The poets begin their journey down a secret path in Circle VI, the circle containing the Heretics. Dante tells Virgil that he wants to speak with some of the shades in this circle, and Virgil answers that Dante's wish will soon be granted, as well as a wish Dante was hiding from Virgil. Dante replies that he had not been hiding any wish.
A shade rises from a tomb and recognizes Dante's Tuscan accent. Dante is at once surprised and afraid, but Virgil urges him to speak to the shade. Dante approaches the tomb and learns that the shade is Farinata, Dante's political enemy. Dante and Farinata exchange a dialogue that is simultaneously hostile and respectful. In the middle of their dialogue, another shade rises from the tomb that also recognizes Dante. This shade asks why his son is not with Dante, and Dante replies that it is because the shade's son held Dante's guide in scorn. Dante uses the past tense, "held," and the shade asks Dante if his son is dead. Dante hesitates, and the shade, believing that his son is dead, swoons back into the burning tomb.
Farinata, still standing in the tomb, continues his argument as if no interruption occurred. Farinata prophesizes that, "the face of her who reigns in Hell shall not/be fifty times rekindled in its course/before you learn what griefs attend that art." The two discuss the reasons for the split between the White and Black Guelph parties. Dante asks Farinata why shades can predict the future and Farinata answers that shades can know the past and see into the future, but have no awareness of what happens in the present. Farinata says that the ability to know the past and see the future is the light that the King of All (God) grants the shades.
Dante regrets that he didn't get to tell the other shade that his son is not dead, and asks Farinata to give word to him. Dante returns to Virgil looking downtrodden due to Farinata's prophesy, and Virgil tells him that the Sweet Lady (Beatrice) will make the situation clearer for Dante later. The poets bear left, passing deeper into the city with the flaming walls.
The sixth circle contains the Heretics, those who believed that the body did not contain a soul. Many of these are Epicureans, followers of Epicurus, the Greek philosopher whose philosophy was the attainment of happiness, defined as the absence of pain.
Farinata, along with Cavalcante, is in the circle of the Heretics, partly because both he and Cavalcante were Epicureans. According to Dante's society, a heretic was a person who chose his or her own opinion rather than following the judgment of the papacy; Cavalcante and Farinata followed the Epicurean philosophy. The Epicureans believed that there is no soul and that everything dies with the body. They regarded the pleasures of life on Earth as the highest goal for man. Because Dante knew both Farinata and Cavalcante as Epicureans, he fully expected to meet them in this circle of Hell.
According to Dante's idea of retribution, the Heretics' punishment is to spend eternity in flaming tombs, until Judgment day, when the tombs will close and the souls inside will be sealed forever within their earthly bodies.
Dante consistently uses the act of prophesy as a literary device in Inferno. Farinata's prophesy for Dante, "the face of her who reigns in Hell shall not/be fifty times rekindled in its course/before you learn what griefs attend that art," means that Dante will also experience the grief of exile.
The other shade that interrupts Farinata is Cavalcante, another Epicurean, former citizen of Florence, and father of Guido, a contemporary poet and friend of Dante's. When Dante says: "Your Guido felt disdain," he could mean several things. He could mean that Guido, a modern poet, held Virgil and all classical poets in scorn. Note that Farinata and Cavalcante don't notice or recognize each other. Shades in Hell are not there for each other's companionship or compassion. They don't keep one another company, and they are more often together to provide more suffering for one another, as in the case of Ugolino and Ruggieri in Canto XXXIII, whose position next to each other for eternity causes pain rather than comfort.
Historically speaking, Farinata was a powerful personality of the preceding generation. He belonged to the opposing political party, the Ghibellines, and the members of Dante's family were Guelphs. As Dante alludes to in this particular canto, Farinata twice led the Ghibellines against the Guelphs and twice defeated them. Thus, he and Dante should be bitter enemies. However, he is not someone whom Dante hates; instead, Farinata was a person that Dante admired tremendously. (A person can respect an enemy, even if they are opposed to him or her.)
Farinata's concerns are those of a warrior; any other sentiments are meaningless to him. He is a citizen, and he utters his request to Dante in the name of their homeland. Farinata is also a partisan: He first asks Dante about his ancestors. Likewise, he is an invincible warrior: He tells of scattering his opponents twice. Farinata's greatest glory was his love for Florence, a love that withstood every hatred and saved his beloved city. The theme of Cavalcante's paternal love, interwoven with Farinata's heroic love, is effective.
Dante created an image of Farinata as a very proud person, as well as an image of power, character, and strength. He describes Farinata as raising himself erect so that he could only be seen from the waist up, as though his upper body represents his total personality. This posture suggests that spiritually, he towers above all of Hell and creates an image of infinite strength and grandeur.
Jehosaphat valley outside Jerusalem where it is believed that the Last Judgement will take place.
Epicurus Greek philosopher. 341-270 b.c. founder of the Epicurean school, which held that the goal of man should be a life characterized by serenity of mind and the enjoyment of moderate pleasure.
Farinata Farinata degli Uberti; famous leader of the Ghibelline party of Florence.
Guido Guido Cavalanti, poet and friend of Dante; also Farinata's son-in-law.
The Second Frederick The Emperor Frederick II.
Cardinal of the Ubaldini a cardinal in Dante's time, said to be involved in money and politics.