“Canto 10: Heretics in Flaming Tombs”
- As Dante goes through the Circles of the Inferno, he passes through Circles devoted to punishing incontinence, violence, and fraud. In Canto 10, he passes through a Circle devoted to punishing heresy.
Circle 6 of the Inferno is devoted to punishing the Heretics.
After passing through the gates, Dante sees open tombs out of which flames are rising. The Heretics are in these flaming tombs.
Note that heresy does not fit into the scheme of incontinence, violence, and fraud. These three categories make up a pagan list of sins, and since heresy is a specifically Christian sin, it does not fit into the pagan list of sins.
The Circle devoted to punishing heresy lies between the Circles devoted to punishing incontinence and the Circles devoted to punishing violence and fraud. The sin of heresy is a sin of intellect. The sin of heresy is more serious than the sins of incontinence (sins of the body), but it is less serious than the sins of violence and fraud.
- What is heresy?
Heresy is an interesting sin that does not fit in the pagan classification of sins in the Inferno. Heresy is not a sin of incontinence, of violence, or of fraud. Heresy is incorrect thinking about God. In other words, heresy is having the wrong beliefs concerning religion.
- What is factionalism?
Factionalism will be seen in this canto. Factionalism is two political or other parties struggling against each other. In this canto, Dante will meet Farinata, a Ghibelline. Dante, of course, was a Guelf.
- How does factionalism apply to heresy?
Factionalism does apply to heresy. The Epicureans represent a faction that did not believe in life after death. To Dante, this belief is heretical and against true belief in God.
Factionalism, or parties battling each other, can be seen in politics, in religion, and even in art, including poetry.
- Epicurus is one of the Heretics punished in Canto 10. Who was Epicurus?
The major fact we need to know is that Epicurus did not believe in life after death. Neither does Farinata.
- Dante talks with Heretics in Canto 10, but he does not talk to them about heresy as it applies to religious belief. What are the two topics he discusses with the Heretics?
He discusses politics and poetry. He discusses politics with Farinata, and poetry with the father of a poet friend of his.
Although factionalism can be seen in politics, as in the struggle between the Ghibellines and the Guelfs, or between the White Guelfs and the Black Guelfs, we also see factionalism in other areas. For example, we can see factionalism in religion, as when we see the Heretics being combated by those who have the true beliefs concerning religion and God. Factionalism can also exist in poetry. A new kind of poetry can replace the old style of poetry.
- Why would Dante talk with the Heretics about these two topics? Does factionalism exist in these two topics? Which examples of factionalism are you aware of?
Obviously, factionalism does exist in politics, as we see with the Ghibellines and the Guelfs, and with the White Guelfs and the Black Guelfs. Factionalism can be very bad, indeed. In Dante’s time, when a faction came into power, it would ban the opposing faction, exiling them from Florence.
An example of factionalism in politics: Winston Churchill was present when a politician of an opposing party was giving a speech with which Mr. Churchill disagreed. Mr. Churchill was in full sight of the audience, and he began to search through his pockets, obviously looking for something he could not find. The audience’s attention was diverted to Mr. Churchill, and the audience ignored the opposing politician’s speech. Later, Mr. Churchill claimed that he had merely been looking for a piece of candy (a jujube) and not deliberately drawing attention away from the speech.
Factionalism exists also in poetry. One kind of love poetry may be popular, but then can be pushed aside by another kind of poetry.
An example of factionalism in poetry: A great American poet was in the audience when a rival poet was giving a reading. During the recitation of poetry, the great American poet fiddled around with an ashtray. Somehow, some paper in the ashtray caught on fire, thus diverting attention away from the poetry of the rival poet. Later, the great American poet claimed the fire was an accident.
Factionalism exists also in music. In Dante’s time, poetry and song were related. A poem could be set to music and then sung. This was the case with some of Dante’s love poetry. As with poetry, one type of music may be popular, then a new kind of music may come along and be more popular or may be the hot new thing.
An example of factionalism in music: Louis Armstrong was a master of Dixieland jazz, but when a new form of jazz came along — bebop — he claimed not to like it or to understand it. Today, of course, some people are resistant to hip-hop or to rap. (Older people tend not to like newer music.)
Factionalism also exists in religion. A faction that believes in a heresy can be opposed to a faction that believes correctly about God. Of course, Christians can hate Jews, or Protestants can hate Catholics, and vice versa.
An example of factionalism in religion: The Epicureans did not believe in life after death.
The kind of factionalism that Dante talks about here is extreme factionalism.
Occasionally, Dante will be talking to sinners who have committed sins that he is not tempted to commit. These sins include heresy and homosexuality. In these cases, Dante will still talk to sinners, but the conversation will be about something that Dante can learn from. Therefore, since Dante is not tempted to become a heretic, he does not talk about heresy in Canto 10. Instead, he talks about something related to heresy that he can learn from: extreme factionalism.
Note that factionalism need not be bad. We have two major political parties — the Democratic party and the Republican party — in the United States. Both can work together for the good of the American people, and both can keep an eye on each other. However, in extreme factionalism, each party could try to illegally steal elections from each other.
Or one political party could try to keep voters who support the other political party from voting — or do other bad things. Research North Carolina in July 2013. We need not assume that both political parties are always equally at fault. See
In The Divine Comedy, Dante criticizes extreme factionalism.
- Dante is addressed by a sinner, a Heretic. How does the sinner know that Dante is a Florentine?
A sinner named Farinata recognizes that Dante is a Florentine because of his accent; therefore, the sinner speaks to Dante:
“O Tuscan, thou who through the city of fire
Goest alive, thus speaking modestly,
Be pleased to stay thy footsteps in this place.
Thy mode of speaking makes thee manifest
A native of that noble fatherland,
To which perhaps I too molestful was.”
Note that Farinata interrupts the conversation of Dane and Virgil. In extreme factionalism, interruptions occur and people on opposing sides often do not truly listen to each other.
Also note that Virgil speaks little in this circle. As a pagan, Virgil does not have a lot to say about heresy, which is a specifically Christian sin.
- What is the punishment of the Heretics?
The Heretics whom Dante meets are those who did not believe in life after death. Their punishment is to get exactly what they thought they would get after death: a tomb. The souls of the Heretics are placed in open tombs filled with fire. After the Last Judgment, the souls of the Heretics will be reunited with their bodies and the tops of the tombs will be closed forever.
Other kinds of Heretics are punished in this Circle. We read earlier, at the end of Canto 9, that Virgil tells Dante, “Like heretics lie buried with their like / and the graves burn more, or less, accordingly” (Musa,Inferno9.130-131).
In addition, the vision of the Heretics was faulty on Earth, since they believed in incorrect things. In the Inferno, the vision of all the sinners is faulty. They can see the future, but they cannot see the present; thus, Cavalcante does not know whether his son is still alive. After the Last Judgment, the Heretics will have no future and so they will know nothing. Farinata tells Dante the Pilgrim that “all our knowledge / will be completely dead at that time when / the door to future things is closed forever” (Musa, Inferno10.106-108).
No guards are here because tombs don’t need guards.
- How do we know that Farinata degli Uberti is proud from the way that he talks to Dante?
Farinata is definitely proud. Dante writes about him that he is “proclaiming his disdain for all this Hell” (Musa, Inferno10.36).
It is interesting to think of what Farinata is doing. He is in a tomb, and he stands up in it, so that his chest, shoulders, and head are visible to Dante. That position diminishes him (Farinata’s head is much lower than Dante’s head because Farinata is standing in a tomb that is dug into the ground), but he is still proud. Although Farinata would like to tower over Dante, Dante stands higher than he does. Although Farinata would like to look like a dignified statue on a pedestal, he looks somewhat silly.
He asks Dante, “And whowould yourancestors be?” (Musa, Inferno10.42). This is an interesting question, and we find out that Farinata is from a high-born family, part of the aristocracy of Florence. In fact, Farinata’s family is higher born than Dante’s family.
Basically, Farinata will soon be implying this: My family is better than your family.
Note that most of us would not be talking the way that Farinata talks to Dante. If we were far from home, and we met a person from our hometown, we would be talking about things we have in common — for example, the best pizza place in your hometown — rather than saying that our family is better than your family.
In fact, it turns out that Farinata is a Ghibelline and so he opposed the Guelfs.
In addition, when Farinata mentions two of the people in the tomb with him, he mentions only two people of high social position — apparently, he approves of these people because of their high social position:
He said: “With more than a thousand here I lie;
Within here is the second Frederick,
And the Cardinal, and of the rest I speak not.”
The people referred to are the Emperor Frederick II and Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini. The other people in the tomb are presumably of lower class than these two and so are not worthy enough for Farinata to mention their names.
- What did Farinata do in the past at the Battle of Montaperti between the rival cities of Florence and Siena on 4 September 1260?
Farinata was a Ghibelline general and leader at the Battle of Montaperti. At this battle the Ghibellines defeated the Guelfs and took control of Florence, kicking out many Guelfs.
The Florentine Ghibellines had allied themselves with the rival city of Siena. In this battle, thousands of people died.
The other major Ghibelline leader at the Battle of Montaperti was Provenzan Salvani (the leader of the Sienese Ghibellines), whom we will see in Purgatory.
- How does Dante respond to Farinata’s boasting about the past?
Farinata boasts about the past. He says about Dante’s Guelfs:
Then said he: “Fiercely adverse have they been
To me, and to my fathers, and my party;
So that two several times I scattered them.”
His statement is true, by the way. The Ghibellines exiled the Guelfs twice: in 1248 and in 1260. This, of course, is an excellent example of factionalism.
Dante responds in kind. He says:
“If they were banished, they returned on all sides,”
I answered him, “the first time and the second;
But yours have not acquired that art aright.”
What we are seeing here is factionalism in action. Both Farinata and Dante are acting out the roles of a Ghibelline and a Guelf struggling against each other. Dante points out that his party, the Guelfs, came back from exile twice and are in fact still in control of Florence.
Of course, Dante is doing what Farinata is doing. Both are trying to score points against someone of an opposing political party. However, what happened to Farinata because of that kind of thinking? He ends up in the Inferno. Dante needs to learn to avoid extreme factionalism during his journey through the afterlife. At this point, Dante the Pilgrim is still naïve and is still making mistakes.
- Farinata’s tombmate, Cavalcante, speaks to Dante. Who is Cavalcante?
We see more factionalism in action when Cavalcante speaks to Dante. Cavalcante is a Guelf while Farinata is a Ghibelline, so they are of opposing political parties. However, they are related by marriage. Cavalcante’s son married Farinata’s daughter in a politically motivated marriage.
Farinata and Cavalcante will be sharing the same tomb forever.
Note that Cavalcante interrupts the conversation of Farinata and Dante just like Farinata interrupted the conversation of Dante and Virgil earlier.
- What do Dante and Cavalcante talk about?
Cavalcante believes that Dante’s ability as a poet won him this trip through Hell. Cavalcante wonders why his son (Guido), who is also a poet, is not with Dante. Cavalcante thinks that his son is the equal of (or better than) Dante as a poet.
- What misunderstanding occurs in the conversation between Dante and Cavalcante?
Cavalcante asks Dante:
Weeping, he said to me: “If through this blind
Prison thou goest by loftiness of genius,
Where is my son? and why is he not with thee?”
Note that Cavalcante, like Farinata, is proud. He considers his son to be a poet of at least equal worth as Dante. If Dante is present as a living man in the Inferno because of his great worth, then Cavalcante’s son also ought to be present as a living man in the Inferno.
Dante replies to Cavalcante: “that one waiting over there guides me through here, / the one, perhaps, your Guido held in scorn” (Musa, Inferno10.62-63).
Of course, “that one waiting over there” (Musa, Inferno10.62) is Virgil.
Note that Dante seems to be accepting Cavalcante’s assumption that Dante is here in the Inferno because of his great merit as a poet. However, we know that actually he has three heavenly ladies who are worried about his soul. Dante is actually undertaking this pilgrimage in an attempt to save his soul.
Note also the reference to factionalism in poetry. It seems that Cavalcante’s son the poet scorned Virgil.
This exchange of dialogue leads to a major misunderstanding. Cavalcante hears the past tense (“held”) and assumes that his son has died.
We read what Cavalcante says:
Up starting suddenly, he cried out: “How
Saidst thou, — he had? — Is he not still alive?
Does not the sweet light strike upon his eyes?”
Dante does not speak for a moment because he is surprised — after all, the souls here know the past and the future, so why wouldn’t the souls know the present? During the pause, Cavalcante disappears back into the tomb, thinking that his son is dead.
Of course, heresy also involves misunderstanding. Heretics misunderstand God.
- Does Farinata ever acknowledge the existence of his tombmate?
Once again, we see factionalism in action. Farinata and Cavalcante completely ignore each other. Farinata picks up the conversation as though Cavalcante had never spoken.
Dante says about Farinata:
he merely picked up where we left off:
“If that art they did not master,” he went on,
“that gives me greater pain than does this bed.”
Even though Cavalcante and Farinata will be in the same tomb forever, they completely and totally ignore each other.
Note that Cavalcante and Farinata are in-laws. Cavalcante’s son (Guido) married Farinata’s daughter (Beatrice) in a marriage arranged to form a political alliance. Unfortunately, despite the things they have in common — being Florentines and being in-laws — extreme factionalism makes Cavalcante and Farinata completely and totally ignore each other. If not for extreme factionalism, Cavalcante and Farinata could talk together in the tomb, somewhat lessening the severity of their punishment.
- What does Farinata reveal to Dante about the future?
Farinata reveals that Dante will soon be sent into exile — within 50 months.
“But fifty times shall not rekindled be
The countenance of the Lady who reigns here,
Ere thou shalt know how heavy is that art;”
“The queen who reigns down here” (Musa, Inferno10.79) is the moon; the sun does not shine in the Inferno.
This is a very clear prophecy of Dante’s coming exile.
- Farinata asks why the Florentines are so hard on his family. (His family was not allowed to return from exile to Florence.) What explanation does Dante give?
Whence I to him: “The slaughter and great carnage
Which have with crimson stained the Arbia, cause
Such orisons in our temple to be made.”
Montaperti was a hill on the side of the Arbia River, so Dante is referring to the bloodshed of the Battle of Montaperti in 1260.
In 1280, many Ghibellines were allowed to return to Florence; however, Farinata’s family — the Uberti family — was not allowed to return to Florence.
Farinata was basically a traitor to Guelf-led Florence. He went to the city of Siena and got the Sienese to fight on his side. Many Florentines died in the battle, but Farinata and his Ghibellines gained power.
- How does Farinata avoid taking responsibility for his actions?
Dante says about Farinata:
After his head he with a sigh had shaken,
“There I was not alone,” he said, “nor surely
Without a cause had with the others moved.
But there I was alone, where every one
Consented to the laying waste of Florence,
He who defended her with open face.”
After the Guelf Florentines had been conquered, the Sienese thought about razing the city, but Farinata says that he by himself stopped them.
Of course, we can ask why he stopped them. Chances are, he wanted power over the city. If no city exists, then he cannot exert power over the city. Rather than Farinata being a hero, chances are good that Farinata was simply concerned about getting power for himself.
Farinata is apparently willing and able to sacrifice much life for power. At the Battle of Montaperti, thousands of people died. Also, Farinata can be regarded as a traitor to Florence, having conspired with a rival city to get soldiers to defeat it.
By the way, the leader of the Sienese at the Battle of Montaperti was Provenzan Salvani, whom we will see among the saved in Purgatory.
As usual, a sinner in the Inferno is avoiding taking responsibility for his actions.
- In which way is the vision of sinners in the Inferno faulty?
Farinata reveals that souls in the Inferno are unable to know the present, although they remember the past and know the future. Farinata says that the sinners in the Inferno can learn about present events and living people when a new sinner arrives. Of course, after Judgment Day no new sinners will arrive.
Mark Musa writes,
In answer to the Pilgrim’s wish (the “knot” of line 96) to know the shade’s capacity for knowledge of the present, Farinata states that, while they have complete knowledge of things past and future, they are ignorant of the present (except, of course, for the news of current events brought them by the new arrivals in Hell, the “others,” 104). Even this knowledge will be denied them after the Day of Judgment, when all will become absolute and eternal. The door of the future will be closed (108) and their remembrance of the past will fade away, since there will no longer be any past, present, or future. (Inferno166)
“Hence thou canst understand, that wholly dead
Will be our knowledge from the moment when
The portal of the future shall be closed.”
- Dante wants Farinata to give a message to Cavalcante. Is Farinata likely to give that message?
Dante requests that Farinata tell his tombmate that his son is still alive, but it seems very unlikely that Farinata will do that. Partisan politics (factionalism) will prevent that from happening.
- Why, in the Circle of the Heretics, do the characters talk about politics and poetry at all? Why is that an appropriate topic?
Sinners have something important to say to Dante. Here we see factionalism in action, and factionalism can occur in many areas: religion, politics, poetry, and music.
Dante is being warned against being factionalistic.
- Why is Farinata in Hell?
Farinata is proud — something that is the foundation of all sin.
Farinata got a lot of people killed because of his political factionalism.
Farinata is a Heretic who denied the immortality of human beings.
- Why is the punishment of the Heretics (who denied that human beings are immortal) appropriate?
The Heretics whom Dante meets are those who did not believe in life after death. Their punishment is to get exactly what they thought they would get after death: a tomb. The souls of the Heretics are placed in open tombs filled with fire. After the Last Judgment, the souls of the Heretics will be reunited with their bodies and the tops of the tombs will be closed forever. In addition, the vision of the Heretics was faulty on Earth, since they believed in incorrect things. In the Inferno, the vision of all the sinners is faulty. They can see the future, but they cannot see the present; thus, Cavalcante does not know whether his son is still alive. After the Last Judgment, the Heretics will have no future and so they will know nothing. Farinata tells Dante the Pilgrim that “all our knowledge / will be completely dead at that time when / the door to future things is closed forever” (Musa, Inferno10.106-108).
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