Manage episode 282254432 series 2659594
Did you know that there’s survival cannibalism in Dante’s Divine Comedy? And it’s based on a true story? This week, we look at the infamous ‘Cannibal Count’, Ugolino della Gherardesca.
Written, hosted and produced by Alix Penn and Carmella Lowkis.
Theme music by Daniel Wackett. Find him on Twitter @ds_wack and Soundcloud as Daniel Wackett.
Logo by Riley. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @tallestfriend.
Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network. Network sting by Mikaela Moody. Find her on Bandcamp as mikaelamoody1.
- Alighieri, D. (1997). Divine Comedy, Longfellow’s Translation, Hell. Translated by H.W. Longfellow. Urbana, IL: Project Gutenberg. Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1001/1001-h/1001-h.htm
- Benigni, P. (2008). ‘Ugolino della Gherardesca: cronaca di una scoperta annunciata’, Archeologia Viva, 128, pp. 64-67. Available at: https://www.archeologiaviva.it/2976/ugolino-della-gherardesca-cronaca-di-una-scoperta-annunciata/
- Bentley, R. (1864). ‘Count Ugolino of Pisa’, in Bentley, R. (ed.) Bentley’s Miscellany. London: Chapman and Hall; v. 55, pp. 173-178.
- Casina Rosa, G. (2016). ‘Of starvation and cannibalism in Pisa’, At Home In Tuscany, 20 October. Available at: http://www.athomeintuscany.org/2016/10/20/starvation-cannibalism-pisa/
- Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019). ‘Guelf and Ghibelline’, in Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/Guelf-and-Ghibelline
- Herzman, R.B. (1980). ‘Cannibalism and Communion in Inferno XXXIII’, Dante Studies, 98, pp. 53-78. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40166287
Alix: Have you ever been really, really hungry?
Carmella: You’re listening to Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast.
A: I’m Alix.
C: I’m Carmella.
A: And now let’s tuck into the gruesome history of this ultimate taboo…
[Intro Music – Daniel Wackett]
C: Welcome to Episode Seven, where we will be telling the tale of Count Ugolino.
[Intro music continues]
C: Alix, are you ready to go to Hell?
A: That is what this podcast has been preparing us for. So let’s go…
C: We’re descending into the world of Dante’s Inferno.
A: Famously, a travel guide.
C: I’m Virgil. You’re following me through the circles. We’ve passed through limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, heresy, violence, fraud – all good ingredients of a Casting Lots episode.
A: That is fair, that is fair.
C: And now we’ve reached the ninth and final circle: treachery.
A: I see where this is going.
C: I’m gonna betray you!
A: Is it because this episode is based on something fictional?
C: Umm… Perhaps something fictional is based on something factual?
A: Oooh. Transformative media.
C: We’re getting to the second division now, which, of course, as everyone knows who– Because everyone’s read Inferno and not just the Wikipedia page– [Laughs nervously]
C: We get to the section reserved for traitors to their country. As described by Dante, in Cantos 32-33, we see two men frozen together in a hole–
A: [Laughs] Is it Franklin?
C: [Laughs] Yes! We’ve found the Franklin expedition!
C: That’s where they ended up.
A: Okay, okay. What do we find in a hole?
C: We find two men frozen together in a hole, “And even as bread through hunger is devoured, / The uppermost on the other set his teeth, / There where the brain is to the nape united.”
A: Brain isn’t attached to the neck.
C: Well, sort of like the top of the spinal column is what I’m picturing.
A: I have our handy not-quite-mascot plastic skull, and the brain– That’s very high up.
C: Look, I don’t know what Dante’s knowledge of anatomy was like.
A: I’m gonna go with: not great.
C: [Laughs] The man having a chomp on his friend is Count Ugolino.
A: His friend?
C: Well, you’ll see…
C: The man being chomped on is the Archbishop Ruggieri.
A: This feels like the start of a Black Adder sketch.
C: [Laughs] ‘Why did the man bite the Archbishop?’
C: Ugolino tells us that because of Ruggieri, he was locked up in a tower with his sons and left to starve. His sons as in Ugolino’s sons; not Ruggieri’s sons.
A: Does this mean that we’re gonna have some… gastronomic incest?
C: Oh yes, Alix, this one’s just for you. Ugolino says, “Moaning amid their sleep I heard my sons / Who with me were, and asking after bread.” When they realise no bread is forthcoming, “I saw / Upon four faces my own very aspect, / Both of my hands in agony I bit / And, thinking that I did it from desire / Of eating, on a sudden they uprose, / And said they: ‘Father, much less pain ‘twill give us / If thou do eat of us; thyself didst clothe us / With this poor flesh, and do thou strip it off.’”
A: Sure they did.
C: According to Dante. Ugolino tries to reassure them, but the boys soon begin to perish, and all are dead by day six. “Then fasting got the mastery of grief.” Is what Dante days.
A: Sorry, how many children does the Count have?
C: Four of them.
A: See, I thought he had two children, so when you said that ‘upon four faces’, I was like ‘is he seeing things? What’s going on? What’s he talking about?’
C: Well, actually, we’ll come back to this. He has four children according to Dante.
A: He could have just eaten one children.
C: The children die anyway.
A: They could have all eaten one children.
C: It’s a good point.
A: Doesn’t seem like very good planning.
C: Some people argue that that line doesn’t mean he ate the children, it just means he died of starvation. Starvation got the better of his grief and he died. But–
A: It’s not exactly an either/or situation: you grieve or you starve to death. You can do both. Or one, or the other. Or none. And it will be none if you think ‘Ah! Dinner.’
C: [Laughs] I was wondering where that sentence was going, and it was a brilliant conclusion. Thank you.
A: You’re welcome.
C: Yet the popular interpretation of the line is cannibalism. Especially given that he is constantly then chomping in the afterlife – kind of suggests that he’s a cannibal.
A: And also cannibalism is always the popular option.
C: [Laughs] That’s very true. Thanks to Dante, Ugolino has been remembered as ‘the cannibali Count’ for centuries.
A: I mean, that’s a little unfair, considering that: (A) as we have covered on multiple occasions, this moral part of cannibalism and calling someone ‘a cannibal’ isn’t really fair – cannibalism just being the consumption of human flesh.
C: It’s something that you do, rather than something that you are.
A: Exactly! Don’t make your hobby your identity.
A: But also, he was locked in a tower without food; his children offered themselves up (I mean, sure they did, yeah, likely); and then, when they’re already dead and he has nothing else to eat, he then eats them and proceeds to die himself. It’s not exactly [in a Count von Count voice] ‘Muahaha, I am the evil cannibal Count!’
A: Do you wanna try that with an Italian accent, rather than my Muppets one?
C: I would like to precede this by saying: it’s not offensive, because as you can tell from my name, Carmella, I’m Italian. [In a non-offensive Italian accent] ‘Muahaha, it’s-a me, the cannibal Count!’
C: I don’t speak the language.
A: Carmella has no French ancestry, for anyone wondering about her amazing French accent from earlier episodes.
C: The French one isn’t offensive because it’s really good. [Wheezes]
A: Okay, tell me more about the [bad Italian accent] cannibal Count.
C: Well, I’m going to make use of my English Lit degree now. Let’s do some lit analysis…
C: Ugolino’s speech is the longest single speech by one of the damned in the Inferno, in which the character tries to win our compassion. He doesn’t defend himself of his actual crime, which is betraying his country.
A: Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that bit.
C: That’s the reason he’s there. He fixates on the unpleasant and unfair treatment that he had in jail, and on the sob story of him being forced to eat his children.
A: I mean, you call it a ‘sob story’ like this is the X Factor.
C: Well, I guess what is the Inferno if not the X Factor of damned souls?
A: But yeah, I had forgotten that he was there because he’d been a traitor. I’d sort of forgotten that he was there being punished for some reason. I got the impression that he was chomping down as a punishment on the person that locked him in the tower.
C: No, he’s also being punished. And he very cleverly makes us forget that by telling the story of what happened to him. ‘Oh, poor me, totally didn’t betray my country.’ However, pitying the damned is a bad idea in the Inferno. Virgil constantly tells us off whenever we think we should pity one of them. As I said, while the cannibalism is something that is part of his punishment in Hell, it isn’t the reason that he’s in Hell. I guess his punishment is reliving the horrible last moments of his life in which he was forced to eat human flesh. By necessity.
A: Sometimes I forget that people have this issue with cannibalism. I’m like, ‘yep, okay, ate human flesh, moving on.’
C: Symbolically, cannibalism is also a great punishment and narrative technique for the traitor to his country: betraying country equals gastronomic incest. That sort of thing. Do you see the parallels that Dante’s drawing on there?
A: You’re destroying the thing that gave you life, you were meant to sustain it but actually you have consumed it, you’ve allowed your personal vanity and desire for survival to outweigh moral responsibility to the future generations to come. Okay, yeah, I can see a few extrapolating points there.
C: Of course, it also evokes the sacrament. The boys liken themselves to bread, offer themselves up when the bread runs out, so the body becomes bread, the bread is the body, et cetera, et cetera.
A: I take it the children are not there? They have not done anything wrong by offering their bodies up to be eaten – in fact, that was probably a very ‘noble’ and ‘virtuous’ act.
C: Exactly, people really fixate on the cannibalism part of Ugolino, as if that’s the reason he’s in Hell. But it’s not.
A: Because, as we’ve covered, cannibalism to survive isn’t a moral issue. Even Dante gets it.
C: Yeah, even in this, Ugolino isn’t telling the story of ‘Muahaha I’m a cannibal’, it’s ‘Oh my God, can you believe this guy Ruggieri made me do this?’
A: ‘I’m not a bad person because I’m a cannibal, I’m a bad person because I did a treachery.’
C: But, does Ugolino actually deserve to have gone to Hell? And did he actually eat his sons? Shall we look at the history?
A: Did he actually exist?
C: Yes. Definitively, Ugolino was a real Count in Italy.
A: Did he end his life locked up in a tower?
A: Why was he locked up in a tower?
C: Let’s get into the facts.
A: I love facts.
C: So, we’re out of Hell now.
A: Oh, good. Okay.
C: We’re in 13th century Italy. And I’m going to give you a little breakdown of the politics of 13th century Italy.
A: I did make you sit through 14th century moral economy and weather, so I suppose this is fair.
C: Italian city states in the north and central parts of Italy are split into two factions: the Guelphs and the Ghibellines.
A: So it’s not the Montagues and the Capulets?
C: No, it does get– Just wait, because it gets very ‘two households both alike in dignity’ later, actually.
A: We didn’t even plan that.
C: The Guelphs are the Church party, supporting the Pope, and they’re mostly made up of wealthy merchant families. The Ghibellines are the Imperial party, supporting the Holy Roman Empire, and are mostly made up of feudal aristocratic families.
A: Oh, it’s always good when the Pope goes up against the Holy Roman Empire.
C: Yeah. For two centuries these factions are constantly butting heads in Italian politics. Families within the cities take sides. There are power struggles, which often end with the losing party being exiled from the city. There are multiple little wars scattered about. They just really hate each other. In the 13th century, the city state of Pisa is a Ghibelline city. It’s governed by an elected podestà, and at the time of our story, this man – the podestà – comes from the leaders of the Ghibellines in the city: the family Della Gherardesca.
A: Say that quickly three times.
C: I can’t say it quickly one time! His name is Count Ugolino della Gherardesca.
A: That is quite the tongue-twister.
C: Our friend Ugolino was a brave naval commander. He was fiercely ambitious, leading Pisa to victory in many battles and gaining control of many Mediterranean trade-posts.
A: So he’s had some fun on boats over the years.
C: He has, you could say that.
A: I did.
C: In the 1270s, Ugolino becomes friends with a man called Giovanni Visconti.
A: Now, that is quite a stereotypically Italian name.
C: In fact, they then become family when Visconti marries Ugolino’s sister. Visconti was the Judge of Gallura, which meant that he ruled part of Sardinia. Oh, and he was also the leader of the Guelphs in Pisa.
C: Romeo and Juliet. The Ghibellines aren’t keen on this.
A: But I suppose Dellara Gherardesc– [Sighs]
A: Ugolino is the guy in charge. Oh, I can see where this becomes treachery.
C: In 1274, they accuse Ugolino and Visconti of conspiracy to subvert the state and seize full power between the two of them. This is betrayal of his country… number one.
A: Oh! He makes a habit of this?
C: [Laughs] Let’s not get into judging him just yet. Visconti was banished and Ugolino was imprisoned. But then Visconti dies for unrelated reasons, you know, people just die in Medieval Italy. It happens.
A: I mean, people just die all the time.
C: And the Pisans decide that Ugolino can’t be a threat any more, because his mate’s dead. So they free him and banish him from the city.
A: That seems reasonable. I mean, it seemed quite unreasonable being like, ‘You’ve made a friend from a different gang, therefore you’re evil.’ Seemed a little bit of an over-reaction. But I suppose he’s been rehabilitated and told he can come out of prison, as long as he then fucks off.
C: However, he is still a threat.
A: Well, I suppose now he’s pissed off. If he wasn’t planning on doing evil treachery crimes – he’s just been thrown in prison and his BFF’s dead. Ugolino: out for revenge.
C: Ugolino rallies some of the local Guelph towns that are opposed to Pisa and attacks his home city with their help. So that’s betrayal number two, if we’re tallying them up. The Pisans were forced to make peace on humiliating terms, including that they have to pardon Ugolino and all the other Guelphs and let them back into the city.
A: He must have been so smug.
C: Returning to Pisa, he spent the next few years building influence, making friends on both sides, just really hedging his bets.
A: Is he so much making friends as just sort of looming threateningly around people?
C: Forging alliances.
A: I think that’s a very diplomatic way of phrasing it.
C: In 1282, Pisa and Genoa went to war. Because places go to war.
A: All the time.
C: The two fleets met at sea in late 1284 – yes, we’ve got some naval battles.
A: Who doesn’t love a naval battle?
C: One division of the Pisan fleet is led by Ugolino.
A: Because he was a good navy man.
C: Yeah. So even though he’s betrayed them a few times, he’s got his credentials.
A: They trust him with the navy. I think they brought this on themselves.
C: The two fleets are approximately matched with around 100 ships each, and the fight is pretty even until the Pisan podestà gets captured. Because of course Ugolino isn’t podestà any more.
A: They decided that was a step too far.
C: Ugolino calls the retreat, leading to the Pisans being totally defeated. 28 galleys are taken, seven destroyed, 5,000 men killed, and 11,000 taken prisoner.
A: Wow, those are big numbers. But I suppose would have been worse if he kept fighting?
C: Allegedly, the battle was nowhere near lost when the battle got taken, and some believed – contemporary people, that is – that Ugolino had intentionally caused the defeat to weaken the image of the current podestà, in the hopes of thereby regaining his former position.
A: Would this perhaps be betrayal number three?
C: If we’re counting… Yes.
A: He really is getting them in quick.
C: If that was what he was trying to do, it worked!
A: He’d have had to plan for the podestà to be captured.
C: Yeah… He is re-elected as podestà of the weakened city state for a year.
A: Okay, I’m blaming them now.
C: Then he becomes Captain of the People for ten years – which is a rank higher than podestà, as far as I can make out. In this time, some of Pisa’s old Guelph enemy cities try it on, but Ugolino’s able to broker peace with them by ceding some castles here and there.
A: Because he’s friends with them.
C: It’s a tactical negotiation that gives them all the cool castles. Some people might call this a betrayal – well, we’ll get into that.
A: Well, I suppose it’s a betrayal if you’re a– If you’re one of them, it’s probably a betrayal. If you’re a Guelph, he’s a good dude. He’s a good mate.
C: Also, Ugolino allegedly refused to make peace with Genoa, as he didn’t want the 11,000 prisoners returned.
C: Their presence would have threatened his hold on power. And he also made sure to banish or execute all of his enemies within Pisa.
A: You know how you said that this was a real story? Are you sure Dante didn’t just make him up?
C: None of this information comes from Dante! This is all from a variety of sources. The most contemporary to the time that I could find is about 20 or 30 years later, so…
A: Theoretically there could be survivors from Ugolino around, but he seems to be quite dead-set on killing most of Italy.
C: [Chuckles] Most of Pisa.
A: Does he have a little moustache to twirl as he does his evil plan? Can I assume that a number of these contemporary sources aren’t particularly keen on Ugolino?
C: I have to say, I think there’s a lot of blending between myth and history, which can be a bit difficult to pick apart.
A: And if you don’t like Ugolino, you are going to emphasise his [Count von Count voice] evil treacherous nature, Muahaha! I am just imagining him as the Count from Sesame Street.
A: [In the voice] ‘One betrayal, Muahaha!’
C: [Cackles] That’s good! As you can imagine, this didn’t make for a happy population.
A: Especially not for the Ghibellines.
C: His own nephew, Nino Visconto – so that’s the son of Giovanni Visconti, his old co-conspirator.
A: His dead BFF.
C: Nino tries to stage an insurrection against him.
A: Oh, that is a betrayal, because that’s the son of his BFF!
C: Well, it’s also his nephew.
A: I don’t feel like Ugolino cares about that. Considering he eats his own children.
C: The insurrection staged by Nino is unsuccessful, however support for Nino is so strong that Ugolino is made to give up part of his power and share with Nino.
A: I’m sure that’s harmonious!
C: The exact political terms of that arrangement are pretty hazy between sources, so I can’t give more specific details, but that’s roughly what’s going on.
A: I’m getting strong Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the final act of Hamilton vibes. ‘As your Vice President…’ ‘Yeah right!’
C: Yeah, obviously it doesn’t last for long.
A: Is there a Dante’s Inferno musical?
C: Oh, I’ve plotted this really good one. It’s Dante’s Inferno, but it’s like 10 Things I Hate About You–
C: Or She’s the Man.
C: It’s like a kind of American high school remake. So it’s college parties: he’s going between the different sorority houses looking for his girlfriend Beatrice. And each college party in the fraternity or sorority house is like one of the circles of Hell.
[Alix laughs and claps]
C: It’s good, isn’t it? And they’ve come from a costume party, which– A toga party, so they’re dressed up as Romans, like Virgil.
A: That’s really good.
C: It’s good. One day I will pitch this to networks, because I think it’s really got potential. [Laughs]
A: It’s either got potential for– it’s a vlog series.
A: Be a great vlog series.
C: That’d be good… Ugolino plots against Nino, and he allies with the Archbishop Ruggieri. Remember, the guy who’s being chomped on in Hell?
A: I wonder what he does to deserve it. Also, does this count as another betrayal, because he’s plotting against his co-council. Who is there to represent the people, and thus the state. Are we up to four or five betrayals now?
C: Depends whether you count the castles. Five.
A: Four and a half.
C: Ruggieri is the leader of the Ghibellines – so the party that Ugolino way back used to be a member of, but he’s sort of given up on that.
A: He’s just team Ugoliro now. That’s not how you pronounce his name, is it? Team Count.
C: [Laughs] They have Nino banished from the city. They just love banishing people from Pisa. That’s all they do, really.
A: Everyone’s got to have a hobby.
C: Now, Ruggieri and Ugolino are supposed to govern together. But have you noticed a pattern of what happens to people whom Ugolino shares power with?
A: They tend to get banished from the city.
C: Yeah, they do, don’t they? Weird that! Ugolino doesn’t like sharing the power, and soon begins to deny the Archbishop’s claim. In the background of all of this political unrest, the people are really miserable. They’re being ruled by a tyrant. Commerce is destroyed by Ugolino’s refusal to make peace with Genoa. There are food shortages.
A: We know what happens when there’s a food shortage.
C: A 13th century historian wrote: “this count Ugolino was a man of such a type that he caused the people of Pisa to die of hunger and at his time although he had a great abundance was so cruel that a bushel of grain cost seven pounds at Pisa.” I don’t have a modern equivalent, but that’s– That’s a lot of money.
A: I’m starting to see why locking him up in a tower without any food is quite a fitting punishment.
C: And of course, 11,000 of their friends and family are still locked up in a jail in Genoa.
A: Oh yeah, that’s a point.
C: Prisoners of war. In 1288, Nino is back. And Ugolino and Nino argue over the plight of the people, and Ugolino tries to stab him. Allegedly – I think this is the point where we’re getting in myth a bit more than true, definite history.
A: I mean, that’s quite an argument.
A: ‘The people are suffering!’ ‘No they’re not.’
A: [Laughs] I was gonna have a bit more nuance, but I suppose Ugolino does have a one-track mind.
C: However, one of the Archbishop’s own nephews – so Ruggieri’s nephews – steps in to stop the fight, and gets stabbed instead by Ugolino.
A: That’s not gonna go down well.
C: Ruggieri’s not very happy. He calls the people to arms, and accuses Ugolino of ceding the castles – remember when he did that earlier? – as an act of treason. Rather than successful negotiation.
A: It’s all a matter of perspective.
C: After a day of street fighting–
A: Again, very Romeo and Juliet.
C: Ugolino is captured and, along with two sons and two grandsons–
A: Ah, so this is where we have Dante taking some liberties with the facts.
C: Yes. “They were all dragged out of the palace, and thrust into a tower on the Piazza dei Anziani”.
A: I’m not sure that his sons and grandsons have done anything necessarily wrong. I was about to ask ‘how old are his sons?’, but then I worked out they had to be old enough to give him some grandsons.
A: So they’re probably not innocent babes in arms.
C: [Laughs] No. They’re about middle-aged, and the grandsons… I’m not sure, but I’m guessing around teens? They’re ‘youths’. The family are held there for eight months, and then – so the story goes – Ruggieri decides that the best long-term solution is not to keep holding them prisoner, it’s just to let them die. So he locks the door, leaves them to starve, and throws the key in the river.
A: Wait, they’re not being banished?!
C: No, they’re being locked away and starved to death.
A: That’s the exact opposite of being banished!
A: That’s being kept.
C: To be fair, they’ve banished him to work and it never seems to work.
A: It doesn’t take.
C: They’ve learned from their mistakes.
A: I’m glad someone does.
C: As Dante’s Ugolino says, “if Count Ugolino had the fame / Of having in thy castles thee betrayed, / Thou shouldst not on such cross have put his sons”. True – I mean, if he ceded the castles, it doesn’t seem fair to be locking up his sons and grandsons with him for the crime of ceding the castles.
A: That’s not exactly a blood guilt crime.
C: No. It also seems like ceding the castles, at least to my mind, feels like the least of his betrayals.
A: It’s the most minor of his treasons.
A: I’d have said intentionally throwing a battle like it was a boxing match is probably a little bit worse.
C: You already know how the rest of the story goes from Dante. They starve, after already being on prisoner rations, and as his children and grandchildren die, Ugolino allegedly eats them.
A: When you say ‘prisoner rations’, you mean… Air.
C: For eight months, they were clearly fed enough to remain alive.
A: I suppose that is true.
C: Their corpses were buried in the cloister of Saint Francis Church. In around 1822, they’re thought to have been thrown into another tomb, unrecognised.
A: Damnit. I was really hoping they dug them up and did the ‘hmm, there seems to be a few chop marks in this!’
C: Well, wait for it… Then the bones are moved again. Some sources say 1899, some say, like, 1909, so I don’t really know what’s going on there. And the bones from the tomb are rehomed, also within the church.
A: See, this is now where I’m a bit suspicious. If they dig up the bones and just put them somewhere unmarked, and then a few years later move some bones somewhere else… Could be anyone’s bones! Could be your bones. Could be my bones. Who knows? I’ve not looked inside, I don’t know if I’ve got bones.
A: None of my business.
C: That’s a very astute observation, Alix. On the 22 of September 2001 – a day called ‘Ugolino Day’ in some of the Italian press–
A: Why is there an Ugolino Day?!
C: You’ll see why.
A: Oh, it’s not, like, a celebration every year!
C: No, it’s just what the Italian press are headlining it as.
A: Okay, that makes more sense.
C: A crypt below the Gherardesca family chapel in the church of Saint Francis was opened up.
A: What’s in the box?
C: It’s opened up under the eye of the head of the University of Pisa Anthropology Department, Professor Francesco Mallegni. The crypt contains five skeletons.
A: One for each of his betrayals!
C: [Laughs] Yes, it’s like a puzzle tomb! Located near to them is a scroll, identifying the remains of those of Ugolino et al.
A: A scroll?
A: A tomb that was interred in the 19th century put in a scroll?
C: It seems very convenient, doesn’t it?
A: It’s a bit Indiana Jones.
C: When tested, the bones do seem to match modern day Gherardesca DNA with 98% certainty. I mean, they were in the family crypt, so one would hope. And they’re shown to have belonged to one man – about 75 to 80 years old – two middle-aged men, who are genetically brothers, and two young boys who are genetically cousins. Which is to say that it does match the story.
A: I have to say, I’m very impressed by how old Ugolino eventually lived to be.
C: He had a lot of betrayals to fit into a long life. The skull of the oldest individual also shows evidence of a heavy blow whilst he was still alive. All five skeletons were malnourished; they had eaten very little in the last months of their life, mostly poor-quality bread. Small stones from the grinding process were mixed in with the wheat, and was found to have damaged their teeth. And they were teeth that were already affected by cavities, suggesting wealth, a sugary diet, excess. So, again it fits with who these people could have been.
A: I love it when Casting Lots goes all scientific.
C: [Laughs] None of the bodies, not even the old man, had eaten any meat recently before dying. Besides, the oldest skeleton had already lost most of its teeth before death, which would make that kind of chomping rather difficult to do.
A: I’m just so impressed by the things that science can do!
C: Well, allegedly, according to one article I read, not only can they see whether you’ve eaten meat, but they can also tell what animal the meat came from. From the bones. And I think that’s bullshit. That can’t be right, can it? That can’t be true?
A: Do any forensic scientists listen to us? If so, (A) sorry, and (B) please elaborate.
C: It was only in one of the articles, which means that I feel like it was bullshit. It was, like, a newspaper article.
A: Ah, they’re not real academics.
C: Anyway, they hadn’t eaten any meat, so it doesn’t matter what animal it came from.
A: Maybe they just don’t have ‘human’ in their DNA database of meat?
C: Ah, well according to this one article, apparently they do, because of things like the Donner Party, et cetera. There are cases where you know they’ve been eating people.
A: That is valid. We have heard of one or two cases of survival cannibalism. We should do a podcast about it.
C: Now, in 2002, Mallegni announced that his findings exonerated the Count completely.
A: Do they actually, for 100% certainty, know that this is the Count?
C: Well, this is the question, Alix. Because in 2008, superintendent to the Archival Heritage of Tuscany, Paola Benigni, published an article disputing these findings. She claims that the documents assigning the bodies to Ugolino and family are actually fascist-era forgeries. Possibly, that’s more believable than them being correctly labelled after being moved around, like, two or three times. But I also don’t know the details of why they would have been forged and on what basis she says that, because the article is very short… And also in Italian.
A: You know how I mentioned Indiana Jones earlier? I think I was onto something!
C: So where does that leave us? Cannibalism debunked, and then kind of de-debunked?
A: Rebunked and debunked.
C: Yeah, this is another one of those episodes where I’ve led you on a merry tale and, at the end of it, there is no evidence that cannibalism definitely happened. But there is no evidence that it didn’t happen. Unless you count the evidence in the tomb.
A: Gosh darn it, Carmella, you’ve done it again!
[Outro Music – Daniel Wackett]
A: Thank you for listening to today’s episode on Count Ugolino. That’s the first time I’ve pronounced that right all season!
C: Join us next time for the trial of the century. The 19th century, that is.
[Outro music continues]
A: Casting Lots Podcast can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr as @CastingLotsPod, and on Facebook as Casting Lots Podcast.
C: If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, don’t forget to subscribe to us on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts, and please rate, review and share to bring more people to the table.
A: Casting Lots: A Survival Cannibalism Podcast, is researched, written and recorded by Alix and Carmella, with post-production and editing also by Carmella and Alix. Art and logo design by Riley – @Tallestfriend on Twitter and Instagram – with audio and music by Daniel Wackett – Daniel Wackett on SoundCloud and @ds_wack on Twitter. Casting Lots is part of the Morbid Audio Podcast Network – search #MorbidAudio on Twitter – and the network’s music is provided by Mikaela Moody – mikaelamoody1 on Bandcamp.
[Morbid Audio Sting – Mikaela Moody]