Canto 32

COULD I command rough rhimes and hoarse, to suit
That hole of sorrow, o'er which ev'ry rock
His firm abutment rears, then might the vein
Of fancy rise full springing: but not mine
Such measures, and with falt'ring awe I touch
The mighty theme; for to describe the depth
Of all the universe, is no emprize
To jest with, and demands a tongue not us'd
To infant babbling.  But let them assist
My song, the tuneful maidens, by whose aid
Amphion wall'd in Thebes, so with the truth
My speech shall best accord.  Oh ill-starr'd folk,
Beyond all others wretched! who abide
In such a mansion, as scarce thought finds words
To speak of, better had ye here on earth
Been flocks or mountain goats.  As down we stood
In the dark pit beneath the giants' feet,
But lower far than they, and I did gaze
Still on the lofty battlement, a voice
Bespoke me thus: "Look how thou walkest.  Take
Good heed, thy soles do tread not on the heads
Of thy poor brethren."  Thereupon I turn'd,
And saw before and underneath my feet
A lake, whose frozen surface liker seem'd
To glass than water.  Not so thick a veil
In winter e'er hath Austrian Danube spread
O'er his still course, nor Tanais far remote
Under the chilling sky.  Roll'd o'er that mass
Had Tabernich or Pietrapana fall'n,
Not e'en its rim had creak'd. As peeps the frog
Croaking above the wave, what time in dreams
The village gleaner oft pursues her toil,
So, to where modest shame appears, thus low
Blue pinch'd and shrin'd in ice the spirits stood,
Moving their teeth in shrill note like the stork.
His face each downward held; their mouth the cold,
Their eyes express'd the dolour of their heart.

A space I look'd around, then at my feet
Saw two so strictly join'd, that of their head
The very hairs were mingled.  "Tell me ye,
Whose bosoms thus together press," said I,
"Who are ye?"  At that sound their necks they bent,
And when their looks were lifted up to me,
Straightway their eyes, before all moist within,
Distill'd upon their lips, and the frost bound
The tears betwixt those orbs and held them there.
Plank unto plank hath never cramp clos'd up
So stoutly.  Whence like two enraged goats
They clash'd together; them such fury seiz'd.

And one, from whom the cold both ears had reft,
Exclaim'd, still looking downward: "Why on us
Dost speculate so long?  If thou wouldst know
Who are these two, the valley, whence his wave
Bisenzio slopes, did for its master own
Their sire Alberto, and next him themselves.
They from one body issued; and throughout
Caina thou mayst search, nor find a shade
More worthy in congealment to be fix'd,
Not him, whose breast and shadow Arthur's land
At that one blow dissever'd, not Focaccia,
No not this spirit, whose o'erjutting head
Obstructs my onward view: he bore the name
Of Mascheroni: Tuscan if thou be,
Well knowest who he was: and to cut short
All further question, in my form behold
What once was Camiccione.  I await
Carlino here my kinsman, whose deep guilt
Shall wash out mine."  A thousand visages
Then mark'd I, which the keen and eager cold
Had shap'd into a doggish grin; whence creeps
A shiv'ring horror o'er me, at the thought
Of those frore shallows.  While we journey'd on
Toward the middle, at whose point unites
All heavy substance, and I trembling went
Through that eternal chillness, I know not
If will it were or destiny, or chance,
But, passing 'midst the heads, my foot did strike
With violent blow against the face of one.

"Wherefore dost bruise me?" weeping, he exclaim'd,
"Unless thy errand be some fresh revenge
For Montaperto, wherefore troublest me?"

I thus: "Instructor, now await me here,
That I through him may rid me of my doubt.
Thenceforth what haste thou wilt."  The teacher paus'd,
And to that shade I spake, who bitterly
Still curs'd me in his wrath.  "What art thou, speak,
That railest thus on others?"  He replied:
"Now who art thou, that smiting others' cheeks
Through Antenora roamest, with such force
As were past suff'rance, wert thou living still?"

"And I am living, to thy joy perchance,"
Was my reply, "if fame be dear to thee,
That with the rest I may thy name enrol."

"The contrary of what I covet most,"
Said he, "thou tender'st: hence; nor vex me more.
Ill knowest thou to flatter in this vale."

Then seizing on his hinder scalp, I cried:
"Name thee, or not a hair shall tarry here."

"Rend all away," he answer'd, "yet for that
I will not tell nor show thee who I am,
Though at my head thou pluck a thousand times."

Now I had grasp'd his tresses, and stript off
More than one tuft, he barking, with his eyes
Drawn in and downward, when another cried,
"What ails thee, Bocca?  Sound not loud enough
Thy chatt'ring teeth, but thou must bark outright?
"What devil wrings thee?"—"Now," said I, "be dumb,
Accursed traitor! to thy shame of thee
True tidings will I bear."—"Off," he replied,
"Tell what thou list; but as thou escape from hence
To speak of him whose tongue hath been so glib,
Forget not: here he wails the Frenchman's gold.
'Him of Duera,' thou canst say, 'I mark'd,
Where the starv'd sinners pine.'  If thou be ask'd
What other shade was with them, at thy side
Is Beccaria, whose red gorge distain'd
The biting axe of Florence.  Farther on,
If I misdeem not, Soldanieri bides,
With Ganellon, and Tribaldello, him
Who op'd Faenza when the people slept."

We now had left him, passing on our way,
When I beheld two spirits by the ice
Pent in one hollow, that the head of one
Was cowl unto the other; and as bread
Is raven'd up through hunger, th' uppermost
Did so apply his fangs to th' other's brain,
Where the spine joins it.  Not more furiously
On Menalippus' temples Tydeus gnaw'd,
Than on that skull and on its garbage he.

"O thou who show'st so beastly sign of hate
'Gainst him thou prey'st on, let me hear," said I
"The cause, on such condition, that if right
Warrant thy grievance, knowing who ye are,
And what the colour of his sinning was,
I may repay thee in the world above,
If that, wherewith I speak be moist so long."


  1. In Greek myth, Tydeus was one of the Seven Kings Against Thebes. He killed Menalippus, and although Tydeus was mortally wounded himself, he chewed on Menalippus' skull in celebration.

    — Stephen Holliday
  2. Tribaldello de' Zambrasi of Faenza, betrayed another Ghibelline family, the Lambertazzi, over a dispute involving two pigs. The Lambertazzi family had taken refuge in Faenza after being exiled by the Guelph in Bologna. In November, 1280, Tribaldello opened Faenza's gates and let in the Guelph enemies of the Lambertazzi, who slaughtered the Lambertazzis.

    — Stephen Holliday
  3. Ganelon betrayed the Christian forces to the Saracens (Moors) in 778. Based on his counsel, Charlemagne crossed the Pyrenees into France, leaving Roland (referred to in Inferno as Orlando) and his rear-guard troops in Spain to cover Charlemagne's crossing. Roland and his troops were overwhelmed by the Saracens, despite Roland's blowing his horn for help. Ganelon convinced Charlemagne not to aid Roland by saying that Roland was merely blowing his horn while hunting. This lie resulted in the massacre of Roland and his troops. Charlemagne executed Ganelon for treachery by having four horses pull him apart, a torture known as "drawing and quartering."

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Dante refers to Gianni de' Soldanieri, a member of a Ghibelline family. Soldanieri joined the Guelphs after Manfred, son of Frederick II, was defeated by Guelph forces in 1266 at Benevento. The pope, however, came to doubt his motives for switching allegiance and exiled him from Florence. However, some Florentines considered Soldanieri a patriotic fellow Florentine.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Tesauro Beccaria (1258) was a papal legate and abbot of Vallombrosa. He was presumed to be a supporter of the Guelph party in Florence but secretly allied himself with the exiled Ghibellines. He was beheaded by the Guelphs. The pope, in retribution, excommunicated the city of Florence, a major religious crisis for its citizens.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. "'Him of Duera'" is a reference to Buoso de Duera (died 1282 CE), a Ghibelline from Cremona. Taking a bribe from the French, Buoso refused to fight Charles of Anjou and his French troops as they advanced on the Kingdom of Naples. Buoso therefore betrayed the Ghibelline party supporting Manfred, son of Frederick II.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. Bocca degli Abati is from a Ghibelline family that stayed in Florence after the Ghibellines were forced out of Florence in 1258 by the Guelphs, Dante's political party. Bocca joined the Guelph cavalry and fought at the decisive Battle of Montaperti near Siena in 1264 but betrayed the Guelphs by cutting off the hand of a Guelph standard bearer. When the standard fell, the Guelph cavalry, assuming the loss of their flag indicated a serious tactical loss, panicked and retreated. In the panic, the Guelph troops were routed and lost the battle, thereby losing control of Florence. This loss ultimately resulted in Dante's permanently exile from Florence. The Guelphs regained control of Florence and, uncertain of Bocca's betrayal, exiled him rather than execute him. He chose not to identify himself to Dante because his place in the Ninth Circle of Inferno confirmed his heretofore-unconfirmed betrayal.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. The second pouch of the Ninth Circle is where those who betray their countries are punished. "Antenora" is a reference is to the Trojan prince Antenor, who wanted Paris to return Helen to Menelaus for the good of Troy. Homer casts Antenor in a positive light in the Iliad. Dante, following the accounts set forth in medieval histories of the Trojan War, believed that Antenor conspired with the Greeks and therefore placed him here with other traitors to their country.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. On September 4th, 1260, Florence and Siena fought in the Battle of Montaperti. The battle was part of the broader struggle between White and Black Guelphs.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. The weight of the whole world's sins is concentrated down onto the dark center of the Ninth Circle.

    — Stephen Holliday
  11. The "doggish" grins on the faces of the "frore," or freezing, sinners are caused by the unrelenting cold. The image makes Dante shudder with horror.

    — Stephen Holliday
  12. Camiscion is waiting for his cousin Carlino, who is alive at the time of Dante's visit to the Inferno. Carlino will soon arrive in the Ninth Circle, having surrendered the White Guelph stronghold of Piantravigne to the Florentine Black Guelphs.

    — Stephen Holliday
  13. "Camiccione" is Alberto Camiscion, a member of the Pazzi family of the Tuscan town of Valdarno. Alberto killed his cousin Ubertino to take control of two castles they jointly owned.

    — Stephen Holliday
  14. Sassolo Mascheroni was a 13th-century Florentine man who killed his cousin in order to take his inheritance. When he was caught, Mascheroni was stuffed into a barrel full of nails that was rolled through Florence. Then he was beheaded.

    — Stephen Holliday
  15. This refers to Vanni dei Cancellieri, a White Guelph whose nickname was Focaccia. He killed his cousin, a Black Guelph, thereby creating a dispute between the Guelphs which began in Pistoia and came to encompass Florence as well.

    — Stephen Holliday
  16. This line is a allusion to King Arthur's son, Mordred, who attempted overthrow Arthur and was killed by Arthur. Arthur's spear went through Mordred, allowing sunlight to shine through the wound.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. This part of the Inferno is called Caina. This is where traitors against family are punished. It is named for the biblical Cain, son of Adam, who committed the first murder when he killed his brother Abel.

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. This refers to two sons of Count Alberto of Mangona (1203–1250 CE), who owned castles in the Bisenzio valley near Florence. After the death of their father, the two brothers—Napoleone, a Ghibelline, and Alessandro, a Guelph—killed each other over their inheritance.

    — Stephen Holliday
  19. This voice comes from an unidentified traitor who tells Dante to be careful where he walks—a warning Dante will ignore.

    — Stephen Holliday
  20. Dante and Virgil are in the First Ring of the Ninth Circle in which they find those who betrayed their families. The condemned are immersed in ice, their heads bent downward.

    Dante laments that he does not have "rough rhymes[...] to suit/That hole of sorrow." By claiming not to possess the poetic power to describe the events at hand, Dante lends the events added reality and horror. This is a technique Dante uses throughout the Divine Comedy.

    — Stephen Holliday
  21. "Tabernich," now called Monte Tambura, and "Pietrapana," now called Pania della Croce, are the two highest peaks in the Apuan Alps, a mountain range in northern Tuscany.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  22. According to Greek mythology, the Muses assisted Amphion in building the wall of Thebes by playing their lyres so beautifully that the rocks tumbled down from Mount Cithaeron and created the walls themselves. 

    — Jamie Wheeler