The Divine Comedy, Inferno "I Did Not Weep, They Wept"

Dante Alighieri

"I Did Not Weep, They Wept"

Context: Dante's great poem takes its name from the poet's definitions of tragedy and comedy. To Dante, a tragedy begins with pleasant scenes and ends in those of a painful or terrible nature; comedy begins painfully and ends in happiness. Thus, for his poem which begins with the terrible scenes of Hell and ascends through Purgatory to the glory of Paradise, he chose the title Divine Comedy. At the midway point of his life (that is, in his thirty-fifth year), the poet finds himself in a dark wood; here he meets the Roman poet Virgil, who offers to conduct him through the underworld. Beatrice, Dante's ideal of womanhood, will then accompany the poet through Purgatory and Paradise. Dante and Virgil accordingly begin their journey; as they progress Dante singles out for description the various great criminals of history. The crimes and corresponding punishments increase in horror as the two travelers progress from one circle to the next. The ninth and lowest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors; it is divided into four rounds, in which the sufferers are buried to various depths in solid ice. The first of these rounds, called Caïna, contains those who have betrayed their kindred; the second round, Antenora, those who have betrayed their country. In crossing this round, Dante encounters a spirit who is engaged in gnawing at the skull of another imprisoned with him, and expresses curiosity. The spirit is that of Count Ugolino, leader of one of three factions seeking control of Pisa in the thirteenth century. He and the Archbishop Ruggieri, leader of a second faction, had combined forces in order to destroy the remaining party. The archbishop then betrayed Ugolino. Ultimately the latter, with two sons and two grandsons, was shut up in the tower and killed by starvation; priests were not allowed to enter, even after he repented, and he died unshriven. Now the spirits of Ugolino and Ruggieri are prisoned together in the ice for eternity, and Ugolino tears at the skull of the archbishop. Ugolino tells Dante of his suffering in the tower:

. . . When I awoke,
Before the dawn, amid their sleep I heard
My sons (for they were with me) weep and ask
For bread. Right cruel art thou, if no pang
Thou feel at thinking what my heart foretold;
And if not now, why use thy tears to flow?
Now had they waken'd; and the hour drew near
When they were wont to bring us food; the mind
Of each misgave him through his dream, and I
Heard, at its outlet underneath lock'd up
The horrible tower: whence, uttering not a word,
I look'd upon the visage of my sons.
I wept not: so all stone I felt within,
They wept: and one, my little Anselm, cried,
'Thou lookest so! Father, what ails thee?' Yet
I shed no tear, nor answer'd all that day
Nor the next night, until another sun
Came out upon the world. When a faint beam
Had to our doleful prison made its way,
And in four countenances I descried
The image of my own, on either hand
Through agony I bit. . . .