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Monday, June 3, 2013

Dante Plays The Game of Thrones: A Red Wedding in Hell

***Spoliers Alert**** Info about June 2nd Game of Thrones episode and the end of Dante's "Inferno!"

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones season 3 (don't ask me how I am keeping up with the HBO series in Italy) ended with a bloodbath that few viewers will forget. The viewer has been encouraged to root for the Stark family in the current battle for dominance in this fantasy world, but this episode ended any hope for a quick win for Ned Stark's brood.

What caught my attention was the double betrayal that brought about the gory end to Robb Stark, his mother, and his wife and unborn child. The episode was skillful in emphasizing the seething anger that the spurned lord Walder Frey had for the Stark family, has Robb had broken his promise to take on Frey's daughters as a wife, a political marriage that would have brought Frey's descendants into direct lineage to the kingship. Frey repays this betrayal of a political deal with a more nefarious deed. He welcomes the Stark family to his castle and agrees to marry his daughter to a lesser lord, all the while having planned to massacre his guests after the nuptial celebrations. Shockingly for a tv drama, this all happens before our eyes and agape jaws.

Lord Frey, a crusty old curmudgeon, losses his wife in the events. But, as he says, he can get another.

As with everything on HBO, Dante has been here before...and done it better.

In Canto XXII-XXXIII of Hell we meet and hear from a certain Count Ugolino, who is punished together with another person, Archbishop Ruggieri, who was part of a double-treachery similar to the Stark-Frey dyad. Let's hear how Dante presents these two sinners:

Noi eravam partiti già da ello,32.124We had already taken leave of him,
ch'io vidi due ghiacciati in una buca,when I saw two shades frozen in one hole,
sì che l'un capo a l'altro era cappello;so that one's head served as the other's cap;
e come 'l pan per fame si manduca,32.127and just as he who's hungry chews his bread,
così 'l sovran li denti a l'altro poseone sinner dug his teeth into the other
là 've 'l cervel s'aggiugne con la nuca:right at the place where brain is joined to nape:
non altrimenti Tidëo si rose32.130no differently had Tydeus gnawed the temples
le tempie a Menalippo per disdegno,of Menalippus, out of indignation,
che quei faceva il teschio e l'altre cose.than this one chewed the skull and other parts.

Ugolino spends eternity gnawing on Ruggieri's skull and other parts, by which I understand his BRAIN!

The story of Ugolino and Ruggieri is complicated, even more complicated than the meandering Game of Thrones plot and the names are just a tricky. But, to shorten it a bit, Ugolino betrayed his side in a political feud (the Guelphs) to join with Ruggieri to gain his own power. Ruggieri, not trusting the proven traitor Ugolino, accuses him of being a double-agent against Ruggieri's party (Ghibellines) and imprisons him, along with his sons, and starves them to death. Dante's poem leaves purposefully ambiguous whether Ugolino, imprisoned with his sons, eats them as a sort of mistaken Eucharistic offering to put off his own eventual and inevitable death.

Here we have a double-betrayal, but where one party Ruggieri receives worse punishment because his betrayal includes innocents, Ugolino's family. Ugolini is not blameless, but he "gets to be on top," so to distinguish the slightly lesser nature of his was just politics, while Ruggieri exacts revenge on an entire family.

The Game of Thrones picks up on this by having Robb Stark's betrayal, the spurning of a promise to a political marriage, massively overshadowed by Frey's revenge, which takes the blood of the innocent (unborn child) as well as the guilty. Frey's sin, in Dante's language, becomes more grave when we consider that he A. Kills his guest (Ptolomea for Dante) and his lord (Judecca for Dante).

So, let's imagine Robb Stark and Frey together in Dante's Hell. Stark's sin is lesser but still a political betrayal, so he gets to be on top. While starvation was a key for Ugolini and Ruggieri, in The Game of Thrones we have a nuptial feast. What punishment fits here? Stark cutting up Frey only to feed him to himself, since marriage seeks to use one's own fleshly product (a child) to further one's own power?

What do you think would be a good punishment? Am I too harsh to say Dante would put Robb Stark in Hell as a political traitor? Maybe his sin is lust? Use the comments button to make your suggestion.

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