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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes
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The cemetery in which Dante and Virgil find themselves is the
Sixth Circle of Hell, the home of the Heretics. Dante is hailed
by Farinata degli Uberti, a Florentine who was hated by
Dante's ancestors for his part in a particularly brutal ambush.
Dante is frightened to hear himself beckoned from one of
these tombs and clings to Virgil, who turns him around to talk
to the shade. Before the conversation has gone very far,
another shade rises to a sitting position in the same tomb to
ask about his son. This is Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti whose
son, Guido, was Farinata's son-in-law, and a poet-friend of
Dante. Dante refers to Guido in the past tense, and Cavalcante,
misunderstanding Dante's response, thinks his son is dead. At
this, he swoons back into the tomb. As if he were not
interrupted at all, Farinata continues to justify his actions to
Dante. Dante leaves the pair with a message for Cavalcante
that his son is still alive and sets off again with Virgil, for it is
getting late.

NOTE: You are probably wondering why Dante has included
such details as Florentine politics and parental devotion in
this canto, or in the whole poem for that matter. Dante, over
and over, is trying to show that the pain of Hell is the pain of
the particular sin that was chosen. Both Farinata and
Cavalcante are specific manifestations of a larger sin; they
are both heretics.

For Dante, heresy was intellectual stubbornness. These
sinners knew what the Church taught but preferred their own
interpretation. They did not trust what should or could be
trusted. Both men continue in Hell to pursue, blindly and
stubbornly, their own limited visions. By putting these
seemingly unconnected men and conversations together in one
tomb, Dante demonstrates the self-centered pride and
isolation of heresy.

Note, too, how the punishment fits the sin. The unbending
pride is housed in an unyielding iron tomb; the contempt for
the right way is punished in scathing flames.

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The Inferno by Dante Alighieri - Barron's Booknotes

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