DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 33
Chapter 33: More Traitors
Ceasing to eat, the sinner wiped bloody mouth
on hair that still grew on his victim’s head
and said, “You ask me to a renew a grief 3
so desperate that speaking of the cause
will wring my heart. Let it! If words can blast
this traitor’s name, then listen while I weep. 6
Names first. I was the Count Ugolino,
he Archbishop Roger, friend and ally
so I thought. Listen well and be taught why 9
I gnaw his head in Hell. That he had me
trapped, fooled and killed is well known, but few know
how cruelly death came, although they call 12
the prison where I died the Hunger Tower.
Through a thin loophole in the dungeon wall
I saw several moons grow full then wane 15
before a bad dream prophesied our pain.
On hills dividing Pisa and Lucca,
Roger on horseback, wearing hunting gear, 18
whipped on a pack of dogs. Beside him rode
all the chief Tories with their lean, fierce hounds,
hunting a wolf and cubs. After short run 21
I saw father and sons fall, saw sharp fangs
tear them apart. I woke before dawn,
heard sons and grandsons weeping in their sleep, 24
begging for bread, then I knew our jailor
had been told to lose his key. You must be
heartless not to shed tears for my children, 27
innocent in spite of guilty me. All
were now awake. It became the hour when
food used to be brought but instead we heard 30
the door of the tower being nailed shut.
I stared at their faces and I could not weep,
feeling like stone inside. I heard them weep. 33
My little Anselm said, “Daddy, what’s wrong?”
Even then I shed no tear throughout that day
or the next night. A new day dawned. One ray 36
of light shone in on us. By it I saw
their faces were like mine and bit my hands
for grief. They thought it was for food. One said, 39
“Father, you gave us flesh – eat ours instead.”
I became calm to save them from more pain.
On the fourth day Gaddo fell at my feet, 42
cried, “Father, can you do nothing?” and died.
During days five and six the other three
fell one by one and I, now blind, groped round, 45
stroking their faces, calling them by name
till famine finished me as grief could not.”
Having said this his eyes went blank. He bit 48
that wretched skull again as dog bites bone.
O Pisa, you disgrace to Italy –
famous as Thebes for all atrocity! 51
Perhaps strongholds were lost by treachery
of Ugolino – it was still a crime
to kill Ugguccione, Brigata 54
and the two others mentioned in my rhyme.
We walked on to a place where rugged ice
fixed heads of sinners in a way that made 57
all faces stare straight upward so that tears
could not be wept away. They filled the space
under the brows with a hard layer of ice 60
whose icicles pierced eyes. The freezing air
drove feeling from my face although I sensed
a wind and asked, “Master, what moves this air? 63
No heat makes motion here.” “What makes that wind
you’ll see,” said he. From near our feet a cry
went up: “O please remove this icy mask 66
that I may weep a while before my tears
freeze up again.” “Say who you are,” said I,
“then if I don’t do what you ask, let me 69
be under thicker ice than you.” He said,
“I am Fra Alberiga, Jovial Friar,
who gave feast of reconciliation 72
to show my brother who’d insulted me
that I forgave him, though my pudding course
for he and son was assassination. 75
In ice I get my just dessert.” I cried,
“But you are still alive!” He said, “Not me.
I will explain why, as you offer to 78
unglaze my eyes. Some sinners yield to fiends
before death is due, so at once fall down
into this pit’s worst part. The fiend takes on 81
their body, moving it as it used to do.
Branca Doria, shivering nearby,
is just like me and has been here for years.” 84
“Impossible!” I cried, “Branca still lives,
eats, drinks and sleeps and put clothes on and off.”
Alberiga said, “So I hear. The fiend 87
replacing him enjoys the life he led.
Now, as you promised, please let free my tears.”
Treason to such is highest courtesy 90
so I did not. He was a Genoese
whose town deserves the fate of Pisa too.
O Genoa, must you still grieve the world 93
with your foul cluster of corrupting dens?
Many you bred have been hurled into Hell
and fiends are now your richest citizens. 96
My guide reminded me, “Now we must leave.”