Recapping Dante: Canto 32, or Area Man Discovers Hell Has Literally Frozen Over


Arts & Culture



We’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: breaking news from the thirty-second canto.

INFERNO—After traveling nonstop for many hours through an array of chthonic geological obstacles, local political activist Dante Alighieri has found that the apocalyptic landscape has actually frozen over.

“I was supposed to be traveling through hell,” says Dante, who has seen everything on his journey from demons to the elusive and heavily mythologized lonza. “I thought the fire and brimstone would only get hotter as we journeyed farther toward Lucifer. There’s no way I could have predicted this—the ice, the chill, the subzero temperatures.”

The discovery will undoubtedly cause an iconological fiasco, challenging our contemporary of notion of hell altogether.

Dante, who has been gathering material for a yet-unnamed “hell project,” claims he was so caught up in seeing the sights around him—notably a giant wall—that he didn’t notice the floor made of ice in hell until a strange voice warned him to watch his step. “It’s a good thing a mysterious voice warned me,” he says. “I could have slipped through a thin patch.” Roman poet and limbo-dweller Virgil, who has accompanied Dante on the journey, added that, in Dante’s defense, the giant wall was indeed very, very large.

Lodged in the inexplicably ethereal frosted path is a large network of bodies, buried to the neck in ice. “It’s like they’re just stuck there, forever. I have no idea who would do such a thing,” Dante said, describing the scene and adding that on second thought, everyone there probably had it coming.

Upon seeing Dante, a pair of conjoined sinners buried in the ice began to shed tears, which quickly froze on their faces. The sinners—whom Dante later learned were twins known for butting heads when they were alive—were now only able to touch their foreheads to each other. “I can definitely see the irony in a punishment like that,” the Florentine added, snickering at his clever understanding of the infernal punishment, which will only intensify the debate over whether it is in fact worse to burn or freeze to death.

Though its climate is unlike that of other areas in hell, the frozen wasteland has attracted no shortage of Florentine sinners. Traitors from both the white and black Guelph parties are present, shedding light on the petty nature of Tuscan politics. “I thought I saw someone I recognized among the sinners, so I asked Virgil to wait for me, and then I may or may not have kicked the sinner in the face,” says Dante, of his meeting with Bocca, a Guelph who turned against the party in battle.* Some eyewitnesses have offered a testimony suggesting Mr. Alighieri may have tripped, although all accounts agree that he then walked over to the sinner and pulled his hair in an attempt to interrogate the sinner.

Dante, who undertook the journey through hell after becoming lost in a forest, sees the discovery of this cold front as a good omen for his love life: “Beatrice, the woman I love, once told me that she would be with me when hell froze over—those were her exact words, I kid you not. I was starting to lose hope, but now, after this, I’m in it to win it.”

*When Bocca is kicked, he cries out “Why trample me?” This bears a remarkable similarity to the line spoken by Pier delle Vigne, the human tree, in canto 13, when Dante breaks off his twig: “Why do you tear me?” In fact, this entire scene may unintentionally refract the scene in canto 13; just as a pathetic shrub in 13 asks to have his fallen leaves gathered and deposited by his roots, Dante rips the hair out of this similarly immobile sinner in 32. But there’s a lot of inconsistency here. Not only is Dante far more aggressive toward this frozen sinner—he actually inflicts upon Bocca the same kind of indignity and pain that he lamented in canto 13. And why does Virgil keep quiet? Back in canto 8, when Dante cursed another sinner, Virgil chastised him; but in canto 32 he doesn’t speak.

To catch up on our Dante series, click here.

Alexander Aciman is the author of Twitterature. He has written for the New York Times, Tablet, the Wall Street Journal, and TIME. Follow him on Twitter at @acimania.