Dante and Virgil begin to cross the bottom of Hell, where traitors of various kinds suffer in the ice of Cocytus.
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If I had the crudest, most harsh-sounding words to describe in all truth where we were there at the bottom of Hell, and how the whole, immense, rotten hole of sin is supported by that place, I might have enough to wring out from my mind every last dreadful memory of it! But, not having them, I hesitate to begin, because this is not a game, nor is it baby-babble to talk about the bottom of the universe. All I can do at this point is to ask the heavenly Muses to help me as they once helped Amphion to encircle ancient Thebes with a great wall. From now on, may I have their strength to relate exactly what I saw. O you souls who should never have been born, impossible to count – let alone describe – the Creator should have made you sheep and goats!Standing on the floor of Hell, Dante stops – realizing just how weighty will be the task ahead of him. What concerns him most at this point in his travels is that the general beauty and elegance of … Continue reading
Well, as we moved down the darkened slope, further on from Antaeus’ feet, and I was still looking up at the high walls of that well, I heard someone say rudely: “Damn you! Watch where you’re going! Look out that you don’t kick some of us miserable brotherhood of sinners in the face!” I hadn’t expected that and right away I turned around. There before us was a great lake of ice stretching out into the distance, frozen like a sheet of glass in water. I tell you, the Danube flowing through the Austrian Alps in wintertime never froze as thick and solid as this lake. And the Don, neither. I think if Mount Tambernic or Pietrapana were to crash down on this ice they wouldn’t crack it a bit, not even at the edges.Several things seem to happen at once now that Dante has finished introducing this canto. First, the previous canto ends here – Antaeus having set the travelers down. But before Dante takes us … Continue reading
Just as frogs sit croaking in the summertime with their heads out of the water, the sinners here were up to their necks in the ice, and their clattering teeth sounded like storks clacking their beaks. They all had their heads bowed down, their lips were blue from the cold, and their bitter tears froze on the ice.At last, Dante gives us enough information to understand that the sinner he kicked in the face is one of countless others in this place, submerged in the ice up to their necks. Literally frozen to … Continue reading As I looked around to get a sense of this place, I looked down and saw two sinners so tightly frozen against each other that one’s hair might have been the hair of the other one. So, I asked them: “Who are you two, there with your chests stuck together?” Hearing me, both of them raised their heads slightly and looked at me. Except now their tears flowed over their lips, freezing them in a grizzly kiss! Wood was never so tightly bound together as those two were. And the whole time they were madly butting against each other like a couple of billy-goats!Here we get a more direct experience of what Dante calls “the miserable brotherhood of sinners.” And note how he repeats what he first sees in the question he then asks. This causes a pair of … Continue reading
Another frozen sinner not far off, missing both of his ears and looking at himself in his icy mirror, shouted: “Why are you staring at us like that? If you want to know who those two are, their father was Count Albert, and they owned the valley where the Bisenzio flows near Florence.The chatty treacherous sinner who speaks here will soon be identified. But not before he betrays the identity of the two “glued” sinners above. And he’s clever enough not to change the position … Continue reading
If you were to explore the whole of Caïna, you wouldn’t find anyone more deserving of this icy broth than them!In his exaggerated betrayal of the Alberti brothers, this sinner, who still has not identified himself, tells Dante the name of this part of Hell: Caïna, a word which refers to Cain, the killer of … Continue reading
Not Mordred, through whose pierced body the sun showed when King Arthur killed him with his lance. Not the murderous Focaccia, whose evil deed split the Florentine Guelfs. And not this one here, stuck to me so that his head gets in my way and blocks the view. He’s Sassol Mascherone. If you’re any kind of a Tuscan, then you know he was a murderer too.We continue with more of the Who’s Who of Caïna. Mordred was the treacherous nephew of King Arthur who, when Arthur went abroad to battle, usurped the throne and took the queen as his wife. Arthur … Continue reading)
And so you won’t bother me further by asking who I was, let me tell you: I was Camicion de’Pazzi, murderer, and I await my treacherous cousin, Carlino, whose betrayal was worse than mine.”Finally, our treacherous narrator identifies himself – as though to save Dante the trouble of asking! He does this in such a candid and brief manner that one might think that “murderer” were … Continue reading
Moving on across that icy lake spiked with traitors, I saw countless dogish faces turned purple by that terrible cold. I still shudder when I see a frozen pool, and probably always will. And so I was there badly shivering as we got closer to the weighty center of the universe. I don’t know whether it was fate, or maybe on purpose – I don’t remember, but trying to step here and there between all those frozen heads, I kicked one of them right in the face – hard! Crying out in pain, he shrieked: “Why are you kicking me? Are you trying to get your revenge for the battle of Montaperti? Don’t bother me with that!”Dante has been on the ice long enough now that his curiosity has turned to horror as he shares the pain of the sinners by his shivering. That the traitorous sinners here have “dogish faces” and … Continue reading
At that, I told Virgil: “Master, please wait a minute here while I clear this up. Then we can go along as fast as you want.”
So, Virgil stopped, and while that wicked sinner continued screaming curses at me, I said: “Wait a minute! Who do you think you are to insult other people like that?”
“Really?” he said. “And who do you think you are, walking so carelessly through Antenora and just kicking people in the face? No one living could kick that hard!”
“I am living!” I shouted back at him. “And if you want fame in the world above, you’d do well to tell me who you are so I can put your name in my book.”
“Haa!” he replied scornfully. “Let me tell you, that’s the last thing I want! Your flattery won’t get you anywhere down in these parts, so get a move on and stop bothering me!”This unusual skirmish between Dante and a damned soul reminds us of the back-and-forth bickering between Sinon and Master Adamo that ended Canto 30. But Dante’s treatment by this sinner is also the … Continue reading
Well, I wasn’t going to let him get away with that, so I grabbed him by his hair and said: “Tell me who you are, you wretch, or I’ll pull every hair out of your frozen skull!”
“Go right ahead,” he replied, “rip it all out, kick me and stomp on my head a thousand times if you want. You’ll never get it out of me – or see what I look like, for that matter!”
That’s all I needed. I had already pulled out a few fistfuls of his hair, and had my fingers twisted in more of it – he barking like a dog with his eyes closed tightly. Then some other sinner shouted out: “What’s going on, Bocca? We have to listen to your teeth chattering constantly, and now do we have to listen to you barking like a dog? What’s the matter with you?”
“Aha!” I gloated. “You don’t need to say another word, you vile traitor! Now that I know who you are, I’m going to tell everyone I can about your more-than-wicked treachery so that you can feel the shame of it even more!”The verbal skirmish between Dante and this traitor gets more serious with Dante’s threat, and quickly spills over into physical violence. One can imagine the Poet bending over the sinner, grabbing … Continue reading
“Get away from me!” he shrieked. “Say what you want, I could care less! But on the off chance that you do get out of this place, make sure you tell everyone about that blabbering fool stuck down here with us. That’s Buoso, and he’s here because he accepted the French bribe and betrayed his own troops. And I’ll tell you even more: If you want to know who else is here, the one right next to you is Beccheria. You Florentines sawed his head off! And then there’s Gianni Soldianier, the deserter. You’ll find him over there with Ganelon, who betrayed Roland, and Tebaldello, who opened Faenza’s gates to her enemies while everyone slept.”Like Camicion de’Pazzi earlier, Buoso – not caring about the consequences – identifies everyone around him in a fit of betrayal. Buoso da Durea was from Cremona and was the leader of the … Continue reading
Not long after we left that chatty betrayer we came upon two sinners who were frozen together in the same hole, one behind the other, and the back one’s head was like a cap for the one in front. The one behind seemed as if he were starving the way he sank his teeth into the nape of the other’s neck, feasting on his brains! I was reminded of Tydeus at Thebes, who gnawed in rage on the head of his dead enemy, Menalippus. But he ate less heartily than that gorging one there in front of me.Dante’s matter-of-fact-ness here may seem unusual, except it’s a subtle way of reminding us that, here at the bottom of Hell, nothing is surprising anymore. To come upon one sinner feasting on … Continue reading
I needed to know about these two, so I asked: “O you there, enjoying your hate with every morsel you eat from this man’s head, tell me why you’re doing this. If your foul revenge is justified, and you reveal your name and this one’s sin, I promise you that I will repay your trust when I tell your story in the world above – unless my tongue dries up!”Having heard the story of Tydeus and Menalippus, one might imagine Dante as an intrepid journalist at Thebes interrupting Tydeus’ bestial meal to tell him the story of his overpowering hatred for … Continue reading
Notes & Commentary
|↑1||Standing on the floor of Hell, Dante stops – realizing just how weighty will be the task ahead of him. What concerns him most at this point in his travels is that the general beauty and elegance of poetic language will no longer work for him in this lowest place in Hell. He must create a new kind of language befitting this “rotten hole of sin.” And yet, he’s not sure that he has the words that will support his experience. Actually, he does have them, as we’ll see. So, following the pattern set by all the great classical poets, he invokes the Muses, those ancient goddesses of poetry, literature, art, music, and science, to inspire him so that he can finish the project he has undertaken in narrating his journey through the afterlife. Remember how he invoked them at the beginning of his journey in Canto 2.
Dante’s reference to the bottom of the universe is, in fact, where we are now. Although we haven’t seen it yet in its full form, recall that he uses the geocentric Ptolemaic model of the cosmos as the superstructure for the Commedia, and if the Earth is at the center of that cosmos, then he is now at the “center of the center.” From this point, no matter which way you go, literally everything in the universe is up. Thinking of structures, then, Dante calls on the Muses to help him in this seemingly impossible task as they once helped Amphion, King of Thebes, in his: building the walls of Thebes. Amphion and Zethus were twin sons of Zeus, and Amphion was famed as a musician – so much so that when he and his brother were building the walls of Thebes, Zethus carried the stones, but Amphion played such beautiful music on the lyre given to him by Hermes that he charmed the stones in nearby Mount Cithaeron to move on their own and place themselves into the walls. That Dante refers to this story, which he borrows from Statius and Horace, is obviously significant at this point in the poem. First, in a sense he’s been Amphion’s twin, Zethus, carrying the “stones” of his Inferno up to this point. Realizing that he can no longer support the weight of his story by himself, he becomes Amphion by virtue of his invocation of the Muses, hoping to rely on their inspiration to bring the heaviest stones into the edifice of these last cantos. Second, it’s appropriate that he refer to Thebes here because in the ancient world the city had a reputation for treachery, and the entire bottom of Hell here will be filled with traitors. And, perhaps, what Dante has in mind here with reference to Amphion is to wall up all the traitors he will meet here. He will mention this evil city again in this canto and in the next one.
When the Poet brings his introduction and his invocation to a close he includes those he now realizes he has to write about: “impossible to count – let alone describe.” Quoting the Gospel of Matthew (26:24) he apostrophizes, using the words of Jesus about his betrayer, Judas, wishing that they had never been born, because, as he writes in the Italian, they were mal creata, “badly created!” To suggest that these most terrible sinners should have been sheep and goats is to highlight again what Virgil told him near the beginning of Canto 3 when they passed through the gate into Hell: “…these are souls who lost the good of their intellect.” In other words, by their free choice they lost their minds and gave up their wills. And so they have become like animals. Ironically, animals can’t sin.
|↑2||Several things seem to happen at once now that Dante has finished introducing this canto. First, the previous canto ends here – Antaeus having set the travelers down. But before Dante takes us anywhere, we and Dante scholars over the years are left with a series of questions to which the Poet offers no clear answers. For example, exactly where are we? Were the giants standing on the actual floor of Hell? It seems not. Then where did Antaeus set the two down? Most commentators seem to agree that the giants were standing on a ledge, or a shelf of some kind, or a slope above and around the edge of this ninth circle. Did Antaeus set them down right by his feet? Most likely not. From the way Dante describes it here, they must have left his grasp at some distance away from his feet.
Then, with just a touch of humor, the Pilgrim’s lingering curiosity about the high walls of the well leads him to a rude awakening because he’s not paying attention to where he’s going. (Gustav Dore, the great French engraver of scenes from the Comedy, captures Dante’s frame of mind at this moment as he depicts Antaeus lowering Dante and Virgil down. There in that scene, Dante is preoccupied with Antaeus’ thumbnail!) So, one can imagine his surprise when he is rudely jolted back to reality. And at this point, notice how Dante parcels out his information. He’s just kicked an offended sinner in the face and only now does he turn around, amplifying the fact that he was looking everywhere else but where he was actually walking. Then, we forget the injured sinner for a moment to discover that he and Virgil are walking on an immense lake of ice like glass and solid as rock. But wait, what about that sinner who got kicked in the face? How that happened, Dante doesn’t tell us – yet. He’s thinking about the lake of solid ice and making comparisons.
The Danube and the Don are two great European rivers. The Danube, second longest river in Europe (the first is the Volga), rises in western Germany, flows southeastward some 1,800 miles, and empties into the Black Sea. The Don is the fifth longest river in Europe. It rises at Novomoskovsk in western Russia and flows southwestward for 1,200 miles where it empties into the Sea of Azov (a northeastern section of the Black Sea). Mount Tambernic has never been located precisely by Dante scholars, and Mount Pietrapana is a rocky peak located in northwest Tuscany, today called Pania della Croce or la Pania. All along Dante wants to impress upon the reader the almost diamond-like clarity and solidity of this lake which is formed by Hell’s fourth “river,” Cocytus, which means “lamentation.” Like the other rivers of Dante’s Hell, Cocytus was formed from the tears of the Old Man of Crete statue in Canto 14. There, in the Italian, Dante refers to Cocytus as a pool or pond. Then, to confirm the strength of this ice lake, Dante notes that the two mountain peaks he mentioned – if they were to fall on this lake – wouldn’t make even a crack.
|↑3||At last, Dante gives us enough information to understand that the sinner he kicked in the face is one of countless others in this place, submerged in the ice up to their necks. Literally frozen to death by their sins of treachery, Dante compares the sight of these sinners to frogs in a summertime pond. And for the Poet, one comparison is often worth two, and so he also compares the sound of the sinners’ loudly clattering teeth to the clacking of storks’ beaks. Soon, two comparisons are worth three, and Dante will highlight two particular sinners as billy-goats. Frogs, storks, goats – the sins of the traitors here have turned them into animals. From his descriptions, as he moves on, we are to believe (and see along with him) that the ice is not opaque but clear. And so while Dante sees the faces of the sinners and notes their frozen features, he can also see the rest of their bodies below, frozen solid into the ice. Finally, he wants us to note specifically, that all the sinners in this part of the lake have their heads bowed down. Benvenuto notes here that a traitor will not usually look you in the face. And one can add that this particular posture is also evidence of shame, shame that produces the tears that freeze on the ice.|
|↑4||Here we get a more direct experience of what Dante calls “the miserable brotherhood of sinners.” And note how he repeats what he first sees in the question he then asks. This causes a pair of otherwise tightly locked sinners to look upward which, as we see immediately, causes an ugly scene to unfold. Rather than attending to precise details, the Poet gives us words and phrases which create a scene that isn’t quite logical. The “grizzly kiss” – Hollander calls it “a parody of the Christian Kiss of Peace” – is a wonderful image, preceded and followed by images of body parts tightly glued together. All of this, of course, is a fitting contrapasso for these two when we learn more about them. There are questions, however. If these two sinners are locked in a frozen kiss, how are they also butting their heads against each other like goats? Singleton, the only commentator who appears to have anything to say about this, suggests that with their lips frozen together they butted with their foreheads. We will soon learn their identity and the answer to their behavior. In the mean time, Musa, who has such an excellent command of details, notes here that “there are no two sinners closer to each other in all of Hell.” At the same time, he notes others like Paolo and Francesca in Canto 5 and Ulysses and Diomedes in Canto 26, though we’re not quite sure just how close these sinners were to each others’ bodies.|
|↑5||The chatty treacherous sinner who speaks here will soon be identified. But not before he betrays the identity of the two “glued” sinners above. And he’s clever enough not to change the position of his down-looking head (staring at himself in the “icy mirror”) so that his tears don’t freeze on his face like the two he “tells on.” Like other almost unnoticeable items in this canto, the icy mirror of the lake is most likely part of the contrapasso for these particular traitors. With heads bent down in shame, they have to look at themselves for all eternity.
So, without having been asked, this sinner eagerly takes over and tells Dante much more than he might have expected to hear. And worse, as befitting a traitor, he paints the two as the worst of their kind in his exaggerated tattle. The two tightly-bound sinners were Alessandro and Napoleone degli Alberti, sons of Alberto Degli Alberti, Counts of Mangona. This small town about 20 miles north of Florence is the location of the castle of the Alberti counts. It lies in the valley of the Bisenzio River which flows into the Arno about 10 miles west of Florence. The two brothers, reputed to be constantly at odds, came to a mortal dispute over which one inherited their father’s castle and ended up killing each other. Singleton here notes from the chronicler, Villani, that the castle of Mangona belonged by right to Alessandro, a Guelph and the younger of the two brothers, and was unjustly seized by Napoleone, who was a Ghibelline. Note, once again, how the constant feuding between Guelphs and Ghibellines is like an ugly thread running through the tapestry of Dante’s Poem.
|↑6||In his exaggerated betrayal of the Alberti brothers, this sinner, who still has not identified himself, tells Dante the name of this part of Hell: Caïna, a word which refers to Cain, the killer of his brother, Abel, in chapter 4 of the Book of Genesis. Thus, Dante’s placement of these two brothers here is appropriate. The reference to “this icy broth” is morbid humor on the part of the sinner who is speaking. In the Italian, Dante calls it gelatina – just what it sounds like.
Before proceeding further, one thing should be clear by now: the entire bottom of Dante’s Hell is reserved for those who committed treachery of various kinds. This ninth circle of Hell is subtly divided into four concentric rings where successively worse kinds of treachery are punished. As noted above, Caïna is the name of the first, outer circle, and contains those who committed acts of treachery against their family. The second circle is named Antenora after Antenor, a Trojan soldier who betrayed his city to the Greeks. In this circle are punished those who betrayed their party or their country. The third circle is named Ptolomea after Ptolemy, the governor of Jericho, who invited Simon Maccabaeus and his sons to a banquet during which he killed them (1 Macc. 16:11ff). In this circle are traitors to hospitality and friendship. And finally, the fourth circle is called Judecca after Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. This last and innermost circle of Cocytus is reserved for those who betrayed their masters and benefactors. Unlike the higher regions of Dante’s Hell, these four divisions of Cocytus are not clearly marked apart from each other but flow rather subtly one into the other.
|↑7||We continue with more of the Who’s Who of Caïna. Mordred was the treacherous nephew of King Arthur who, when Arthur went abroad to battle, usurped the throne and took the queen as his wife. Arthur returned to Britain and killed him as described here.
Focaccia was a member of the Cancellieri family of Pistoia (about 20 miles northwest of Florence). His treacherous murder of his cousin Detto is said to have started the split of the Pistoian Guelfs into Whites and Blacks. Florence became involved in the uprising there and, unfortunately, brought the White/Black split home to its own Guelfs.
Sassolo Mascherone, who must be close enough to the speaker (like Alessandro and Napoleone whom he’s blabbing on about) to block his view (of Dante? Of the rest of Caïna?), was a member of the Toschi family of Florence. He murdered a family member (it is not clear whether it was a cousin or a nephew) in order to get his property and money. Both his crime and the manner of his execution were well-known throughout Tuscany: he was sealed in a barrel filled with spikes and rolled down the streets! Following this he was beheaded. (The Florentines knew a thing or two about executions!
|↑8||Finally, our treacherous narrator identifies himself – as though to save Dante the trouble of asking! He does this in such a candid and brief manner that one might think that “murderer” were part of his name. As a matter of fact, he’s here for the murder of a kinsman named Ubertino with whom, jointly, he apparently owned a certain castle. Alberto “Camicion” de’Pazzi was from the area of Valdarno, one of the valleys of the Arno river about 25 miles south of Florence. When he first interrupted Dante he was described as missing his ears – subtly symbolic, as Plumptre suggests, of “those who yield to hatred [and] lose their power of listening to the voice of reason or conscience.” Of course, he has been so busy verbally betraying his neighbors it would seem that he has no time to listen!
Not done with his treacherous identifications, Camicion uses the power of damned souls to see into the future. (Recall Farinata in Canto 10 telling Dante about this.) He tells Dante that he’s waiting for his cousin who’s worse than he is, obviously a way of making himself look less culpable. This cousin, Carlino de’Pazzi, was alive when Camicion was telling Dante about him here (1300). Carlino had been given custody of a castle belonging to the White Guelfs at Piantravigne in the Valdarno. According to C.H. Grandgent, this castle also housed a number of White and Ghibelline exiles. In July of 1302, Carlino accepted a bribe from the Florentine Blacks to surrender the castle and many of those inside were brutally slain in the resulting siege. Upon Carlino’s death he will be frozen into the next circle of Cocytus, Antenora, the place for those who betray their party or country.
|↑9||Dante has been on the ice long enough now that his curiosity has turned to horror as he shares the pain of the sinners by his shivering. That the traitorous sinners here have “dogish faces” and that their faces have “turned purple,” amplifies how their sins have dehumanized them. (Recall the earlier allusions to frogs, storks, and goats.) Then, adding a touch of reality with his lack of certainty and his attempts to excuse himself on several levels here, he does it again! He kicks a another traitor in the face – hard, as he says! But, from what he tells us here, one can imagine that the ice was studded with frozen heads everywhere, and walking through all of them must have been a challenge – and an experience he’ll never forget. From the emphasis on the me, we know that the sinner he kicked is not only carrying a grudge, but he tells us what it’s for.
The Poet’s reference to his movement “closer to the weighty center of the universe” is a subtle way of saying that he has moved from Caïna to Antenora, and the sinners here will have committed acts of treachery against their parties and their country. The mention of Montaperti, though, and the fact that the sinner doesn’t want to talk about it, is important for the progress of this canto and, as we’ll see, the identification of this treacherous sinner. Montaperti is a small town east of Siena about 30 miles. It is situated very near the Arbia river, and on September 4, 1260 (five years before Dante was born) it was the scene of a famous battle between the Ghibellines of both Siena and Florence against the Florentine Guelfs. The Guelfs were so badly defeated that, in Canto 10:85f, when Dante is talking with the Ghibelline general, Farinata, he remarks that the slaughter and chaos were so terrible that the Arbia flowed red with the blood of the fallen!
|↑10||This unusual skirmish between Dante and a damned soul reminds us of the back-and-forth bickering between Sinon and Master Adamo that ended Canto 30. But Dante’s treatment by this sinner is also the worst so far. At the same time, the behavior of the sinner and his adamant refusal to identify himself grabs Dante’s and our attention all the more. Furthermore, note that Dante’s remark to Virgil that after he speaks with this sinner they can move on quickly, is an indication that the Poet has probably learned his lesson after Virgil scolded him for dallying over the gossipy quarrel at the end of Canto 31. So, adding to his authoritative manner, Dante tells the traitor that he is, in fact, alive. More than that, he uses the “get-more-information” pattern again by promising earthly fame if the soul will identify himself. And, more specifically, Dante says that he will put the sinner’s name in his “book” – a rare reference to his Commedia. But, to his surprise, the sinner refuses Dante’s offer and tells him what we might expect in this lowest place in Hell: the sinners and their sins are so terrible that they don’t wish to be identified. This is something new for Dante.|
|↑11||The verbal skirmish between Dante and this traitor gets more serious with Dante’s threat, and quickly spills over into physical violence. One can imagine the Poet bending over the sinner, grabbing a handful of his hair and pulling – the stubborn sinner all the more dehumanized as he barks “like a dog” in a frenzy of anger and pain. Then we have a repetition of what happened earlier in Caïna: another nearby sinner interrupts and identifies the howling sinner for Dante. Hearing this, he can hardly contain his bitter surprise and righteous indignation as he heaps the burning coals of shame upon one of the worst traitors in Tuscan history.
Bocca degli Abati was a Florentine Ghibelline. During the Battle of Montaperti noted above, he made it look as if he were fighting with the Guelfs. In this way, he stealthily made his way toward the Guelf standard-bearer and with his sword hacked off the cavalryman’s right hand so that the great flag fell to the ground. In battles at this time, the importance of the standard and its various positions cannot be overestimated as a key signal for troop movements across the battlefield. Unable to see their flag, the Guelf troops were immediately thrown into confusion, and in the chaos that ensued the Sienese and Florentine Ghibellines were victorious over them. Dante, of course, had relatives in that battle, and one can imagine the shock that went through him when he realized that the foul traitor was the man he was speaking to.
|↑12||Like Camicion de’Pazzi earlier, Buoso – not caring about the consequences – identifies everyone around him in a fit of betrayal. Buoso da Durea was from Cremona and was the leader of the Ghibelline party there. When the French troops of Charles of Anjou were on their way south and passing through Lombardy, Manfred, son of the emperor Frederick II, paid Buoso to block the French advance through a certain mountain pass. Buoso pocketed the money, but did nothing. In fact, he also took more money from the French to let them through. In a wicked display of irony, in the Italian text here, Dante has Buoso use the French word argento (silver) instead of the Italian denaro.
Continuing with his list, Buoso names Tesauro dei Beccheria from Pavia next. He was the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery at Vallombrosia, 25 miles to the east of Florence. He was also the Papal Legate of Pope Alexander IV in Tuscany. Sadly, even the head of a famous monastery could also be guilty of political treachery. In 1258, he was beheaded for intriguing with the Florentine Ghibellines after they had been expelled from the city.
Next comes Gianni Soldianier, a Ghibelline nobleman of Florence. In 1266, after the defeat of Manfred at Benevento (see Note 2 in Canto 28), the Florentine Guelfs rebelled against the Frate Gaudenti (see Canto 23) and the Ghibelline rulers at that time. Betraying his party for personal power and gain, Gianni seized the opportunity and set himself up as the leader of the Guelf rebels who were then victorious over the Ghibellines.
Ganelon figured briefly in Canto 31. His betrayal of Charlemagne led to the death of Roland and the defeat of Charlemagne’s troops at Roncesvalles.
And finally, Buoso ends his treacherous rant with Tebaldello de’Zambrasi of Faenza. In 1274, the Lambertazzi family, Ghibellines of Bologna, fled that city and took refuge in Faenza, some 35 miles to the southeast on the way to Ravenna. On November 13, 1280, in order to take revenge on the Lambertazzi over a petty argument about pigs(!), he opened the gates of Faenza at dawn and allowed the Guelf enemies of the Lambertazzi refugees to enter the city and kill them.
|↑13||Dante’s matter-of-fact-ness here may seem unusual, except it’s a subtle way of reminding us that, here at the bottom of Hell, nothing is surprising anymore. To come upon one sinner feasting on the brains fresh within another’s chewed-open skull is hardly worth notice. Or is it? This scene of savage horror featuring two terrible traitors will lead to one of the most tragic and celebrated stories in the entire Inferno. But for the moment, Dante tells us about what came to his mind when he happened upon this scene.
Early in this canto Dante mentioned Thebes and its bad reputation in the ancient world was noted. Here is another story from that wicked city which Dante borrows from Statius’ Thebiad (VIII:740-763). The scene is the battle known as The Seven Against Thebes, also related by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in his great drama of the same name. This was a war for the succession of Oedipus’ throne when his son, Eteocles refused to step down at the end of his allotted term as king. Eteocles’ brother, Polynices, who was designated as the king in alternate years, raised an army from Argos headed by the famous “Seven” warriors who attacked each of the seven gates of Thebes. Tydeus (the father of Diomedes in Canto 26) was one of the Argive warriors attacking the city who fought against Menalippus, one of the city’s defenders. Menalippus mortally wounded Tydeus, but (and there are several variants of this story) it was Amphiarus (see Canto 20) who mortally wounded Menalippus (some say it was Tydeus). As both warriors lay dying, Tydeus called for the head of Menalippus, which Capaneus (Canto 14, the most famous of the Seven) cut off and brought to him. In a dying fit of rage, the gloating Tydeus smashed Menalippus’ head open and began to eat his brains. The only difference between Tydeus and the gorging soul Dante encounters here, he tells us, is that this presently-unnamed soul was more ravenous than Tydeus!
Here, Dante also brings us to the border of Antenora and Ptolomea by subtly positioning the first (chewing) sinner slightly above the second (chewed upon) sinner. As we will learn in the next canto the first (higher) sinner was a traitor to his party and country, and the second was a traitor to his friends.
|↑14||Having heard the story of Tydeus and Menalippus, one might imagine Dante as an intrepid journalist at Thebes interrupting Tydeus’ bestial meal to tell him the story of his overpowering hatred for the man whose brains he feasts on. But here in Hell we move from myth to reality, where Dante has recently learned that earthly fame is no longer an enticement for sinners to tell their stories. Instead, intuiting that there’s a deep and terrible animosity between these two traitors that needs to be told to the world, he uses the very wickedness he sees played out in front of him as the tool to loosen the sinner’s reticence. “Show me your hate in words,” he tells the sinner; “you can trust me. Tell me everything, and unless I die first, I promise I’ll tell it above just as you relate it to me here.”
And so this canto ends with Dante completely in charge, setting the stage for an amazing fulfillment of his promise. It might also be of interest to the reader to note that for the only time in the Inferno we’ve read a canto in which Virgil did not speak.