Inferno, Canto 33
Having heard Count Ugolino's ghastly story of his death by famine, the Poets pass on to Ptolomaea, where Fra Alberigo is cheated by Dante into telling him about himself and Branca d'Oria and others who enjoy the terrible "privilege" of Ptolomaea.
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Canto 33 © Jan Hearn
Ugolin and Roger are the last of those pairs of shades who image partnership in sin. In each case, only one of them speaks. Francesca (far above in hell) speaks of the sharing of the sin, and offers excuses for Paolo along with herself. Ulysses ignores Diomede (partnership is lost). Ugolin justifies himself at Roger’s expense (treachery can share nothing but a mutual hatred). There is a deliberate parallel between the Paolo-Francesca pair and the Ugolin-Roger pair: in both cases the lines that introduce their respective stories are drawn from the same passage of Virgil, and there are other, minor, correspondences. This is Dante’s way of indicating that here in the ice of Cocytis we have the last state of the corruption of love; that every devouring passion, sexual or otherwise, that sets itself against the order of God and the City, bears in itself the seeds of treachery and a devouring passion of destruction.
Ptolomaea. This third region of Cocytus is probably named after Ptolemy, captain of Jericho, who invited Simon the High Priest and his sons to a banquet and there slew them (I Maccabees xvi). Here lie the Traitors to Hospitality. They who denied the most primitive of human sanctities are now almost sealed off from humanity; they cannot even weep. And they are dead to humanity before they die; that which seems to live in them on earth is only a devil in human form - the man in them has withdrawn out of reach into the cold damnation.
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