Canto 13 Summary and Analysis
Harpies: Voracious creatures with bodies of birds and heads of women
Bleeding Trees: Trees containing the souls of suicide victims
“Two that ran”: A reference to Lano of Siena (who sold his estates with other young men in a club and who wasted his money and life) and to Jacomo di Sant Andrea (who burned his own home for fun)
Pier delle Vigne: Accused of plotting against Fredrick II; took own life after being blinded and imprisoned; deemed guilty of only suicide—not betrayal—by Dante since in upper level
Dante and Virgil find themselves in a dark forest which is not green but dark. In this forest are Harpies—creatures with the bodies of birds and the heads of women. Dante finds that the trees contain the spirits of those who were suicide victims. He listens to their stories of being imprisoned in the trees and of feeling pain when the leaves are plucked or the limbs broken. Dante recognizes some of these spirits; the one who held the key to Fredrick’s heart tells Dante his sorrowful story, which is interrupted by the two hounded spirits “Two that ran.”
Discussion and Analysis
Originally in mythology the Harpies were personifications of the storm winds; later they became the bird-women with piercing cries.
Since those who have committed suicide had refused life, they are deprived of a human body in the pit. Since they used up their energy in life hating themselves, their energy is drained and their bodies are sapped of fertility. The dry, brittle trees which imprison them reflect this lack of energy, or sap.
In the Canto the “Two that ran” is a reference to both Lano of Siena and to Jacomo di Sant Andrea. Lano sold his estates, like the other young men in a club; he threw away this money and his life. Jacomo di Sant Andrea was also a member of this club; he burned his own home and the homes of others for amusement.
The “one who held the keys” is a reference to Pier delle Vigne, who was accused of plotting against Frederick II, in 1249. After being tortured, blinded, and imprisoned, Pier took his own life. Since Dante placed Pier in the upper level of the pit, he evidently deemed him guilty of only suicide—not betrayal.