Count Ugolino della Gherardesca

Frozen in lake Cocytus, within the ninth and deepest ring of hell, suffer those who have committed sins of Treachery. Ugolino dell Gheradesca resides in this ring, gnawing incessantly on the head of his archenemy Archbishop Ruggeri - as described in Dante's "Divine Comedy". Before the Count and the Archbishop met their demise, they fought together for the control of Pisa in 1298. Ugolino gained control of the city. He soon learned, however, that another had ambitions for his position. The Archbishop ruthlessly betrayed Ugolino, in an effort to gain control of the city, by accusing him of treason and of negligence in battle. Ruggeri imprisoned Ugolino's entire male line, including Ugolino himself and his four sons, in the Torre dei Gualandi, where they were left to starve to death. Ugolino was wracked with pain from the needless suffering of his kin. Here, Ugolino recounts the suffering he and his children are forced to endure within the Tower of Hunger (Torre della Fame).
"both my hands I bit for woe; and they, thinking I did it through desire of eating, of a sudden rose, and said, 'Father, it will be far less pain to us if thou eat of us; thou didst clothe us with this wretched flesh, and do thou strip it off' ".
(Dante, Canto XXXIII 54-59)
Certainly Ugolino was not considering cannibalism at this point. However, the innocent and selfless comment by one of his children may have planted the seed within Ugolino's mind. Slowly, the family starved to death, and their father powerless, couldn't change their fate.
"I watched the others fall till all were dead, between the fifth day and the sixth. And I, already going blind, groped over my brood - calling to them, though I had watched them die, for two long days. And then the hunger had more power than even sorrow had over me."
(Dante, Canto XXXIII 67-73)
Driven to insanity by his hunger and sorrow, Ugolino proceeds to feast on his children, thereby committing a mortal sin and insuring himself a place in Hell. This story was immortalized in Dante's Inferno, and then used by artists in sculpture, painting, and drawing. Two particularly illustrative and famous sculptures show Ugolino in his suffering, locked within the tower.
  • Ugolino and his Sons - Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
    This marvellous sculpture is housed in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art (near the snack bar ironically). It is based on the first quote above, We see Ugolino, hand in mouth, despairing at the suffering of his children who writhe in agony at his feet. The sculpture is one of immense tragedy and profound emotion. Ugolino, set front and center, has a gaunt and exquisitely miserable face. His pose closely resembles "The Thinker" by Rodin and probably acted as inspiration for that famous piece. The feet of Ugolino are particularly striking - his toes are curled in on each other revealing the stress and tensions within his person. The child's reply "Father, it will be far less pain to us if thou eat of us" will momentarily be spoken by the oldest child to his side. While the youngest, suffering the most, is lying with his eyes shut, nearing death.
  • Ugolino - Auguste Rodin
  • Rodin studied many of the works of Carpeaux and decided to re-create Ugolino, inspired by a later section in the Inferno (quoted above, lines 67-73). The piece was intended for the "Gates of Hell" and as such, Rodin intended to create a work of intense misery. Rodin illustrates Ugolino six days into his imprisonment, his children dead or dying. He is crawling over their bodies, blind from either hunger and stress or from mental anguish. The immense sorrow is still present but you can also sense the furious power of his hunger. His children are distinctly less vibrant than in Carpeaux's sculpture, the hunger has reduced them to nothing. The sculpture's success comes from the visible pain in the figures of Ugolino and his children. We can see the suffering and feel their pain. This original has been placed on "The Gates of Hell" in the Musee Rodin in Paris with a large bronze copy sitting in the center of a fountain in the gardens.
Research is currently being conducted to determine the accuracy of Dante's description. Professor Francesco Mallegni recently located the alleged bones of the Ugolino family underneath the Gherardesca family chapel. DNA sampling may be able to determine if the bones are what they seem, and forensic investigation can be determined if any meat was eaten in the last few days of their existence. The remains all show initial signs of malnutrition. Also, there appears to be a vicious blow to the head of the oldest child, meaning that either: these aren't the correct remains, or the oldest child somehow did not die of starvation. However, despite any medical evidence it is unlikely that the famous and widespread reputation of Cannibal Count Ugolino will ever change.


Thanks for the help from: Gritchka, Conquest, and amnesiac.

Sources:
Websites
Cannibal Count Ugolino. <http://www.mmdtkw.org/VUgolino.html>. MMDTKW. (September 2002).

Robert A Baron. Ugolino and his Sons. <http://www.studiolo.org/MMA-Ugolino/Ugolino.htm>. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. (September 2002).

Sylvester Engbrox. Rodin the Sculptor. <http://www.musee-rodin.fr/slpte-e.htm> Musee Rodin in Paris. (September 2002).

The History of Pisa. <http://www.hoteldistefano.pisa.it/town/pagine/history2.htm> Hotel Di Stefano. (September 2002).

Books
Dante Alighieri, Robert Pinsky (Translator), Nicole Pinsky, John Freccero. The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation. Noonday Press, 1996.

Other Resources
Public domain source for the Comedia, Harvard Classics, P.F. Collier & Son 1906. (not used)

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