Reading Danté's Inferno 2015: Cantos XXXI to XXXIV

Canto XXI – Circle Nine (Cocytus) – Treachery

Danté takes the rebuke at the end of Canto XXX just as “we turned our backs on the dismal valley.” They hear a “horn-blast that would have made the loudest thunderclap seem faint” and turn to look at “a range of lofty towers . . . Master, tell me, what city is this?”

Virgil tells him “your eyesight is deceived by distance . . . these are not towers, but giants and, from the navel down, each stands behind the bank that rings the pit.”

They approach one who just talks nonsense. Virgil says, “This is Nimrod, because of whose vile plan the world no longer speaks a single tongue” to remind readers of his association with the Tower of Babel and the resulting confusion of language. Virgil brushes off Nimrod and they proceed.

They see the chained giant Epihialtes who “joined the great assault when giants put gods in fear” during classical times. In other words, he tried to rebel against the gods—not a good move.

Antaeus, another classical giant famous for losing to Hercules is next (remember Danté borrows from many literary and mythological sources), and they will use him as an elevator to “set us down in the very depth of sin.”

Virgil gets Antaeus to help out by telling him Danté “still can make you famous in the world, because he lives, and hopes for years of living.” In other words, he can make you famous. Antaeus complies setting them “gently on the bottom that swallows Lucifer with Judas.”

Canto XXXII – Circle Nine (Cocytus), Rounds One (Caina) and Two (Antenora) – Treachery

Circle nine is also broken into parts, like circle eight. Instead of boligas, however the different sections are called rounds.

And you thought Hell was full of fire and brimstone. Danté can’t “describe the very bottom of the universe.”
A voice says “Watch where you walk. Step so as not to tread upon our heads.” Danté looks down and “under my feet I saw a lake so frozen that it seemed more glass than water.” Those sinners were trapped iced in up to their mouths. This is the ice of circle nine, Cocytus.

Round One – Caina, named after Cain who killed his own brother. Danté asks a pair whose hair has iced together, “Who are you?” They look up and “dripped tears down to their lips, and icy air then froze those tears” just before they began ramming their heads against one another. These are two brothers who hate each other and are trapped frozen together, forever.

One brother, Camiscion de’ Pazzi, points out Mordred who killed King Arthur (in the French novel Morte d’ Arthur) and Focaccia, a Guelph, who murdered various relatives, and Sassol Mascheroni, a Florneintine, who murdered a relative over inheritance. But worst of all hasn’t arrive yet, one Carlino who will be arriving soon after betraying a White Guelph stronghold for money.

“After that I saw a thousand faces purple with the cold, so that I shudder still—and always will—when I come to a frozen ford.”

Round two – Antenora, named after Antenora of Troy, a traitor who betrayed his city to the Greeks. Danté kicks a sinner hard in the face. “Why pick on me?” he asks.

Danté questions him and discovers it is Bocca degli Abati who is a “‘vile traitor . . . to your shame shall I bring back true news of you.’” Degli Abati was a member of the Florentine Guelph army who cut off the arm of the standard-bearer ensuring a disastrous defeat of the Guelphs at the hands of the Ghibellines (remember, Danté is a Guelph).

A couple more traitors are revealed, Tesauro de’ Beccheria who treacherously assisted the Florentine Ghibellines and was beheaded and Gianni de’ Soldanieri , another Ghebelline who betrayed his own party after their defeat at Benevento.

Two men are stuck in the same hole where one gnaws on the other’s head for eternity as a “famished man will bite into his bread.” And, of course, Danté wants to speak with them.

Canto XXXIII - Circle Nine (Cocytus), Round Three (Ptolomea) – Treachery

Count Ugolino “raised his mouth from his atrocious meal, that sinner, and wiped it on the hair of the very head he had been ravaging” to tell his gruesome tale. Archbishop Ruggieri whose head Ugolino is gnawing on, betrayed their cities and then Ruggieri cooked up some excuse to be rid of his partner-in-crime. He has Ugolino,“his two sons and two grandsons locked in a tower.”

At one point during their captivity, Ugolino “awoke before the dawn of the day I heard my children, in that prison with me, weep in their sleep and ask for bread.” But instead of food “down below I heard them nailing shut the entry to the dreadful tower.” Ugolino’s sorrow “made me gnaw my hands” and the children imaging him starving said, “Father, we would suffer less if you would feed on us.”

On the fourth day, one of this children died, then another “on the fifth and the sixth.” He was blinded from hunger and “for two days called to them, though they were dead. Then fasting had more power than grief.” You can guess what that means; his hunger overcame his revulsion of human flesh.

Ugolino breaks off to gnaw at Ruggieri’s skull. Danté is moved, believing that Pisa “should not have put his children to such torture.”

Danté then feels a “breath of wind” even though “the cold had made all feeling leave my face.” Virgil says only that “your eyes will give an answer, seeing the source that puts out such a blast.” In other words, the devil is near.

The two move farther along and reach the next round, Ptolomea. This round seems to punish those who deliver treachery to guests. Ptolomey invited his father-in-law and brothers-in-law to a banquet, and once they had imbibed some alcohol, he slew them. And you thought you had treacherous relatives?

Next they meet Fra. Alberigo who invited some relatives to dinner with whom he had a dispute. Once the fruit course was called for assassins fell on his guests “here, for figs, I am repaid in dates.” But, before he made it to hell, his “body [was] taken by a devil, who was then in control until the time allotted it has run.” He says the shade he is stuck with still walks the earth as one Branca d’Oria, a man who murdered his father-in-law. Fiction is stranger than real life, d’Oria was still alive when this was written, and outlived Danté dying in 1325, living well into his nineties. I wonder if he enjoyed his vacation?

Fra. Alberigo asks Danté to clear the ice from his eyes three times during this discussion, which Danté has promised, but once he gets what he wants, he simply refuses. Is that Christian behavior? Or is Danté finally fed up with all these sinners.

Canto XXXIV - Circle Nine (Cocytus), Round Four (Judecca)– Treachery

The final canto of The Inferno opens with the Latin phrase “Vexilla regis produent inferno” meaning “The banners of the King of Hell drew closer.”

In the final round of the circle “the shades were wholly covered [by the ice], show through like bits of straw in glass,” like imperfections stuck in every which way.

Virgil points out Dis (the classical name for the king of hell), and Danté became “faint and frozen” neither alive or dead, just “deprived of either state.”

Satan is a giant, and “if he was fair is hideous now, and raised his brow in scorn of his creator.” He has three faces; one in front, the other two above each shoulder, “and all the three united at the crest.” They are winged, three sets “featherless and fashioned like a bat’s wings. When he flapped them, he sent forth three separate winds, the sources of the ice upon Cocytus.”

Satan is chewing on three sinners. The middle head contains the “soul up there who bears the greatest pain . . . is Judas Iscariot who has his head within and outside flails his legs.” Judas betrayed Jesus to the Romans.

The other mouths hold Brutus and Cassius, the betrayers of Julius Caeser, and in Danté’s view, the destroyers of Rome and Italy.

So the worst, final, deepest, coldest, circle of hell is reserved for those who are traitors to their lords, kings, and benefactors.

Virgil tells Danté night is rising in the sky. It is time for us to leave, for we have seen it all.” And the two scamper down the body of Satan through the center of the Earth and arrive at “a natural dungeon, rough underfoot and wanting light.” They follow the sound of a stream until they step outside and “see, through a round opening, a few of those fair things the heavens bear. Then we came forth, to see again the stars.”

Congratulations! You have made your way back out to see the stars. Would you go on through purgatory? How do you feel about Danté and Virgil as characters? Do you feel sorry for any of the sinners? Which ones? How about Virgil? Do you believe he should be consigned to limbo?

Treachery against relatives, home and country, guests, lords and benefactors is the worst of all sins according to Danté. Do you see it the same way? Is treachery worse than murder, pandering, theft? Why or why not?


  1. The last Canto of the Inferno introduces us to the Lord of all evil Satan aka Lucifer aka The Devil aka fill in the Blank. Lucifer is in the center of Hell and he can be considered its Warden as well as its greatest inmate. He is eternally frozen in Ice and Munching on the three worst traitors in Dante's world Judas Iscariot, Brutus , and Cassius but this both a punishment for the souls as well as Lucifer himself. Lucifer despises humanity and this hate is what caused him to rebel against God committing two of the worst types of treachery The betrayal of God and the betrayal of your family. But is this the worst sin one can commit. In my opinion yes because the general idea of treachery is a premeditated act against those who you are obligated or connected to by blood, friendship, or cause. You put your own ideas and desires above others and are willing to renounce trust, love, and duty to achieve it. While I admit their are times when Betrayal seems justified but these are subjective to interpretation. One persons freedom fighters are anothers rebels or terrorists. As a concept however Dante is correct in labeling it as the worst sin someone can commit.


  2. Of course I would go on through purgatory. Although Purgatory holds the promise of more suffering, hope for something greater leads men through suffering all the time. Purgatory symbolizes penance for one’s sins, and it is through purgatory one must go to reach forgiveness and his/her reward. As characters, I like both Dante and Virgil. Virgil for his wisdom, Dante for his resemblance of the human race at large. His ability to learn and change as a result of his experiences is a symbol of hope throughout the “Inferno.” I don’t really feel sorry for any of the sinners, though some of the punishments may seem disproportional to the crimes they committed. I do feel sorry for Virgil. His inability to enter heaven because of a logistical error seems pretty silly to me.

    I see dishonesty as the worst trait a person can have, and betrayal is simply a manifestation of dishonesty. However, as a crime in itself, murder is worse. To take a person’s life, to remove all the hope for improvement and happiness, is the worst crime a person can commit. I would have thought that Dante would have seen it this way as well. “The Divine Comedy” is really about repentance and hope, and because the taking of life is a destruction of hope, I would imagine that Dante would be utterly repulsed by it. Obviously he does not approve of murder, but his focus on betrayal is puzzling.

  3. I like Dante as a character, but I feel he does not see himself ending up in hell. Perhaps, the sins that he might end up on might be in the less gruesome circles.
    He does have a kind heart for the suffering, but he seems not afraid of the punishments that relate to the sin. For example, in circle eighth, the corrupt politicians are push down the boiling pot that is pitch black. When they attempt to stick their heads out, a Malebranche pushes them down into the boiling something? Does Dante see himself in this circle that he relaxes the sin to confirm make it easier for him to survive? It seems likely.
    In fact, he made his heroes become more appealing to anyone. He puts them in "limbo", which I do not believe is in the bible or believed by any Christians. It might not be the best place, but it is better than the rest of the circles. I don’t think he believed that anyone that he does not like will go to hell and the people who he likes will not or be in a pleasant place. I also notice that there is no circle for hypocrites, which I believe he is guilty for. How can put it there? He does not think it is a sin, yet, he seems the guiltiest of it. He is a leader of a community. He must have done something that puts him in any of the circle.
    Maybe, however, this could be his way to repent. Like writers who writes Christian-end-of-the-word novels, he might be trying to convince himself to repent and for everyone to repent. It is part revenge book and part mid-life crisis book (or post mid-life crisis).

  4. Treachery is not always worse than murder, since people can rebuild trust even though sometimes it may not always be that easy to rebuild it immediately, but murder is permanent, since once a person dies, that person can never come back to life again. Treachery can be worse than pandering, since pandering refers to just a negative desire, whereas treachery like I had mentioned earlier refers to being deceitful. Treachery is not always worse than theft, since theft refers to something being stolen.

  5. I believe that treachery is not the worse sin one can commit. For some going against someone may be the only choice they have to make or that they feel comfortable making especially if the person they are going against has different views that they have. I have always believed that murder worse than many other sins and I definitely believe it is worse than treachery. The reason for this is because I have always thought murder as someone taking an innocent persons life for no reason at all. I believe that Dante has a fair outlook on things but I do have to disagree and say that treachery is not the worse sin that one can commit.

  6. I remember having a dream about going to Purgatory to save a friend and barter with Satan (Great guy) and tell me that my soul does not belong "Here", then I get kicked out but with my friend. I believe in loyalty and it's the most important connection with friends or family and betrayal is (maybe)considered a sin because of these connections we made with them, like trust and honesty.

  7. I, personally would not go through with purgatory.I think all that I would see, assuming it's the same as Dante described it being,I would definitely not want to go through with purgatory.I do not feel sorry for any of the sinners, they all got what they deserved, as harsh as it sounds, what they did is true sin.Virgil is the only one that should be stuck in limbo, other sinners deserved their place in hell, Like Brutus and Judas.Treachery is pretty bad, but murder is probably worse.Murder is taking a human life in cold blood.Other crimes seem more severe than a simple treachery.Yes, Judas did commit treachery towards Jesus Christ,but in todays' world we have other problems and crime.Murder and child molesters is by far worse than betraying someone...


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