Dante to the reader considers, “If I had rhymes as harsh and horrible as the hard fact of that final dismal hole which bears the weight of all the steeps of Hell, I might more full press the sap and substance from my conception; but since I must do without them, I begin with some reluctance” (1-6).
The reference to bearing the “Weight of all the steeps of Hell” refers to the base from which all the steeps rise (3). Symbolically, the base is the total and finality of all guilt.
Regarding Circle Nine, the Cocytus, Round One, Caina, and Round Two, Antenora, Dante does not consider it an “Easy undertaking, I say, to describe the bottom of the Universe; nor is it for tongues that only babble child’s play” (7-9). Dante asks for help from “Those Ladies of the Heavenly Spring who helped Amphion wall Thebes, assist my verse, that the word may be the mirror of the thing. O most miscreant rabble, you who keep the stations of that place whose name is pain, better had you been born as goats or sheep!
“Those Ladies” are Muses (10). The Muses so inspired Amphion’s hand upon the lyre that the music charmed blocks of stone out of Mount Cithaeron, and the blocks formed themselves into the walls of Thebes.
Virgil and Dante “Stood now in the dark pit of the well, far down the slope below the Giant’s feet, and while I still stared up at the great wall, I heard a voice cry: ‘Watch which way you turn: take care you do not trample on the heads of the forworn and miserable brethren'” (16-21).
Dante to the reader describes the scene, “Whereat I turned and saw beneath my feet and stretching out ahead, a lake so frozen it seemed to be made of glass. So thick a sheet never yet hit the Danube’s winter course, nor, far away beneath the frigid sky, locked the Don up in its frozen source: for were Tanbernick and the enormous peak of Pietrapana to crash down on it, not even the edges would so much as creak” (22-30). Please note: “Tanbernick” mountain has not been identified, but “Pietrapana” mountain is known as “La Pania” in Tuscany (28-29).
Dante to the reader describes the sinners, “The way frogs sit to croak, their muzzles leaning out of the water, at the time and season when the peasant woman dreams of her day’s gleaning―Just so the livid dead are sealed in place up to the part at which they blushed for shame, and they beat their teeth like storks. Each holds his face bowed toward the ice, each of them testifies to the cold with his chattering mouth, to his heart’s grief with tears that flood forever from his eyes” (31-39).
Dante continues to describe, “When I stared about me, I looked down and at my feet I saw two clamped together so tightly that the hair of their heads had grown together. ‘Who are you? Who lie so tightly breast to breast?’ They strained their necks and when they had raised their heads so if to reply, the tears their eyes had managed to contain up to that time gushed out, and the cold froze them between the lids, sealing them shut again tighter than any clamp grips wood to wood, and mad with pain, they fell to butting heads like billy-goats in a sudden savage mood” (40-51).
The “Two clamped together” are Alessandro and Napoleone, Counts of Mangona (41). Alessandro and Napoleone are brothers, and inherited a castle in the Val di Bisenzio. Alessandro was a Guelph and Napoleone was a Ghibelline. Alessandro and Napoleone were at odds on all things and finally killed one another in a squabble over their inheritance and politics.
One of the A wraith “Who lay to one side and below, and who had lost both ears to frostbite, said, his head still bowed: ‘Why do you watch us so? If you wish to know who they are who share one doom, they owned the Bisenzio’s valley with their father, whose name was Albert. They sprang from one womb, and you may search through all Caina’s crew without discovering in all this waste a squab more fit for the aspic than these two; not him whose breast and shadow a single blow of the great lance of King Arthur pierced with light; nor yet Focaccia; nor this one fastened so into the ice that his head is all I see, and whom, if you are Tuscan, you know well―his name on the earth was Sossol Macheroni. And I―to tell you all and so be through―was Camicion de’Pazzi. I wait for Carlin beside whose guilt my sins will shine like virtue'” (52-69).
The reference to “Him whose breast and shadow a single blow of the great lance of King Arthur” is Mordred, King Arthur’s traitorous nephew (61). Mordred tried to kill King Arthur, but the king struck him a single blow of his lance. When the lance was withdrawn, a shaft of light passed through the gaping wound and split the shadow the falling traitor, Mordred.
“Focoaccia” is of the Cacellieri of Pistoia (63). Focaccia murdered his cousin, and may have been the principal cause of a great feud that divided the Cancellieri, and split the Guelphs into the White and Black parties.
“Sassol Mascheroni” is of the Toschi of Florence (66). Sassol was appointed guardian of one of his nephews and murdered him to get the inheritance for himself.
Alberto “Camicion de’Pazzi” is of Valdarno (68). Alberto murdered a kinsman. Alberto murdered Carlino de’Pazzi. Alberto was charged with defending for the Whites the castle of Piantravigne in Valdarno, but surrendered it for a bribe. Alberto belongs in the next lower circle. The next lower circle is Antenora. Antenora was a traitor to his country. When Antenora arrives in the next lower circle his greater sin makes Alberto seem almost virtuous in comparison.
Dante left Caina to Antenora, and “Saw a thousand faces discolored so by cold, I shudder yet and always will when I think of those frozen places. As [Virgil and Dante] approached the center of all weight, where [Dante] went shivering in eternal shade, whether it was [his] will, or chance, or fate, [Dante] cannot say, but as [Dante] trailed [Virgil] among those heads, [his] foot struck violently against the face of one. Weeping, it cried: ‘Why do you kick me? If you were not sent to wreak a further vengeance for Montapertis, why do you add this to my other torment?'” (70-81)
“The center of all weight” in Dante’s cosmology is the bottom of Hell, and is the center of earth (73). As the center of the earth, it was considered to be the center of the universe and of all gravity. Symbolically, “The center of all weight” is the focal point of all guilt. On one level, gravity, weight and evil are equivalents for they are what ties man to the earth. At the center, Satan is fixed forever in eternal ice. Up from the center is the soul’s journey to salvation. The journey to salvation commences when the soul has realized the hideousness of sin.
When Dante’s foot struck violently “Against the face of one,” it stuck Bocca degli Abbati, a traitorous Florentine (78). At the battle of Montaperti, Bocca hacked off the hand of the Florentine standard bearer. The cavalry, lacking a standard around which it could rally, was soon routed.
Dante to Virgil said, “Grant me a moment’s pause to rid myself of a doubt concerning this one; then you may hurry me at your own pace” (82-84). Virgil stopped, and “Through the volley of foul abuse the wretch poured out, Dante said: ‘Who are you who curse others so?’ And the wretch said, ‘And who are you who go through the dead larder of Antenora kicking the cheeks of others so hard, that were you alive, you could not kick harder?'” (85-90) Dante to the wretch replied, “I am alive, and if you seek fame it may be precious to you above all else that my notes on this descent include your name” (91-93). The wretch responded, “Exactly the opposite is my wish and hope. Let me be; for it’s little you know of how to flatter on this icy slope” (94-96)
Dante “Grabbed the hair of his dog’s-ruff and said: ‘Either you tell me truly who you are, or you won’t have a hair left on your head'” (97-99). And the wretch replied, “Not though you snatch me bald. I swear I will not tell my name nor show my face. Not though you rip until my brain lies bare” (100-102).
Dante “Had a good grip on his hair; already [he] yanked out more than one fistful of it, while the wretch yelped, but kept his face turned from [Dante]” (103-105). Another wretch said: “Bocca, what is it ails you? What the Hell’s wrong? Isn’t it bad enough to hear you bang your jaws? Must you bark too?” (106-108)
Dante cried, “Now filthy traitor, say no more! For to your shame, be sure I shall bear back a true report of you” (109-111). The wretch replied, “Say anything you please but go away. And if you do get back, don’t overlook that pretty one who had so much to say just now. Here he laments the Frenchman’s price. ‘I saw Buoso da Duera,’ you can report, ‘where the bad salad is kept crisp on ice'” (112-117).
“Buoso da Duera” is of Cremona (116). In 1265, Charles of Anjou marched against Manfred and Naples, and Buoso da Duera was sent out in charge of a Ghibelline army to oppose the passage of one of Charles’ armies. However, Buoso da Duera accepted a bribe, and let the French pass unopposed. This event took place near Parma.
The wretch continues, “And if you’re asked who else was wintering here, Beccheria, whose throat was slit by Florence, is there beside you. Gianni de’Soldanier is further down, I think, with Ganelon, and Tebaldello, who opened the gates of Paenza and let Bologna steal in with the dawn” (118-123).
“Beccheria” is Tesauro dei Beccheria of Pavia, Abbot of Vallombrosa and Papal Legate of Alexander IV in Tuscany (119). In 1258, the Florentine Guelphs cut off Beccheria’s head for plotting with the expelled Ghibellines.
“Gianni de’Soldanier” is a Florentine Ghibelline of an ancient noble family (120). In 1265, during the riots that occurred under the Two Jovial Friars, Gianni deserted his party and became a leader of the commoners or Guelphs. In placing him in Antenora, Dante makes no distinction between turning on one’s country and turning on one’s political party.
“Ganelon” betrayed Roland in the story, “Song of Roland” (121). Roland was betrayed to the Saracens. “Tebaldello” is Tebaldello de’Zambrasi of Faenza (122). On November 13, 1280, Tebaldello opened the city gates and delivered Faenza to the Bolognese Guelphs in order to revenge himself on the Ghibelline family of the Lambertazzi. In 1274, Lambertazzi fled from Bologna to take refuge in Faenza.
Dante then saw, “Two souls together in a single hole, and so pinched in by the ice that one head made a helmet for the other. As a famished man chews crusts―so the one sinner sank his teeth into the other’s nape at the base of the skull, gnawing his loathsome dinner. Tydeus in his final raging hour gnawed Menalippus’ head with no more fury than this one gnawed at skull and dripping gore” (124-132).
“Tydeus … Menalippus” is recounted by Statius in the “Thebaid” (130-131). Tydeus killed Menalippus in battle but fell himself mortally wounded. As Tydeus lay dying, he had Menalippus’ head brought to him and fell to gnawing it in his dying rage.
Dante to Tydeus said, “You there, who show so odiously your hatred for that other, tell me why on this condition: that if in what you tell me you seem to have a reasonable complaint against him you devour with such foul relish, I, knowing who you are, and his soul’s taint, may speak your cause to living memory, God willing the power of speech be left to me” (133-140).
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.