The Sin of Silence

“In the Inferno, Dante Alighieri, a critic in his day of Church leadership, famously put the souls of at least three popes in hell, as well as countless other clerics who go nameless, their faces blackened beyond recognition. However, one cleric he does meet along the way is Ruggieri degli Ubaldini (d. 1295), the archbishop of Pisa, who notoriously arrested the city’s strongman, Ugolino della Gherardesca (1220-1289), along with several members of his family, and starved them to death in a tower.

“Dante’s fantastical encounter with Ruggieri and Ugolino in the Inferno takes place on a vast lake of ice near the bottom of hell. Here, frozen for eternity, are the souls of sinners condemned for treason: some for betraying their city or country, and others for betraying their kinsmen. Dante is not far from the bottom of the pit, where he will soon come face to face with Satan, a giant demon, frozen in ice to his waist, who eternally chews on the bodies of three of history’s most infamous traitors, Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed Julius Caesar, and Judas Iscariot. Three pairs of legs dangle from the demon’s mouth.

“As Dante pushes on across the lake, he sees two souls frozen in the same hole. They are encased in ice up to their necks. One of them is repeatedly sinking his teeth into the skull of the other, like a dog gnawing a bone. He is startled by Dante’s presence. He takes his mouth from his “savage meal” and wipes his lips on the other’s hair. He introduces himself as Count Ugolino. ‘And this,’ he says of the other, ‘is the Archbishop Ruggieri.’

“Ugolino and Ruggieri were Dante’s contemporaries. Both where partisans in a conflict between two armed factions that roiled much of Italy in the thirteenth century, and both were accused of treason, Ugolino, Pisa’s podestà or political leader, for switching sides in the conflict, and Ruggieri, a sometime ally of Ugolino’s, for rising up against him and for capturing him by deception. Dante knew the story, which, when passed through his poetic imagination, comes down to us as one the most disturbing passages in the Inferno.” […]    –James Soriano, Crisis Magazine, October 8, 2018

Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Journey Without End by Ian Thomson (Review)

“None of us today would have heard of Beatrice di Portinari had Dante, Italy’s greatest poet, not decided to retain the suggestive name (‘Beatrice’ signifies blessings) of a Florentine girl whom he conveniently first met at the age of nine – forms of three represent the Trinity in The Divine Comedy’s innovative terza rima – as his celestial Guide. Beatrice takes over from Virgil. No pagan, however distinguished, may enter Dante’s paradise. Beatrice is the initially reproachful (‘What right had you to climb the mountain?’) but eventually redemptive spirit who draws the purified poet into the heart of the eternal rose within which, in the bliss-filled closing lines of The Divine Comedy, Dante himself becomes annihilated and immortalised.” [. . .]    –Miranda Seymour, The Guardian, August 12, 2018

Watercolor Lithograph by “Mata”

watercolor-lithograph-mata-cartoon-for-la-nazione

Bettino Ricasoli as Count Ugolino attacks Urbano Rattazzi, who ousted him in 1892 from his leading role in the government. This piece was on exhibit at the “150 Years of La Nazione” in Florence, Italy at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, March 7 – April 30, 2009.

Pdf close-ups of the re-written terzine:
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Contributed by Kavi Montanaro

Kathryn Harrison, While They Slept: An Inquiry into the Murder of a Family (2008)

kathyrn-harrison-while-they-slept-an-inquiry-into-the-murder-of-a-family-2008“In the Inferno of Dante, Count Ugolino, forced to cannibalize his children’s corpses, is led to narrate the horror by Dante’s offer to retell the story up in the world above. Genesis 19 not only tells the story of incest between Lot and his daughters, but proceeds to name their offspring: Moab and Ben-ammi, and the Moabites and Ammonites descended from them. Abel’s blood ‘cries out’ with its story, and the fratricide Cain is marked.” [. . .]    –Robert Pinsky, New York Times, June 8, 2008

David Owen, “The Afterlife: Cutting Back”

david-owen-the-afterlife-cutting-back“. . .Keeping murderers and warmakers submerged in boiling blood, for example, is manageable in the near term but cannot be sustained for all eternity, since the energy expenditure required to heat blood forever will eventually constrain even Our ability to undertake other desirable projects, such as the continuance of the universe as a whole. We face a similar energy crisis with regard to evil counsellors, whom We have promised to incinerate everlastingly; with regard to blasphemers, sodomites, usurers, and doers of violence against Us, who must be tortured without end on heated sand; and with regard to Count Ugolino, Archbishop Ruggieri, and others who are permanently frozen in ice. The avaricious could conceivably be put to work ceaselessly twisting the heads of diviners and fortune-tellers, or keeping flatterers covered with filth, or cladding hypocrites in leaden mantles, but not even We can unwrite the terms of Our own first law of thermodynamics.” [. . .]    –David Owen, The New Yorker, January 7, 2008

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

“Stolen Goya Found in Montenegro”

bbc-world-news-logo“The oil painting, Count Ugolino, had been lifted from a gallery in Turin, northern Italy, in December 2001.
Goya’s work – which evokes a gory episode from Dante’s Inferno – was retrieved during a raid on a flat near the Montenegrin capital of Pogdorica.
Two brothers were detained. The painting had been insured for £277,000 after being bought for £140 in 1999.
At the time, it was bought as an anonymous work, but experts later attributed it to Goya.
The work – which is roughly as large as an A4 sheet – refers to one of the most shocking tales from medieval Italy.
In his Divine Comedy, Dante told the story of Count Ugolino della Gherardesca, who, according to his story, ended up eating the flesh of his children after all the male members of the family were starved to death by Ugolino’s enemies.    —BBC News, June 15, 2005

Contributed by Susan Wegner