Dante hesitates as to whether his words can even come close to conveying the hideous innermost region of hell. He asks the muses to help his poem stay close to the truth. As Antaeus drops Dante and Virgil on the ground, he hears a voice telling them to be careful not to tread on sinners' heads. As Dante looks around, he notices that they are standing on a frozen lake in which sinners are submerged with only their heads sticking out of the ice.
Close to his feet Dante sees two souls whose hair is tangled together and who continually butt heads. He asks them who they are and they start to cry but their tears freeze immediately. Another soul, whose ears have frozen off, shouts at Dante, asking why he is staring at them. He names the other two spirits as two brothers who killed each other. (Their names are not given, but they are Napoleone and Alessandro of Mangona.)
Napoleone and Alessandro disrespected their close bond of brotherhood in life and are now fittingly doomed to be frozen together with each other for all eternity.
The spirit says that no other souls deserve as much as these two to be frozen together and tells Dante that he is Camicion dei Pazzi (who murdered a family member). Dante sees thousands more frightening faces sticking out of the ice, as he and Virgil walk toward the center of the lake, leaving behind those who betrayed their families and approaching the region populated by traitors to their countries.
Camicion recognizes the justice of Napoleone and Alessandro's punishment. Dante sees many more souls than he can hope to record in his poem. The epic truth of his journey is again greater than can be expressed in his poem.
As they walk, Dante accidentally steps on a head. The spirit cries out and Dante thinks he recognizes it. He asks Virgil if they can stop for a moment. The soul hurls insults at Dante, and Dante asks who he is to be shouting such insults here. The spirit angrily asks who Dante is to be treading on people's heads here. Dante answers that he is living and can give the spirit's name fame by including it in his writing. But the spirit tells Dante he wants no fame and shoos him away.
Dante recognizes his own powerful ability to grant fame through writing the story of his journey. This soul, however, does not want to be famous for being a suffering sinner in hell.
Dante grabs the soul's hair and threatens to rip the hair from his head unless he identifies himself. The spirit is not intimidated and Dante is pulling at the hair when another spirit calls out, asking why Bocca degli Abati (the spirit who is refusing to say his own name) is shouting. Dante recognizes Bocca as a traitor to Florence and promises to make his name live on in infamy for his misdeeds.
Far from pity, Dante here displays righteous anger at Bocca. He promises to use his ability to grant fame to make Bocca infamous for his betrayal of Dante's native city (Bocca betrayed the Florentine Guelphs during battle). Dante seems almost angrier because Bocca sinned against Florence rather than against God.
Bocca tells Dante to write whatever he wishes, but tells Dante to include mention of other souls nearby. He names several other sinners. Dante leaves Bocca behind and soon sees two men frozen together with one eating the other's head. Dante asks this spirit who he is, saying that if his rage against the other spirit is justified, he will tell his story on earth, giving him a favorable reputation.
After showing anger toward Bocca, Dante offers the possibility of pity to this other spirit, but only if it has a justified cause for its anger against the other soul. Dante is now repeatedly invoking his ability to make sinners famous.