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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The two poets move along the city and Dante asks Virgil if it is possible to see the souls that lie in the tombs. The tombs are open and unguarded. Virgil tells him that the fate of the souls is to lie for eternity in these tombs. After they are joined with their bodies and return back in Hell from Jehoshaphat they will once again find themselves entombed (for all eternity). Virgil points out the place where Epicurus and his followers are entombed. He adds that Dante's question will soon be answered and his unexpressed wish will be fulfilled as well. Dante says that he is not keeping secrets just speaking minimally, as he has been advised by Virgil to speak sparingly.
A voice from one of the tombs addresses Dante. It recognizes that Dante is Tuscan and from Florence. The shade praises Dante’s style of speech and says that he is from Florence as well. A city with which he (shade) was too harsh during his lifetime. This speech emanating from a tomb scares Dante and he draws closer to Virgil. Virgil asks him to turn around and look at Farinata, the shade which has risen waist up from a tomb. Dante turns around and see Farinata, standing straight in his tomb. Virgil encourages Dante to approach the shade and advises him to talk to the latter carefully.
When Dante reaches the tomb Farinata asks him who his ancestors were. He listens to Dante's comprehensive answer and says that they were his political enemies and he drew them away from Florence twice. Dante replies that his ancestors came back both times, a feat, which Farinata's men could never achieve.
While this conversation is happening between the two Florentines, another shade appears from the tomb. This shade looks around to see if another shade is accompanying Dante seeing none he asks the pilgrim the whereabouts of his son. Dante points out that he is accompanied by Virgil, who was scorned by his (shade's) son guide. The shade's sin as well as his question had revealed his identity to Dante. The shade takes Dante's answer to mean his son is dead and asks Dante if this is true. At Dante's silence he sinks back into the tomb.
Farinata is totally disinterested in all that has occurred and continues his conversation with Dante at the same place where they left off when Guido's father interrupted. He says that his men’s persistent exile, pains him more than his punishment in Hell. And prophesizes that in fifty-month's time Dante will be exiled from Florence. He asks Dante why Dante's party is so strict with Farinata's clan in their laws. Dante replies that the bloodshed at the battle near Arabia sea is the reason why they are so strict with Farinata's clan. Farinata says that he wasn't alone in the battle that led to bloodshed and he had a good reason for his actions. But he alone stood up for Florence's defense when others wanted to destroy the city.
Dante is confused. He knows that the shades in Hell can tell the future. But Caavalcante's (Guido's father) question and its implied ignorance of the present confuse him. He asks Farinata to explain this. Farinata tells him that they can only see the future but not the present. Their knowledge of the present comes from other people who come to Hell. Thus after the Day of Judgement, when past, present and future all become one, these shades will lose all knowledge.
Dante entrusts Farinate with a message for Cavalcante: that is son is alive and Dante's silence was his confusion at the shade's ignorance of his son's state. Virgil calls out to Dante and before leaving he asks Farinata who else lie in the tomb with him. Farinata says that there are more than a thousand souls there but names on "the second Frederick" and "the Cardinal". As Dante walks back to Virgil he thinks about Farinata's prophecy. As they begin to walk, Virgil asks Dante why he looks so troubled. Dante reveals that the prophecy worries him. Virgil asks him to remember it and says that Beatrice will reveal all of his future to him. Virgil turns left and leaving the walls behind walks toward the center. They are following a path that leads to a very ill smelling valley.
Dante follows Virgil as the two poets move along in the circle of the Heretics. The lids of the tomb are open and the tombs are unguarded. Naturally curious about their occupants Dante asks his guide whether the occupants can be seen. Virgil replies that these souls are doomed. For eternity to lie in these tombs. He mentions that they'll retrieve their bodies from Jehoshaphat and come back here. The Old Testament prophet Joel stated that Jehoshaphat will be the site of the last judgement. This is when every soul reunites with its body and then returns to Heaven or Hell for eternity. Jehoshaphat is located between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.
Virgil points out the tombs of Epicurus and his followers who are also punished in the sixth circle of the Heretics. He adds that soon Dante's question (about whether the entombed souls can be seen) will be answered and his unstated wish will be fulfilled. Dante replies that he is not being secretive just abstaining from too much talk as Virgil has advised him to.
The Epicureans are in Hell and punished as heretics along with Epicures. Epicurus was a Greek philosopher. In 306 B.C. he started a school of thought in Athens, which was named after him. According to this school of thought highest good is found in temporal happiness and this is obtained by being virtuous. During Dante's time Epicureans were considered heretics because they stressed temporal happiness and ignored as well as denied the soul's immortality and afterlife. Epicurus is a pagan (he was born before the birth of Christ) and thus belongs to the Limbo. But since he denied the immortality of the soul he has been consigned to the sixth circle. This is because even the pagans or ancients were aware that the human soul is immortal. His philosophy denied this belief and hence he is considered a heretic.
Virgil is well acquainted with how his wards’ mind works. So much so that he is aware of Dante's unstated wish. This wish could be the desire to know if Farinata is among the heretics. Although many critics believe this is the case, modern critics like Mark Musa think it is more likely that Dante is eager to know how the shades in Hell can see the future.
A shade, hearing Dante talking in Tuscan (classical Italian as spoken in Tuscany) rises from a tomb and addresses him. The shade is of a fellow Tuscan, named Farinata. Farinata whose full name was Mennonite di Jacopo Degli Uberti was from an old and respected Florentine family. He was politically active and supported the Ghibelline party. He led the party as its leader in 1239 and died in 1264, on year before Dante's birth. Farinata is a proud man from a respectable bloodline. His pride shows in the way he stands in the tomb "he stood out tall, with his chest and brow proclaiming his disdain for all this Hell." His spirit is not intimidated by the pain he suffers in Hell. He is very concerned with matters of lineage as is reveled in his first question to Dante the pilgrim. He asks Dante about his ancestors. Dante comes from a noble family as well. Although his family belonged to the party of Gruelfs, political enemies of Farinata and the Ghibelline. Ghibelline expelled the Gruelfs twice from Florence in 1248 and 1260. But they came back both times in 1251 and 1267. But when the Ghibellines drove the Uberti family from Florence, they were unable to return back. This is what is meant by Dante's remark, "...an art your men, however never mastered...", addressed to Farinata.
The conversation between the two Florentines is interrupted by the appearance of another shade from the same tomb. This is the shade of Cavalcante de' Cavalcante. He was also from a respectable Florentine family and the father of Guido Cavalcanti. Both father and son were well known Epicureans. Guido, born in 1255, was a major poet of his time and a good friend of Dante's. Dante's poetry was much influenced by Guido's poetic style. Both Cavalcanti were Gruelfs and Guido was married to Farinata's daughter Beatrice. This marriage led of a short period of peace between the two parties of Gruelfs and Ghibellines. Guido died in the August of 1300.
Cavalcanti recognizes Dante and naturally asks Dante about his son. He wishes to know why his son doesn't accompany the Pilgrim. Dante's reply he misinterprets to believe that Guido is dead. He asks Dante if this true. His ignorance surprises Dante who lapses into silence. Dante was under the impression that the shade knew all about the present and future. Cavalcanti's lack of knowledge naturally surprises him. Believing his son to be dead Cavalcanti descends back into his tomb in grief.
Farinata resumes the conversation, naughtily ignoring the recent interruption. It is in keeping with his proud nature and self- importance. It is this very pride that forms the foundation of Farinata's heresy: intellectual pride. During his lifetime he was so full of self-importance and so sure of himself that he dismissed the truth of religion. He says that the failure of his family to return to Florence hurts him more than the tortures of Hell. His pride is more important to him than pain, which he easily dismisses. He makes a prophecy about Dante's future: in fifty month's time Dante will find himself exiled from Florence. Then he asks Dante why the Gruelfs are so harsh with his clan (the Uberti family) in their laws. He is referring to the fact that when the Ghibellines were forgiven and allowed to return to Florence (in 1280) his family were not pardoned and had to remain in exile. Dante states that the reason is the bloodshed that occurred on the bank of Arabia (near Siena). The reference is to a vicious battle between the Florentine Gruelfs and Ghibellines (1260). At this battle the Gruelfs were defeated b Ghibellines (led by Farinata).
In his defense Farinata states that he was only one of many Ghibellines at that battle. And he had good reason to fight. He adds that at the Council in Empoli (after the Ghibelline victory) when other Ghibellines wanted to destroy Florence he was the only one who stood up in her defense.
Dante requests him to clear his confusion about the shade's accessibility to the future but inability to know the present. Farinata answers that their knowledge is imperfect, it extends only to the future. They are in the dark about the present and must rely on others to know it. Thus, after the last judgement, when past, present and future all become one the shade will lose all their knowledge. Access to the future will be shut and memories of the past will be lost since in eternal time there is no past, present or future. Now Dante realizes Cavalcanti's plight and regretting his silence, requests Farinata to explain to Cavalcanti the reason behind his confused silence and also to inform him that his son Guido lives. Before going back to Virgil who is summoning him, Dante asks Farinata about the other occupants of his tomb. Farinata admits that there are more than a thousand souls in there. But he mentions only two: the second Frederick and the Cardinal. The proud Farinata deems only the Cardinal and the Emperor as worthy of mention and summarily dismisses other less illustrious souls. The "Second Frederick" refers to the Emperor Frederick II (1194 -11250) of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. He was the son of Emperor Henry VI and Constance of Sicily. His birthplace was Jesi, near Ancona in Italy. Among his contemporaries he was considered as an eccentric genius. It was believed that he was an Epicurean and therefore he lies in the sixth circle of Hell. The "Cardinal" is Cardinal Ottaviano Degli Ubaldini. He was a Ghibelline and also a papal legate in Lombardy and Romagna until his death in 1273. It is believed that he once said, "If I have a soul, I have lost it for the Ghibellines". These words imply that he doubted the immortality of the soul an it is this doubt that made Dante the Poet tag him as a heretic.
Farinata retreats back into his tomb and Dante preoccupied with Farinata's prophecy rejoins Virgil. Virgil senses his disquiet and Dante admits his troubled thoughts to his guide. Virgil advises him to remember Farinata's words and adds that Beatrice will reveal his (Dante's) entire future to him. With these words he turns left and the two poets continue their journey heading towards an ill-smelling valley.