Inferno -- Canto XXXIII

Count Ugolino, Ptolomea










13 Ugolino della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico and a Pisan Guelph, plotted with Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini, a Ghibelline chief, against his own party in 1288. Then Ruggieri treacherously imprisoned him, his sons and grandsons.











































82 Caprara and Gorgona: two islands that belonged to Pisa, located between Corsica and the mouth of the Arno.





91 The pilgrims enter the third zone of Ptolomea, named either for Ptolemy, captain of Jericho, whose treachery is described in I Machabees 16:11-17, or Ptolemy XII, an Egyptian king, who slew his guest Pompey.
















118 Brother Alberigo, a Jovial Friar, murdered his brother Manfred and his nephews in 1285 at a banquet to which he invited them in Faenza. The signal for the murder was the call, "Bring in the fruit."



126 Atropos was one of the Fates.






137 Branca d’Oria, a Ghibelline of Genoa, also invited a kinsman to a banquet, his father-in-law Michel Zanche, in 1275, to have him butchered.

          His mouth raised up above his savage meal,
          That sinner wiped his lips upon the hair
          Of the head that he had chewed on from behind.
          Then he began, "You want me to make new
5         A desperate grief which even to call back
          Crushes my heart before I start to speak.
          "But should my words become a fruitful seed
          Of infamy for this traitor whom I gnaw,
          You’ll see me speak and weep at the same time.
10       "I don’t know who you are or by what means
          You’ve come down here, but when I hear you talk
          You surely seem to me a Florentine.
          "You need to know I was Count Ugolino,
          And this is the Archbishop Ruggieri.
15       Now I shall tell you why I am his neighbor.
          "How I was captured and then put to death
          As the result of his own evil scheming,
          I, who trusted him, need not explain.
          "What you cannot have heard, however, is
20       How cruel my death was: that you now shall hear
          And you will know whether he has wronged me.
          "A narrow window in a tower cell,
          Which for my sake is called the Tower of Hunger
          And in which others must be yet locked up,
25       "Had through its opening shown me several moons
          Already, when I dreamed the nightmare
          Which rent the veil of the future for me.
         "This man seemed lord and master of the hunt,
          Chasing the wolf and whelps upon the mountains
30       Which block the Pisans’ view toward Lucca.
          "With well-trained hounds, a lean and eager pack,
          He had sent up ahead of him, in front,
          Gualandi, with Sismondi and Lanfranchi.
          "After a short run, so it seemed to me,
35       Father and sons fell tired, and with sharp teeth
          It seemed to me I saw their sides ripped open.
          "When I awoke before the break of day,
          I heard my little sons who were with me
          Crying in their sleep and asking bread.
40       "You are cruel if by now you do not grieve
          To think of all that my own heart forewarned:
          And if you do not weep, what would you weep for?
          "They then awakened, and the hour drew near
          When customarily they brought us food,
45       But each of us was worried by his dream.
          "Below I heard them nailing up the door
          Of the horrible tower — at that, I looked,
          Without a word into my young sons’ faces.
          "I did not weep, I had so turned to stone
50       Within me. They wept. And my little Anselm
          Said, ‘You stare so... Father, what is it?’
          "At that I shed no tears, and I said nothing
          In answer all that day nor the next night
          Until another sun rose on the world.
55       "When a small ray of sunlight made its way
          Into that forlorn prison and I saw
          By their four faces the look in my own,
          "I bit both of my hands in desperate grief,
          And they, thinking I acted out of hunger,
60       All of a sudden stood straight up and wailed,
          " ‘Father, the pain for us would be far less
          If you ate us! You put this wretched flesh
          Upon us and now you may strip it off!’
          "I calmed myself, not to make them sadder.
65       That and the following day we kept silence.
          Ah hard earth! Why did you not open up?
          "After we had come to the fourth day,
          Gaddo threw himself down full length at my feet
          And cried, ‘Father, why don’t you help me?’
70      "He died then, and just as you see me
          I saw my three fall one by one by one
          Between the fifth day and the sixth, and then,
          "By now blind, I went groping over each boy
          And for two days I called them who were dead.
75       Then fasting did what grief had failed to do."
          When he had spoken this, with his eyes rolling
          He once more seized the loathed skull in his teeth
          Which were as strong on the bone as a dog’s.
          Ah, Pisa! scandal to all the peoples
80       Of the lovely land where our is sounded,
          Since your own neighbors are slow to punish you,
          Then let Caprara and Gorgona move
          And make a dam for the mouth of the Arno
          So that every soul in you might drown!
85       For if Count Ugolino was accused
          Of having himself betrayed your fortresses,
          You had no right to crucify his sons.
          Their newborn years had made them innocent,
          You newborn Thebes! — Uguiccione, Brigata,
90       And the other two my canto named above.
          We pushed on farther, where frost wraps around
          With its rough covering another race
          With bodies not bent down but turned face up.
          Their own weeping will not let them weep,
95       And grief which finds no outlet through their eyes
          Turns inward to intensify their anguish,
          Because the first tears cluster in a knot
          And, like a mask of crystal, fill up all
          The hollow socket underneath the eyebrows.
100      And although the deeply freezing cold
          Had taken all sensation from my face
          And left it feeling like a hard dead callus,
          I now thought that I felt a breath of wind
          And asked, "My master, who has stirred this breeze?
105     Are not all vapors snuffed out here below?"
          And he replied, "Shortly you shall be where
          Your own eyesight will answer you on this
          When you see why the wind blows from above."
          And one of those sad wraiths in the cold crust
110     Cried out to us, "O souls so cruel that
          This final outpost has been given to you,
          "Lift off from my face the stiffened veils
          That I may free the pain that fills my heart
          Before this weeping freezes up once more."
115      To this I told him, "If you want my help,
          Tell me who you are: if I give no aid
          May I drop to the bottom of the ice!"
          He answered, "I am Brother Alberigo,
          One of the fruits of the corrupted garden
120     Who here gets dates for figs I handed out."
          "Oh," I exclaimed, "are you already dead?"
          And he said to me, "How my body does
          There in the world above, I do not know.
          "For Ptolomea has this privilege:
125     Often the soul falls down into this place
          Before Atropos sends it out of life.
          "And that you may be all the more willing
          To scrape the frost-glazed tears from off my face
          Know this: as soon as the soul proves a traitor,
130      "As I did, its body then is snatched away
          By a demon who takes possession of it
          Until its time on earth has all run out.
          "The soul comes crashing down into this cistern,
          And maybe the body of the shade wintering
135      Here behind me still appears up there.
          "You must know him, if you but recently arrived.
          He is Ser Branca d’Oria, and many years
          Have passed since he was locked up in this ice."
          "I think," I said to him, "you must be lying,
140      For Branca d’Oria has not even died;
          He eats and drinks and sleeps and puts on clothes."
          "Above in the ditch of the Malebranche,"
          He said then, "where the sticky pitch boils up,
          Michel Zanche had not as yet rained down
145      "When Branca left his body for a devil
          To take his place, and so did a close kinsman
          Who carried out this treachery with him.
          "But now — reach out your hand — open my eyes!"
          I did not, however, open them for him,
150     Since rudeness toward him was a courtesy.
          Ah Genoese! you men so estranged
          From all sound custom and full of all corruption,
          Why have you not been scattered from this world?
          For with the wickedest spirit of Romagna
155     I found one of you so vile that for his deeds
          In Cocytus he already bathes in soul
          And still appears up here alive in body.
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