova. He declares Genova to be a den of vice and says that the world will be a better place without such evil men. He points out that one of the so-called prominent citizens of Genova (Branca Doria) is in Hell. Thus showing that a veneer of respectability hides the depravity of the citizens of Genova. He adds that Branca lies along side "Ramagna's rankest soul" this is, Alberigo. The Friar's hometown of Faenza was in the region of Romagna. Thus he is pointing out that a respectable citizen of Genova is so evil that he lies next to the most despicable man from Romagna. This mars the city of Genova from whence he springs and where his body is still alive. On this note of anger, directed at the city of Genova, where evil men reside Dante closes the Canto.

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