Dante's Inferno Canto 33 Summary and Analysis
by Dante Alighieri

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Canto 33 Summary and Analysis

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Count Ugolino della Gherardesca: Guelph leader who ate human flesh; imprisoned in the Tower of Famine; saw sons and grandsons starve

Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini: Imprisoned Count Ugolino

Friar Alberigo: Soul in Patolomaea, where traitors to their guests reside

Ser Branca d’ Oria: Shade in Patolomaea responsible for murder

The shade who had eaten of the body of another person begins to speak to Dante. He tells Dante that he is Count Ugolino and that his victim is Archbishop Roger. In life he had trusted Roger, but Roger had betrayed him.

(An explanation of the above helps the reader to understand the summary. Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his grandson Nino Dei Visconti headed two rival, powerful Guelph parties in 1288. Ugolino turned traitor and joined ranks with the Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini. As soon as the Archbishop and his forces were able to drive Nino out, however, the Archbishop turned on Ugolino. The Guelphs placed Ugolino and four of his sons and grandsons in a tower, which the people later called “the Tower of Famine.”

The Archbishop ordered the key to be thrown in the river and the prisoners were isolated. After eight days the tower was opened and all the occupants were dead.

In the canto, the shade tells Dante that one night he saw Roger with his hounds chasing a wolf and its young. In the morning the Count’s children cried for food, but the Count listened to their tears as one made of stone. He heard his little Anselm ask what was to become of them. Time passed and still they had no food. The Count gnawed at his own hands in pain for his children. They, who thought he was hungry, begged him to eat them rather than himself. On the fourth day Gaddo died. Later Il Brigata, Hugh, and Anselm died. By the sixth day the Count was blind; later he died also from famine.

As the two poets move through this icy region, they hear the voice of one crying out to them. Dante says that he will help that one if the one crying will tell them his name. The crying shade says he is Friar Alberigo. He says that his soul is in Ptolomaea, but his body is elsewhere. The Friar speculates that when his soul was separated from his body by the shears of Atropos, it fell to Region iii of Circle IX; this region is called Ptolomaea. He says also that the body is occupied by a fiend who will remain there until its years are up. The Friar says that the shade wintering here until the years of his body are up is Ser Branca d’ Oria.

The shade asks Dante to open his frozen eyes for him, but Dante does not.

Discussion and Analysis
The wolf and its young are symbolic of Ugolino and his sons and grandsons, even though the four “young” victims were actually not children. The four victims were 1) Nino, the Count’s...

(The entire section is 753 words.)