Dante’s Inferno: Canto 32 Retelling — Caina and Antenora

Chapter 32: Caina and Antenora

Here we are at the bottom of the Inferno, Virgil thought. This is where the worst of the worst are punished. The ninth Circle is divided into four rings. Each ring punishes one kind of traitor: traitors against kin/family, traitors against government, traitors against guests, and traitors against benefactors, including God. The traitors are punished by being frozen in ice — being a traitor is a sin committed in cold blood. These are people who have lost all warmth for God and for their fellow human beings. The traitors actively betrayed others, so now they are condemned to perpetual immobility.

In the first ring, Caina, which is named after Cain, who slew Abel, are punished those who were treacherous against kin/family. They are frozen in ice up to their necks.

In the second ring, Antenora, which is named after a Trojan who betrayed his city, are punished those who were treacherous against their countries or political parties.

In the third ring, Tolomea, which is named after Ptolemy, a captain of Jericho who murdered his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s two sons after inviting them to a feast, are punished those who were treacherous against guests. In this ring, some traitors are completely buried under the ice.

The very bottom of the Inferno is reserved for the very worst sinners of all. In this fourth and final ring of the ninth and final Circle of the Inferno, Judecca, which is named after the apostle Judas, who betrayed Christ, are punished those who were treacherous against their benefactors, and especially God. Lucifer, the angel who led the rebellion against God, is punished here.

A river has been flowing throughout Hell. At various places it has different names. Here it is called Cocytus, which means “Lamentation,” and it is a frozen lake. The traitors are frozen in the lake.

Dante looked around, and he wondered whether he would ever be able to find words harsh and grating enough to describe what he saw. To do that, he would need the help of the Muses, who helped Amphion to build the wall around the city of Thebes. They helped him to play the lyre so well that while the music played stones moved on their own and built the wall by themselves.

While Dante was looking at the wall of the well that Antaeus had lowered Virgil and him into, he heard a voice warning him, “Be careful where you walk! Don’t kick any of us in the head!”

Dante turned around and saw a frozen lake. In Austria the Danube never freezes as solidly and in Russia the Don never freezes as solidly as did that lake. Like frogs sticking their noses out of water, sinners had their heads sticking out of the ice. The rest of their body was frozen in the ice. Their heads were hanging down so that their tears fell to the ice. This was a luxury because their tears did not freeze their tear ducts shut, and so they were able to continue crying.

Dante looked around, and he saw two sinners frozen together very tightly and very closely. He asked, “Tell me, who are you?”

The two looked at him, and their tears fell and froze, locking them together even more tightly. But their heads were still free, and like goats they butted their heads together, both causing and receiving pain.

Another sinner, nearby, had no ears. They had frozen in the cold, and then they had been broken off by the wind sweeping through this Circle. This sinner said, “Why are you looking at us? If you want to know who these two sinners are, they are Napoleone and Allessandro. They were brothers and rivals in two different political factions: Allessandro was a Guelf, while Napoleone was a Ghibelline. They murdered each other — not because of politics, but over their inheritance.

“These two belong here in Ring #1 of Circle 9, which is called Caina and which punishes those who were traitors to kin and family. No one deserves to be here more. Not even Mordred deserves to be here more.

“Mordred was the nephew of King Arthur of Camelot, but he was a traitor to the King, his uncle. In their final battle, nearly everyone was dead. King Arthur charged at Mordred and killed him, but Mordred mortally wounded King Arthur. When King Arthur stabbed Mordred with a spear, the hole created in Mordred was so big that the Sun shone through it, putting a hole in his shadow. Merlin the magician caused King Arthur to fall into a trance and then Merlin hid him in a cave.

“Mordred’s greed for power — along with Sir Lancelot’s adulterous relationship with King Arthur’s Queen — helped to destroy a civilization. King Arthur had instituted a great civilization, but after the civil war started that was caused by Sir Lancelot’s adulterous relationship with King Arthur’s Queen and by Sir Mordred’s greed for power, England’s civilization was destroyed and England slipped back into a Dark Age.

“My name is Camicion de’ Pazzi, and I murdered a relative named Ubertino. I tell you my name so that I may name Carlin, whose guilt will make my own guilt seem less. Carlin is Carlino de’ Pazzi, who, in July of 1302, will surrender a castle to the Black Guelfs of Florence after accepting a bribe, even though his job is to defend the castle for the White Guelfs of Florence. Carlin will be a traitor to country and so will be punished in Antenora, a lower place in Hell than the place that punishes me.”

Dante looked around, and he saw over 1,000 sinners frozen in the ice. After he returned to the Land of the Living, he was never able to look at a frozen pond without shuddering.

As Dante and Virgil continued their journey, Dante kicked — hard — one of the heads protruding out of the frozen lake. Perhaps the kick was accidental, but perhaps not.

“Why did you kick me?” the sinner screamed. “Have you come to take revenge on me for what I did at the Battle of Montaperti?”

Dante said to Virgil, “Please wait a little while. I want to talk to this sinner so that I may understand something.”

Then Dante said to the sinner, “Who are you to be shouting at other people?”

The sinner replied, “And who are you to be walking through Antenora, Ring #2 of Circle 9, which punishes those who were traitors to their countries or political parties? Who are you to kick sinners in the face? No living man could kick as hard as you!”

“I am still a living man,” Dante said. “Speak to me if you want to be remembered in the Land of the Living.”

“I definitely do NOT want to be remembered in the Land of the Living,” the sinner replied. “Better by far for my name to be quickly forgotten.”

Dante grabbed the sinner’s hair and threatened, “Tell me your name, or I will not leave even one hair on your head.”

“Tear all my hair out,” the sinner replied. “I will never tell you my name.”

Dante did exactly as he had threatened, tearing out handfuls of the sinner’s hair while the sinner yelped.

A nearby sinner said, “What’s wrong, Bocca? Usually, I hear your chattering teeth; it’s even worse to hear your yelping.”

“I know your name now, traitor,” Dante said. “I will make sure that your name continues to be known in the Land of the Living and that everybody knows your sin.”

Indeed I will, Dante thought. This sinner is Bocca, and he was a traitor to his city. In 1260, at the Battle of Montaperti, in which Farinata, the heretic punished in Circle 6, was one of the generals of the troops fighting against Florence, Farinata’s troops were outnumbered. However, Farinata had a secret trick. He had Bocca on his side. Bocca supposedly was on the side of the Guelfs in the battle, but during the fighting he cut off the hand of the man bearing the Florentine standard. The standard fell, and this led to confusion among the Guelfs, who thought that their generals had been captured. This confusion led to the Ghibellines defeating the Guelfs.

“Get out of here!” Bocca yelled. “But since you are going to tell the world about me, be sure that you tell the world about the sinner who revealed my name to you. He is the traitor Buoso da Duera, and he accepted a bribe from Charles of Anjou, who marched against Naples in 1265. Although he was supposed to lead troops against Charles of Anjou, he allowed him and his troops to pass by without having to fight.

“Other famous traitors are punished here, too. Ganelon, who betrayed Roland and forced him to sound his horn — too late — is here.”

Dante and Virgil continued on their journey, and they came to two figures frozen in the ice. One sinner’s head was above the other sinner’s head, and this sinner was eating the other sinner’s head, sinking his teeth into the neck and scalp and chewing.

Dante said to the sinner who was cannibalizing the other sinner, “Tell me your story. Why are you doing this? What is the reason? If you tell me, I can make the reason known in the Land of the Living.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce

This is an excerpt from Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Retelling in Prose by David Bruce, available here:

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