Divine Comedy-I: Inferno

Divine Comedy-I: Inferno Summary and Analysis of Cantos XXXIII-XXXIV

Canto XXXIII: Summary:

The sinner who had been eating his companion's head raised his own and told Dante why he hated his companion so much:

He was Count Ugolino and his companion was the Archbishop Ruggieri. Ugoloino had been captured by Ruggieri and imprisoned in a tower with his two sons and two grandsons. One night he dreamed that a wolf and his whelps was hunted down by Ruggieri, and he awoke to hear his sons and grandsons weeping for bread in their sleep. At the time when their food was usually brought, Ugolino heard people nailing the tower shut. Ugolino stonily did not weep, but the boys did, and asked him what was wrong. The next day he bit his hands out of grief, and the boys, thinking he was doing it out of hunger, offered him their flesh to eat ­ so he tried to stay calm, to keep them from worrying. On the fourth day Gaddo died, crying: "Father why do you not help me?" In the next few days the other boys died too, and Ugolino went blind. On the sixth day the boys were all dead, and Ugolino mourned for them for two days ­ then "fasting had more force than grief."

After telling this story, Ugolino looked mad with sorrow and hate, and bit Ruggieri's skull with his strong teeth. Dante lamented the wicked ways of Pisa, where this had taken palce, and said that even if Ugolino had been said to betray some fortresses, there had been no need to subject his innocent children to the same cruel death: Brigata, Uguiccione, Anselmo, and Gaddo.

Moving on, Dante saw other sinners who were frozen flat on their backs. Their very tears prevented them from weeping, because they froze over their eyes. Dante seemed to feel a wind, and Virgil told him he would soon see what caused it.

One of the sinners begged him to free his eyes from the ice, and Dante said he would if he would tell him who he was. The sinner said he was Fra Alberigo, whose figs had been repaid with dates. Dante was surprised because he thought Alberigo was still alive. Alberigo answered that his body was still alive: when a soul becomes a traitor, the soul goes to Hell and a demon uses its body. For example, Ser Branca Doria's soul was there. Dante insisted that Doria was still living, and Alberigo answered that Doria's soul had come to Hell even before the soul of his victim, Michele Zanca, who was in the pitch in Malebolge.

Alberigo then asked Dante to free his eyes, and Dante refused: "it was courtesy to show him rudeness." The canto ends with an invective against the corruption of the Genoese.

Canto XXXIII: Analysis:

The moving story of the deaths of Ugolino and his children is, perhaps with the exception of the story of Francesca da' Rimini, the most tragic moment in this Comedy. Ugolino della Gherardesca was a Pisan Ghibelline who negotiated with the powerful Guelphs of Lucca and Florence and ceded them three castles. Ugolino was forced out of the office of chief magistrate of Pisa in 1288, and returned to Pisa at the invitation of the Archbishop Ruggieri, who betrayed and imprisoned him, along with his sons Gaddo and Uguiccione, and his grandsons Anselmo and Nino (nicknamed Brigata). In March 1289, after they had been imprisoned for nine months, the tower was locked up.

Gaddo's cry is reminiscent of that of Christ in Matthew 27:46: "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" A painful irony results from this: Ugolino was not an omnipotent God, nor was he even in a position to help anyone.

One rather disturbing issue in this story is that of cannibalism. We know, of course, that Ugolino has been gnawing Ruggieri's head, which is presumably linked to his death by starvation. But did Ugolino eat his children two days after they were all dead? What does the phrase "then fasting had more force than grief" really mean? Ugolino begins chewing on Ruggieri's head immediately after he says it. Of course it is possible that Ugolino was simply too weak to mourn anymore, and that he collapsed into the lethargy which ended in his own death. Logically, it does not seem realistic that he would eat his sons and grandsons when it would only put off his death by a little time, and he certainly seems to have loved them very much.

Fra Alberigo was a Jovial Friar who had his relatives Manfred and Manfred's son killed during a banquet. He summoned the assassins by ordering figs. When he says that his figs have been repaid with dates, he is complaining that his punishment is too severe: dates were more expensive than figs. Branca Doria killed his father-in-law Michele Zanche (see Canto XXII) during a banquet.

Canto XXXIV: Summary:

Dante and Virgil continued on, and passed sinners who were completely covered by ice, deep below them in the frozen lake. Finally Virgil told Dante to look and see the center of Hell itself. Dante was awed by the sight of Lucifer, a gigantic figure who dwarfed the giant Nimrod. He had three heads and bat-like wings ­ they were the cause of the freezing wind. His six eyes wept and the tears mixed with the blood of the sinners he was grinding between his teeth: the three mouth held Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. Judas was in the front mouth, and was clawed as well as bitten.

Virgil told Dante that night had come, and it was time to leave. He picked Dante up and climbed down Lucifer's body. After a certain point, it suddenly seemed to Dante as though Lucifer were upside-down. Finally they made their way through a cavern. Dante asked Virgil why Lucifer had seemed to change, and why the sun had moved so quickly. Virgil answered that they were now in the southern hemisphere: there is was morning when it was night on the other side. Lucifer had fallen into the southern hemisphere, which was why almost all the land was in the nothern hemisphere, where it had fled. Dante saw the sky through an opening in the cavern, and finally they emerged to see the stars.

Canto XXXIV: Analysis:

The four rings of the ninth circle are Caina (traitors to kin), Antenora (traitors to party), Ptolomea (traitors to guests), and Judecca (traitors to benefactors).

Lucifer's three faces make a perverted trinity, echoing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Judas Iscariot was the apostle who betrayed Christ: in the legend, he identified Christ for his enemies by kissing him, for thirty pieces of silver. Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longus assassinated Julius Caesar in 44 BC, and both committed suicide two years later.

The detailed discussion of the change in the direction of the gravitational force is one indication that Columbus was not being terribly original when he argued that the world was round. The spherical shape of the earth is taken for granted by Dante, though he is excited over its implications. Dante's earth is a solid sphere. The northern hemisphere is mostly covered by land and the southern sphere is mostly covered by water. The gigantic figure of Lucifer almost spans the diameter of the earth, and his heads and upper body are in the northern hemisphere, with his legs in the southern part. Thus Virgil and Dante climb down from his head to his waist, and up from his waist to his feet. The space between his head and the surface of the earth is taken up by Hell, which is cone shaped.

Dante emerges when it is night, before dawn on Easter Sunday. In symbolic holy time, he has been "dead" for the time after the crucifixion and before Christ rose, and now he rises with Christ.