Last Updated March 1, 2023.
At the tail end of the previous canto, Dante noticed a figure tearing at the flesh of another man; now, the figure approaches him and introduces himself as Count Ugolino; the man he mauled was Archbishop Roger, a friend in his lifetime who ultimately betrayed him.
Dante contextualizes this statement, explaining that Count Ugolino had once led a powerful Guelph faction but had switched sides at the urging of the Archbishop who, after using Count Ugolino to gain the advantage, betrayed him. The Archbishop imprisoned him and his family in a tower, which eventually came to be known as the "Tower of Famine" due to the horrific conditions they endured.
Following the isolation of the prisoners, the Archbishop commanded that the key be thrown into the river, rendering them unable to escape. After eight days of confinement, the tower was unsealed, only to reveal that all of the prisoners had perished.
The shade of Count Ugolino recounts these events, explaining that one night, he witnessed Archbishop Roger hunting a wolf and its young with his pack of hounds. The following morning, as Count Ugolino’s children cried out in hunger, he gnawed his hands anxiously, hoping for salvation. Yet, none was to come; by the fourth day, his family slowly perished, one after another. On the sixth day, Count Ugolino lost his vision and eventually succumbed to famine, joining his children in death. As such, he sought out the traitorous Archbishop in death, seeking revenge for himself and his family.
While traversing the frigid terrain, the two poets hear a voice calling out to them. Dante offers his assistance to the voice, provided that they identify themselves. The crying shade reveals himself to be Friar Alberigo, who explains that although his soul resides in Ptolomaea, his body is located elsewhere.
He suggests that when Atropos, the Fate who cuts the thread of life, separated his soul from his body, it mistakenly fell into the third region of the Ninth Circle, which is known as Ptolomaea. Additionally, the Friar divulges that his body has been overtaken by a demon, which will remain there until its natural lifespan has concluded. With his tragic story told, he begs for Dante’s help, but the poet refuses.