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Dante Alighieri - La Divina Commedia - Inferno
Courtney Langdon - The Divine Comedy

The Sixth Circle. Heresy
Heretics

Now wends his way along a narrow path,
between the torments and the city's wall,
my Teacher and, behind his shoulders, I.

“O lofty Virtue,” I began, “that leadst me
around the impious circles at thy pleasure,
converse with me and satisfy my wishes.
The people that are lying in the tombs,
could they be seen? For all the lids are raised,
it seems, and there is no one keeping guard.”

And he to me: “They all will be locked in,
when from Jehoshaphat they here return
together with the bodies they have left
above. On this side have their burial-place
with Epicurus all his followers,
who claim that with the body dies the soul.
To the request, however, which thou makest
thou 'lt soon receive a due reply in here,
as also to the wish thou keepest from me.”

And I: “Good Leader, I but keep my heart
concealed from thee, in order to speak little;
nor hast thou only now thereto disposed me.”

“O Tuscan, thou that through the town of fire
dost go alive with such respectful speech,
in this place be thou pleased to stay thy steps.
Thy very language makes thee manifest
a native of that noble fatherland,
to which I was, perhaps, too great a bane.”

All of a sudden issued forth these words
from one of those ark-tombs; hence I, in fear,
a little closer to my Leader drew.
And he said: “Turn around; what doest thou?
See Farinata who has risen there;
thou 'lt see him wholly from his girdle up.”

Already had I fixed mine eyes on his;
and he was standing up with chest and head
erect, as if he had great scorn for Hell.
My Leader then with bold and ready hands
pushed me between the sepulchers toward him,
saying: “Now let thy words be frank and clear.”

When I was 'neath his tomb, he looked at me
awhile, and then, as though disdainfully,
he asked of me: “Who were thine ancestors?”

And I, who was desirous to obey,
hid it not from him, but revealed it all;
whereat he slightly raised his brows, and said:
“So bitterly were they opposed to me,
and to mine ancestors, and to my party,
that I on two occasions scattered them.”

“If they were driven out,” I answered him,
“from all directions they returned both times;
your people, though, have not well learned that art.”

A shade then at the tomb's uncovered mouth
rose at his side as far up as his chin;
I think that he had risen upon his knees.
Round me he looked, as if he wished to see
whether some other one were with me there;
but when his doubt had wholly spent itself,
weeping he said: “If thou through this blind prison
dost go by reason of highmindedness,
where is my son? and why is he not with thee?”

And I to him: “I come not by myself;
he who is waiting yonder leads me here,
one whom, perhaps, your Guido held in scorn.”
The nature of his torment and his words
had read this person's name to me already;
on this account was my reply so full.

Then of a sudden standing up, he cried:
“What saidst thou? Held? Is he not still alive?
Doth not the sweet light strike upon his eyes?”
When he perceived the short delay I made
before replying, down upon his back
he fell, nor outside showed himself again.

The other one, meanwhile, the great-souled man,
at whose request I stopped, changed not his looks,
nor did he move his neck or turn his side.

And “If,” continuing his previous words,
he said: “if they have badly learned that art,
far more doth that torment me than this bed.
And yet that Lady's face who ruleth here
shall not be lighted fifty times again,
ere thou shalt know how heavy that art is.
And so mayst thou return to the sweet world,
pray tell me why so pitiless toward mine
that people is in every law of theirs?”

Whence I to him: “The havoc and great slaughter
which caused the Arbia to be colored red,
occasion such petitions in our church.”

When, sighing, he had tossed his head, he said:
“In this thing I was not alone, nor surely
had I, without due cause, moved with the rest;
but I was yonder, where assent was given
by every one to do away with Florence,
the only one to openly defend her.”

“So may your seed eventually repose,”
I begged of him, “untie for me, I pray,
the knot which has perplexed my thinking here.
It seems, if well I hear, that ye behold
beforehand that which time brings with itself,
while in the present ye do otherwise.”

“We see,” he said, “like one whose sight is poor,
things that are far from us; to that extent
the Highest Leader shines upon us still.

When they approach, or are, our intellect
is wholly vain, and we, if others bring
no news, know nothing of your human state.
Hence thou canst understand that wholly dead
will be our knowledge from that moment on,
when closed shall be the gateway of the future.”

Thereat, for I was grieved at my mistake,
I said: “You 'll therefore tell that fallen man
his son is dwelling with the living still;
and if in answering I was mute just now,
cause him to know it was because my thoughts
were struggling with the problem you have solved.”

And now my Teacher was recalling me;
with greater haste I therefore begged the spirit
that he would tell me who was with him there.

He said: “With o'er a thousand here I lie;
the second Frederick and the Cardinal
are here within; I speak not of the rest.”

He thereupon concealed himself; and I,
those words recalling which seemed hostile to me,
back toward the ancient Poet turned my steps.
The latter moved; and then, as on we went,
he said to me: “Why art thou so perplexed?”
And him in what he asked I satisfied.

“Then let thy mind preserve,” that Sage enjoined,
“what thou hast heard against thyself; pay now
attention here!” His finger then he raised.

“When in the sweet ray's presence thou shalt be
of Her whose lovely eyes see everything,
from her thou 'lt know the journey of thy life.”

Thereafter to the left he turned his feet;
we left the wall, and toward the middle went
along a path which to a valley leads,
which even up there unpleasant made its stench.


1. The more usual text has, instead of stretto, secreto, or "hidden."
11. The Valley of Jehoshaphat believed to be the site of the Final Judgment.
15. Disbelief in the Immortality of the Soul picked out by Dante as the fundamental archheresy.
18. His wish to see the great Farinata.
25. Dante's Tuscan speech and accent are frequently recognized by Italians.
32. Farinata degli Uberti, a famous Ghibelline Florentine patriot, seen here by Dante, who greatly admired him, because tainted with the prevalent heresy of the age.
46. Dante's family and ancestors belonged to the Guelph party opposed to Farinata's.
48. In 1248 and 1260.
50. In 1251, and in 1266, after which the Ghibelline party never returned to power in Florence.
52. Cavalcante Cavalcanti, the father of Dante's friend and fellow poet, Guido Cavalcanti, who had not yet died at the date of Dante's Vision, the Spring of 1300.
63. This may mean that Guido did not admire Virgil, or, better, that he did not believe in a Reason that was subservient to [[xxxv]] Spirituality, to which belief Dante here implies that he owed his great Vision.
68. By his use of the past tense Dante seemed to have implied that Guido was dead.
79. Proserpine, the Queen of Hades, identified with Luna, the Moon; in less than fifty moons, or months, from April, 1300, Dante found himself banished from Florence, never to return.
85. The Battle of Mont' Aperti, on the river Arbia, won in 1260 by the Ghibelline forces under the leadership of Farinata, over the Guelphs of Florence.
87. Perpetual banishment from Florence decreed by the returning Guelphs against the Uberti family.
91. The Ghibelline Diet of Empoli, which followed the victory of Mont'Aperti.
97. Knowledge of the Present depends upon life in Time; that of the Future upon life in Eternity, remote events of a general nature depending predominantly upon moral and spiritual forces.
109. Again, sympathy for the man, and not for the sinner, as such.
119. The Hohenstaufen Emperor, Frederick II, whom Dante greatly admired, but condemned to be seen here for the heretical beliefs he shared with his contemporary Cardinal degli Ubaldini.
122. Farinata's prophecy of Dante's exile.
130. The meaning of the vicissitudes of Dante's (Man's) life not to be explained by Reason (Virgil), but by Spiritual Insight, the Beatrice who does not know intellectually, but "whose lovely eyes see" by a direct vision of spiritual Reality. One of the most significant definitions of Beatrice in the poem, for if Religion had always understood that it was exclusively concerned with Man's conquest of the eternal world of spiritual reality; and had Science remembered that its sole function is the conquest of the spatial and temporal world of matter, there would have been no more "conflict" between them than there is between Virgil and Beatrice in our poem.

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