In the lowest depths of Hell, Dante and Virgil come upon the souls of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca and his political enemy Archbishop Ruggieri. Both are frozen in ice up to their necks; Ugolino is behind Ruggieri, gnawing on the back of his head.
In life, Ugolino had betryaed Ruggieri in some complex political intrigue, attempting to gain control of Pisa; in retaliation, Ruggieri had locked Ugolino and his sons in a tower. In the tower, Ugolino says, he had a dream that Ruggieri was leading a hunt with some political allies, setting their hounds after a lone wolf and his pups. Here’s how the story ends:
Quando fui desto innanzi la dimane,
pianger senti’ fra ‘l sonno i miei figliuoli
ch’eran con meco, e dimandar del pane.
Ben se’ crudel, se tu già non ti duoli
pensando ciò che ‘l mio cor s’annunziava;
e se non piangi, di che pianger suoli?
Già eran desti, e l’ora s’appressava
che ‘l cibo ne solëa essere addotto,
e per suo sogno ciascun dubitava;
e io senti’ chiavar l’uscio di sotto
a l’orribile torre; ond’ io guardai
nel viso a’ mie’ figliuoi sanza far motto.
Io non piangëa, sì dentro impetrai:
piangevan elli; e Anselmuccio mio
disse: “Tu guardi sì, padre! che hai?”.
Perciò non lagrimai né rispuos’ io
tutto quel giorno né la notte appresso,
infin che l’altro sol nel mondo uscìo.
Come un poco di raggio si fu messo
nel doloroso carcere, e io scorsi
per quattro visi il mio aspetto stesso,
ambo le man per lo dolor mi morsi;
ed ei, pensando ch’io ‘l fessi per voglia
di manicar, di sùbito levorsi
e disser: “Padre, assai ci fia men doglia
se tu mangi di noi: tu ne vestisti
queste misere carni, e tu le spoglia”.
Queta’mi allor per non farli più tristi;
lo dì e l’altro stemmo tutti muti;
ahi dura terra, perché non t’apristi?
Poscia che fummo al quarto dì venuti,
Gaddo mi si gittò disteso a’ piedi,
dicendo: “Padre mio, ché non m’aiuti?”.
Quivi morì; e come tu mi vedi,
vid’ io cascar li tre ad uno ad uno
tra ‘l quinto dì e ‘l sesto; ond’ io mi diedi,
già cieco, a brancolar sovra ciascuno,
e due dì li chiamai, poi che fur morti.
Poscia, più che ‘l dolor, poté ‘l digiuno»
I awoke before the next day had dawned,
And I heard my boys sobbing and asking
For bread in their sleep; they were there too.
You are cruel indeed if this doesn’t pain you
As you think of what my heart forebode.
And if you don’t cry, what will ever make you cry?
Then they woke, and the hour approached
When usually our food was put before us—
But because of our dreams we were doubtful.
Then below I heard them nailing up the door
Of that horrid tower; then I gazed
Into my boys’ faces without a word.
I did not cry; for inside I had turned to stone
They cried. Then my little Anselmo said
“Father, you’re staring—what is it?”
At this, I did not cry, nor did I answer
All that day and into the next night.
Then another sun rose upon the world.
When a little ray of sunlight shone
Into that wretched prison, I could see
On their four faces the same expression as on my own.
I gnawed on my hands in agony,
And they, thinking that I did it from hunger,
Suddenly stood up straight
And said: “Father, we would suffer less
If you ate us instead; you clothed us
In this miserable flesh, and can strip it from us.”
I calmed myself, to not make them sadder;
That day and the next we stayed mute.
Ah, hard earth, why did you not open up?
After that, when the fourth day had come
Gaddo lay himself at my feet, saying
“My Father, why do you not help me?”
Then he died. Then, just as you see me here
I saw them each fall, one by one
Between the fifth day and the sixth.
By then I was blind, clawing my way over each of them
And for two days I called to them who were dead.
And then hunger did what grief could not.
Image: Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux: Ugolino and His Sons (1865–67)