Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Inferno: Canto X

Inferno -- Canto X
Heretics, Farinata, Cavalcante

Now, by a hidden passageway that wound
Between the rack and ramparts of the city,
My master travels and I after him.

"O highest virtue who through these arrant rings
Lead me around as you please," I began,
"Speak to me and satisfy my yearnings:

"The people here who lie within the tombs,
Can they be seen? Already all the lids
Are raised off and no one is standing guard,"

And he responded, "They shall all be sealed
When they come back here from Jehosaphat
With the bodies that they have left up there.

"In this section is found the cemetery
Of Epicurus and his followers,
All those who claim the soul dies with the body.

"So the question that you have put to me
Soon shall be satisfied while we are here,
As shall the wish that you have kept from me."

And I: "Good guide, I do not hide my heart:
I only want now to have less to say
As more than once before you prompted me."

"O Tuscan, passing through the fiery city
Alive and speaking with such frank decorum,
Be kind enough to pause now in this place.

"Your way of talking makes it clear you come
Of the stock born of that same noble city
To which I was perhaps too troublesome."

So suddenly had this sound issued from
One of the coffins there that I trembled
And drew a little closer to my guide.

"Turn around," he said. "What are you doing?
Look here at Farinata straightening up!
From waist high you will see the whole of him."

I had already fixed my eyes on his
While he emerged with his forehead and chest,
Looking as though he held hell in contempt.

The quick, assuring hands of my leader
Pushed me toward him between the sepulchers —
He said, "Suit your words to the occasion."

When I had come up nearer to his tomb,
He stared a moment and then, disdainfully,
Questioned me, "Who were your ancestors?"

I who was anxious to be dutiful
Kept nothing back but told him everything.
At this he raised his brows ever so slightly,

Then said, "They were so fiercely inimical
To me and to my forebears and my party
That twice I had to send them scampering."

"Though they were driven out, yet from all sides
At both times they came back," I said to him;
"But your men never really learned that art."

At that there rose before my sight a shade
Beside him — visible down to his chin —
I guess he raised himself up on his knees.

He gazed all around me, as though intent
To see if I were there with someone else,
But when his hope had been completely dashed,

Tearfully he said, "If you journey through
This blind prison by reason of high genius,
Where is my son? Why is he not with you?"

I answered, "I do not journey on my own:
He who awaits there leads me through this place —
Perhaps your Guido had felt scorn for him."

His question and his form of punishment
Allowed me already to read his name;
On that account, my answer was so full.

Suddenly he stood and cried out, "How?
You said ‘had felt’? Is he not still alive?
Does not the lovely light still strike his eyes?"

And when he had observed my hesitation
Before I answered him, he shrank back down
And would not show his face to me again.

That noble-hearted shade at whose request
I’d halted my steps did not change his look
Or bow his head or bend his body down,

But, picking up once more our first exchange,
He said, "If they have poorly learned that art,
That fact torments me far more than this bed.

"Not fifty times, however, shall the face
Of the lady reigning here rekindle light
Before you know how heavy that art weighs.

"And, so may you return to the sweet world,
Tell me why those people are so unjust
In all the laws they pass against my kindred?"

Then I replied, "The rout and massacre
Which stained the stream of the Arbia red
Inspires such petitions in our temple."

At that he sighed, shook his head, and said,
"In that harsh action I was not alone:
Surely with cause I joined in with the others;

"But there I was alone where all concurred
To topple Florence to the ground, the only
One to stand up for her openly."

"Ah, as you wish your seed to find true peace,"
I answered, "help me to unravel the knot
That has so tangled up my thinking here.

"It seems, if I am right, that you can see
Beforehand what time bears along with it,
But what the present holds you cannot grasp."

"We see, like someone suffering poor vision,
Those things," he said, "that are far off from us:
Such light the Sovereign Lord still proffers us.

"When things approach or happen, our intellect
Is useless; unless others inform us here
We would know nothing of your human state.

"So you can comprehend how wholly dead
Shall be our knowledge at that moment when
The door of the future has slammed shut."

Then, as though in sorrow for my failure,
I said, "Now will you tell that fallen man
That his son is still there among the living.

"And if, before, I remained silent
To his response, inform him I was thinking
About the problem you have just cleared up."

Already my master was calling me back,
And so I begged that spirit with fresh haste
To tell me who were with him in the tombs.

"Here lie with me more than a thousand,"
He said; "Here is Frederick the Second,
And the Cardinal. . ., but I name no more."

With that he vanished, and I turned my steps
Toward the ancient poet while I pondered
Those words that seemed so threatening to me.

He moved along, and then as we two walked,
He questioned me, "Why are you so perturbed?"
And I satisfied him with my answer.

"Store in your mind what you have heard set forth
Against yourself," that sage commanded me.
"Now pay attention," and he raised a finger:

"When you shall stand before the gentle beams
Of her whose beautiful eyes see everything,
From her you’ll learn the journey of your life."

With that he turned his steps off to the left.
We quit the wall and headed toward the center
Along a path that strikes down to a valley

Which, even there, sickened us with its stench.


Dante and Virgil finally enter into the City of Dis. Once inside the City, Dante sees everywhere uncovered tombs inside of which there are hot flames and growing laments. Virgil informs Dante that inside those sepulchres are condemned the arch-Heretics.

Amongst them are Farinata degli Uberti and Guido Cavalcanti.

Farinata degli Uberti was the most important man of the Ghibelline faction in the 13th century history of Florence. In 1248 he expelled the Guelfs from Florence, but they returned and in 1258 expelled the Ghibellines, including Farinata who took refuge in Siena. His name is connected with the Battle of Montaperti (a town near Siena) in 1260. There the Guelf forces lead by the Florentines were totally overcome. Following their victory the Ghibellines held a council in Empoli, near Florence, in which it was decided to destroy Florence. Farinata was the only Ghibelline to oppose this plan, and so Florence was spared. Farinata died in 1264. He was buried in Santa Reparata.

A few years later, in 1283, a trial was held in Florence against him and he was posthumously condemned as a heretic. The bodies of Farinata and his wife were exhumed and burnt. The problem of heresy was strongly felt during Dante's time. It is important to remember that sects of heretics were widely spread in Italy, Florence included. Many Ghibellines were known as heretics. Dante places Farinata among the Heretics of Circle 6.

Guido Cavalcanti was the son of Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, Guido was the most important Florentine poet in Dante's time. He was born fifteen years before Dante's birth and died in 1300, at the age of 50.

After Dante, Guido Cavalcanti is the most prominent poet of the Sweet New Style and of the 13th century. Dante considered his as his "friend" and calls him "the first among my friends" in the Vita Nuova. Of a noble family, Guido was also active in Florentine political life. He was a Guelf and had married the daughter of Farinata (a Ghibelline) at a time when efforts were being made to bring together the two opposing political factions.

As many intellectual men of the period, Guido too denied the immortality of the soul and therefore he was a heretic. Dante places him among the Heretics of Circle 6, where Guido's father-in-law, Farinata, is also found.

After the meeting with Farinata and Guido, the two Poets arrive at the edge of the Sixth Circle. The stench that comes from the Circle below is so strong that they decide to stop a while by a coffin in order to get somewhat accostumed to the smell. In the coffin there is the soul of Pope Anastasius II.

Anastasius II was Pope from 496 to 498, and is placed by Dante in a tomb among the Heretics of Circle 6. Dante may have confused Anastasius II with his contemporary Anastasious I, Roman emperor of the East from 491 to 518. The Emperor's heretical inclination (he was a Monophysite) stirred religious unrest throughout the Empire. The confusion between the two was a tradition well established before Dante's time.

The idea that knowledge in these souls will be, at the end of times, totally extinct, is part of the contrapasso.


Farinata degli Uberti

Guido Cavalcanti