Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 753
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 grandson, who was also known as Il Brigata; 2) the Count’s grandson Anselm; 3) the Count’s son Gaddo; and 4) his son Hugh. The four were young men, not mere children.
The mention of moving Gorgona and Caprara from the River Arno are references to moving two islands from the water; these islands belonged to Pisans. Their conquest by the Florentine army involved giving them to the Florentine army.
The two poets pass into the new region of Ptolomaea, where reside the Traitors to Guests. Dante promises to help one shade who cries out if the shade will reveal his identity. The shade gives his name as Friar Alberigo. This man had argued with his brother Manfred. After Manfred became angry and struck Alberigo in the face, Alberigo professed to have forgiven his brother. Alberigo invited his brother to his home; armed people are offered to attack and kill Manfred when Alberigo shouts, “Bring on the fruit!” Alberigo is a traitor to his guests and, therefore, resides in Ptolomaea. Particular to Ptolomaea, a man may be brought there still alive with his body inhabited by a demon.
Ser Branca d’ Oria is a Ghibelline who invited his father-in-law Michael Zanche (mentioned in Canto XXII) to a dinner party. At the dinner party Zanche is killed.
The shade asks Dante to undo his eyes, but Dante does not do so for the same reason mentioned in Canto VIII: Dante is accepting the judgment of God and is placing himself on God’s side.
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