Dante’s thoughts, “Who could describe, even in words set free of metric and rhyme and a thousand times retold, the blood and wounds that now were shown to me! At grief so deep the tongue must wag in vain; the language of our sense and memory lacks the vocabulary of such pain. If one could gather all those who have stood through all of time on Puglia’s fateful soil and wept for the red running of their blood in the war of the Trojans; and in that long war which left so vast a spoil of golden rings, as we find written in Livy, who does not err; along with those whose bodies felt the wet and gaping wounds of Robert Guiscard’s lances; with all the rest whose bones are gathered yet at Ceperano where every last Pugliese turned traitor; and with those from Tagliacozzo where Alardo won without weapons―if all these were gathered, and one showed his limbs run through, another his lopped off, that could not equal the mutilations of the ninth pit’s crew” (1-21).
“Puglia” is a place in the ancient province of Apulia (8). The southeastern area of Italy is the scene of all the fighting in the following passage. It is a bloody slaughter that is used to illustrate this scene. The reference to “That long war … in Livy” is the Punic Wars, from 264 to 146 B.C. (10-12) In 216 B.C. in the battle of Cannae, Livy writes that so many Romans fell that Hannibal gathered three bushels of gold rings from the fingers of the dead and produced them before the Senate at Carthage.
“Robert Guiscard,” from 1015 to 1085, was in the “Paradiso” among the Warriors of God (14). Robert Guiscard fought the Greeks and Saracens in their attempted invasion of Italy. In 1266 the Pugliese under Manfred, Kind of Sicily, were charged with holding the pass at “Ceperano” against Charles of Anjou (16). The Pugliese, under Papal pressure, allowed the French free passage. Charles of Anjou went on to defeat and kill Manfred at Benevento.
In 1268, at “Tagliacozzo” the strife continued (17). Charles of Anjou used a strategy suggested by Alard de Valery and defeated Conradin, nephew of Manfred. “Won without weapons” is an overstatement (18). Alardo suggestion was to conceal the reserve troops. When Conradin seemed to have won and was driving his foes before him, the reserve troops broke on his flank, and defeated Contradin’s out-positioned forces.
Dante to the reader describes the Sowers of Discord, “A wine tun when a stave or cant-bar starts does not split open as wide as one [Dante] saw split from his chin to the mouth with which man farts. Between his legs all of his red guts hung with the heart, the lungs, the liver, the gall bladder, and the shriveled sac that passes shit to the bung. [Dante] stood and stared at him from the stone shelf; he noticed me and opening his own breast with both hands cried: “See how I rip myself! See how Mahomet’s mangled and split open! Ahead of me walks Ali in his tears, his head cleft from the topknot to the chin. And all the other souls that bleed and mourn along this ditch were sowers of scandal and schism: as they tore others apart, so are they torn. Behind us, warden of our mangled horde, the devil who butchers us and sends us marching waits to renew our wounds with his long sword when we have made the circuit of the pit; for by the time we stand again before him all the wounds he gave us last have knit. But who are you [Dante] that gawk down from that sill―probably to put off your own descent to the pit you are sentenced to for your own evil?” (22-45)
“Ali” succeeded Mahomet to the Caliphate, but not until three of the disciples had preceded him (32). In 632, Mahomet died. In 656, Ali assumed the Caliphate.
Virgil to the Sinner replied, “Death has not come for [Dante], guilt does not drive his soul to torment. That [Dante] may experience all while yet alive I, who am dead, must lead [Dante] through the drear and darkened halls of Hell, from round to round: and this is true as my own standing here” (46-51).
Dante observed, “More than a hundred wraiths who were marching under the sill on which we stood, paused at his words and stared at me, forgetting pain in wonder” (52-54).
Mahomet to Dante said, “And if you do indeed return to see the sun again, and soon, tell Fra Dolcino unless he longs to come and march with me he would do well to check his groceries before the winter drives him from the hills and gives the victory to the Novarese” (55-60).
In 1300 “Fra Dolcino” took over the reformist order called the Apostolic Brothers, who preached, the community of property and of women (56). Clement V declared them heretical and ordered a crusade against them. The brotherhood retired with its women to an impregnable position in the hills between Novara and Vercelli. However, the brotherhoods supplies ran out in the course of a year long siege, and in March of 1307, they starved to death. The following June, Dolcino and Margaret of Trent, his “Sister in Christ,” were burned at the stake in Vercelli.
Dante notices, “Another―he had his throat slit, and his nose slashed off as far as the eyebrows, and a wound where one of his ears had been―standing with those what stared at me in wonder from the pit, opened the grinning wound of his red gullet as if it were a mouth, and said through it: “O soul unforfeited to misery and whom―unless I take you for another―I have seen above in our sweet Italy: if ever again you see the gentle plain that slopes down from Vercelli to Marcabo remember Pier da Medicina in pain, and announce this warning to the noblest two of Fano, Messers Guido and Angiolello: that unless our foresight sees what is not true they shall be thrown from their ships into the sea and drown in the raging tides near La Cattolica to satisfy a tyrant’s treachery. Neptune never saw so gross a crime in all the seas from Cyprus to Majorca, not even in pirate raids, nor the Argive time. The one-eyed traitor, lord of the demesne whose hill and streams one who walks here beside me will wish eternally he had never seen, will call them to a parley, but behind sweet invitations he will work it so they need not pray against Focara’s wind” (64-90).
“Vercelli” is the most western town in Lombardy (74). “Marcabo” stands near the mouth of the Po (74). The “Warning” is regarding Malatestino da Rimini in a move to annex the city of Fano, he invited Guido del Cassero and Angioletto da Carignano to a conference at La Cattolica, a point on the Adriatic between Fano and Rimini. At Malatestino’s orders Guido and Angioletto were thrown overboard off Focara, a headland with dangerous currents. Off Focara, sailors used to offer prayers for a safe crossing.
“Cyprus” and “Majorca” are islands at opposite ends of the Mediterranean (83). “Nor the Argive time” refers to the Greeks that were raiders and pirates (84).
The “One who walks here beside me” is the Roman Tribune Curio (86). The Roman Tribune Curio was banished from Rome by Pompey and joined Caesar’s forces, advising Caesar not to cross the Rubicon, which was then the boundary between Gaul and the Roman Republic. The crossing of Caesar’s forces constituted invasion, and thus began the Roman Civil War. The Rubicon flows near Rimini.
Dante to the Sower of Discord responds, “If you would have me bear your name to time, show me the one who found the sight of that land so harsh, and let me hear his story and his name” (91-94). The Sower of Discord to Dante responds, This is the one; he cannot speak. This outcast settled Caesar’s doubts that day beside the Rubicon by telling him: ‘A man prepared is a man hurt by delay'” (96-99). That man was Curio. Curio had a “Bloody stump in his throat in place of the tongue which once had dared to speak so recklessly!” (101-102)
A Sower of Discord screams, “Remember, too, Mosca dei Lamberti, alas, who said ‘A thing done has an end!’ and with those words planted the fields of war with Tuscan dead” (105-108). In Canto VI Dante to Ciacco asked, for news of Mosca dei Lamberti as a man of good works. Now Dante finds him, Mosca’s merit was canceled by his greater sin. Buondelmonte dei Buondelmonti had insulted the honor of the Amidei by breaking off his engagement to a daughter of that line in favor of a girl of the Donati. When the Amidei met to discuss what should be done, Mosca spoke for the death of Buondelmonte. Upon Mosca’s advice, the Amidei acted, and from that murder sprang the bloody feud between the Guelphs and Ghibellines of Florence.
Dante to the reader saw, “It there; I seem to see it still―a body without a head, that moved along like all the others in that spew and spill. It held the severed head by its own hair, swinging it like a lantern in its hand; and the head looked at us and wept in its despair. It made itself a lamp of its own head, and they were two in one and one in two; how this can be, He knows who so commanded. And when it stood directly under us it raised the head at arm’s length toward our bridge the better to be heard, and swaying thus it cried: “O living soul in this abyss, see what a sentence has been passed upon me, and search all Hell for one to equal this! When you return to the world, remember me: I am Bertrand de Born, and it was I who set the young king on to mutiny, son against father, father against son as Achitophel set Absalom and David; and since I parted those who should be one in duty and in love, I bear my brain divided from its source within this trunk; and walk here where my evil turns to pain, an eye for an eye to all eternity: thus is the law of Hell observed in me” (118-143).
“Bertrand de Born, from 1140 to 1215, a great knight and master of the troubadours of Provence (134). Bertrand is said to have instigated a quarrel between Henry II of England and his son Prince Henry, called “The Young King” because he was crowned within his father’s lifetime. “Achitophel” is one of David’s counselors, who deserted him to assist the rebellious Absalom (137).
Alighieri, Dante, “The Inferno,” Trans. John Ciardi, Signet Classics, New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., New York, New York, 2009, Print.