Inferno Inferno Canto XXXII (the Ninth Circle, First Ring Caina: Traitors to their Kin, Second Ring Antenora: Traitors to their Homeland or Party) Summary
Dante finds that his words fail him again. He claims his verse does not have the phonetically harsh, "crude and scrannel" qualities fit to describe the evilest regions of Hell. Thus, he reluctantly writes on as he always has. All the while, of course, he’s humbling himself, calling his own language childish and inadequate.
To further show his humility, Dante invokes the Muses for a second time, praying to them to render his verse accurate and true.
As he and Virgil travel down, far below Antaeus’s feet, Dante suddenly hears a voice ordering him to watch where he walks, or he might step on the heads of his fellow brothers. Not something you’d hear out on your daily stroll.
So Dante looks down to find before him a frozen lake (the river Cocytus), iced over so thickly that it no longer even seems like water, but rather like glass.
The ice is so thick that, according to Dante, if a mountain were to fall on it, the edges of the lake wouldn’t so much as creak.
Caught fast in ice up to their chins are the sinners, their teeth chattering from the cold.
They look so pathetic that Dante compares them to the frogs, wholly submerged in water except for their muzzles.
Dante notes that they all keep their heads bent down, while cursing the cold.
As Dante is sightseeing, he notices two sinners whose heads are so close together that their hair intermingles.
But Dante is not quite so shy and asks them directly who they are.
The two must bend their necks back to look up at Dante. But just when we expect them to speak, we find that they’ve been crying and that the cold has frozen their mouths shut. Instead of speaking, they only butt heads.
Another sinner speaks up and helpfully identifies the twins as the Bisenzio brothers, who killed each other over politics.
The speaker condemns them as the souls most worthy for this punishment in Caina, even more so than Mordred (who betrayed his father, King Arthur), Foccaccia (no not the bread, but a guy who killed his cousin), and Sassol Mascheroni (who also killed a relative, but more importantly has a big head that blocks the speaker’s view).
Then, after naming everyone else’s crimes, the speaker identifies himself as Camiscione dei Pazzi, a Ghibelline famous for killing a kinsman for political power. He attempts to make his crime seem less heinous by highlighting the evil of his kinsman’s sin.
These are but a few of the sinners whom Dante sees; there are thousands, made "doglike" or bestial by the harsh cold.
As our heroes continue onwards, Dante – either accidentally or by destiny – kicks a sinners’ head smack dab in the face.
Immediately, the sinner starts cursing and saying, "Why’d you kick me so hard? Are you here to revenge Montaperti?"
Our patient Dante politely asks Virgil to stop for moment while he clears up a misunderstanding.
He then goes on to roughly ask the cursing sinner who he is.
Instead of answering, the sinner replies with a mirroring question, asking who Dante is that he thinks he can just go around kicking poor people, as if he were alive.
Predictably, Dante answers haughtily "I am alive and, even better, I can give you lasting fame in the mortal world."
But, unpredictably, the sinner wants nothing of the kind; he only wants to be left alone, instead of bearing this pointless flattery.
Suddenly, Dante snaps. Just loses it. He grabs the sinner by the nape of the neck and screams at him to identify himself or else Dante will keep pulling until he’s lost all his hair.
But in vain. The sinner is not impressed or intimidated.
So Dante actually goes through with his threat, pulling out the sinner’s hair in handfuls and making the poor guy scream in pain until another irritable sinner shouts for Bocca to shut his trap. (Ah, now we know his name.)
Dante threatens the sullen sinner, saying that because he has been so uncooperative, Dante will slander his reputation up in the living world.
Bocca (degli Abati) still doesn’t care. Only he wants Dante to mention the shame of his fellow sinners – Buoso da Duera, Beccheria, Gianni dei Soldanieri, Ganelon, and Tebaldello – all traitors to their country or party.
After they leave the indefatigable Bocca, Dante comes across a truly gruesome sight: two sinners submerged close together, so close that one’s head rears over the other’s, actually chewing it.
Dante, with a touch of black humor, describes the upper head as the lower one’s hat, and its chewing as that of a person eating his daily bread.
In still another simile, Dante compares the sinner’s gnawing to that of Tydeus’s mad fit when he bit his enemy Menalippus’s skull after killing him.
Curious as always, Dante asks the sinner to explain why he’s eating another person. As incentive, Dante promises to bring word of him back to the mortal realm so long as his tongue doesn’t dry up and the sinner’s tale reveals that he’s right for chewing on another person.