Dante Alighieri

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Inferno: Canto 10 Summary & Analysis

While still walking by the heretics' tombs, Dante asks Virgil if he can see the souls who are inside the tombs, since all the tombs lids are off. Virgil says he can, and hints that he understands why Dante is really asking this (he wants to see if anyone he knew from Florence is here). Virgil points out a group of tombs containing the followers of Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who thought that the soul did not live on after death.
Even in the midst of his miraculous journey through the afterlife, Dante is interested in finding someone from Florence he might recognize. Epicurus's followers sin against God by not believing in the immortality of the soul. The entire concept of the afterlife described in Inferno is based on the immortality of the soul.
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Just then, a voice from one of the tombs interrupts Dante and Virgil, calling out to Dante as a living Tuscan. Virgil encourages Dante to go see the spirit, who turns out to be Farinata, a fellow Florentine. Farinata asks who Dante is and when Dante tells him, Farinata says that their families have long feuded.
The local feuds between families in Florence are still a matter of concern for Farinata, even as he spends eternity suffering in hell. This particular feud refers to the fact that Farinata stood on the side of the Ghibellines (supporting the Holy Roman Emperor over the Pope) while Dante was a Guelph (supporting the Pope over the Holy Roman Emperor). This political conflict motivated much of the political strife in Florence and across all of Italy when Dante wrote.
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Another suffering soul interrupts Farinata and Dante, asking why his son is not with Dante. Dante recognizes this soul as Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, the father of his friend Guido. Dante says he comes this way because of God's will and suggests that maybe Guido disdained God. Hearing Dante use the past tense in this way, Cavalcante assumes that Guido has died, and drops back down into his tomb, mourning. Farinata picks up where he left off, discussing Florence.
Cavalcante is also concerned with earthly matters. Like reputation or fame, his son offers a way for him (or at least his family name) to continue to live on earth, so he is greatly pained when he thinks that his son has died. The inclusion of both Farinata and Cavalcante in this section compares the love of city evident in Farinata and the family love shown by Cavalcante, not indicating one as greater than the other but showing the power of each.
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Dante asks Farinata how it is that he and other souls in hell seem to be able to foretell the future, but cannot know the present. Farinata answers that souls here can only see distant things—the future and past, but not the present. He can sometimes see glimmers of God's light from afar but when it comes near in some form, he cannot see it clearly. Feeling pity, Dante asks Farinata to tell Cavalcante that Guido is still alive.
As Farinata informs Dante, souls in the next world have a privileged vantage point from which they can see the earthly future. However, they are blind to what is directly in front of them, which is a kind of punishment in itself as they are left wondering about what is going on to those they knew and cared about. Dante is moved by pity for the punishment of his friend's father.
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Virgil urges Dante to hurry along, but before he does Dante asks Farinata to tell him quickly some of the other spirits in this part of hell. Farinata names King Frederick II and points out a cardinal, but refuses to name any others. Dante and Virgil continue walking and Virgil tells him that he will understand everything when he is basking in the glorious light of heaven. They take a path toward the center of Dis, from where Dante smells noxious fumes rising up.
Dante's request for Farinata to name other spirits arises out of Dante's desire to learn more about hell. Frederick II was a Holy Roman Emperor who died in 1250, about fifty years before Dante wrote the Inferno. The placement of Frederick II in hell represents Dante's beliefs as a Guelph. At the same time, Dante's respectful interaction with Farinata hints at a further political factor: that the Guelph's had in fact split into two factions: one which wanted Florence to be independent, the other which preferred to work with the Pope. Dante belonged to the former faction, and had been exiled when the latter had taken power in 1302 (Dante wrote Inferno during his exile). In exile, Dante felt a kind of connection with Ghibellines like Farinata, as the Ghibellines had been banished a decade or so earlier.
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