Canto 10

NOW by a secret pathway we proceed,
Between the walls, that hem the region round,
And the tormented souls: my master first,
I close behind his steps.  "Virtue supreme!"
I thus began; "who through these ample orbs
In circuit lead'st me, even as thou will'st,
Speak thou, and satisfy my wish.  May those,
Who lie within these sepulchres, be seen?
Already all the lids are rais'd, and none
O'er them keeps watch."  He thus in answer spake
"They shall be closed all, what-time they here
From Josaphat return'd shall come, and bring
Their bodies, which above they now have left.
The cemetery on this part obtain
With Epicurus all his followers,
Who with the body make the spirit die.
Here therefore satisfaction shall be soon
Both to the question ask'd, and to the wish,
Which thou conceal'st in silence."  I replied:
"I keep not, guide belov'd! from thee my heart
Secreted, but to shun vain length of words,
A lesson erewhile taught me by thyself."

"O Tuscan! thou who through the city of fire
Alive art passing, so discreet of speech!
Here please thee stay awhile. Thy utterance
Declares the place of thy nativity
To be that noble land, with which perchance
I too severely dealt."  Sudden that sound
Forth issu'd from a vault, whereat in fear
I somewhat closer to my leader's side
Approaching, he thus spake: "What dost thou?  Turn.
Lo, Farinata, there! who hath himself
Uplifted: from his girdle upwards all
Expos'd behold him."  On his face was mine
Already fix'd; his breast and forehead there
Erecting, seem'd as in high scorn he held
E'en hell.  Between the sepulchres to him
My guide thrust me with fearless hands and prompt,
This warning added: "See thy words be clear!"

He, soon as there I stood at the tomb's foot,
Ey'd me a space, then in disdainful mood
Address'd me: "Say, what ancestors were thine?"

I, willing to obey him, straight reveal'd
The whole, nor kept back aught: whence he, his brow
Somewhat uplifting, cried: "Fiercely were they
Adverse to me, my party, and the blood
From whence I sprang: twice therefore I abroad
Scatter'd them."  "Though driv'n out, yet they each time
From all parts," answer'd I, "return'd; an art
Which yours have shown, they are not skill'd to learn."

Then, peering forth from the unclosed jaw,
Rose from his side a shade, high as the chin,
Leaning, methought, upon its knees uprais'd.
It look'd around, as eager to explore
If there were other with me; but perceiving
That fond imagination quench'd, with tears
Thus spake: "If thou through this blind prison go'st.
Led by thy lofty genius and profound,
Where is my son? and wherefore not with thee?"

I straight replied: "Not of myself I come,
By him, who there expects me, through this clime
Conducted, whom perchance Guido thy son
Had in contempt."  Already had his words
And mode of punishment read me his name,
Whence I so fully answer'd.  He at once
Exclaim'd, up starting, "How! said'st thou he HAD?
No longer lives he?  Strikes not on his eye
The blessed daylight?"  Then of some delay
I made ere my reply aware, down fell
Supine, not after forth appear'd he more.

Meanwhile the other, great of soul, near whom
I yet was station'd, chang'd not count'nance stern,
Nor mov'd the neck, nor bent his ribbed side.
"And if," continuing the first discourse,
"They in this art," he cried, "small skill have shown,
That doth torment me more e'en than this bed.
But not yet fifty times shall be relum'd
Her aspect, who reigns here Queen of this realm,
Ere thou shalt know the full weight of that art.
So to the pleasant world mayst thou return,
As thou shalt tell me, why in all their laws,
Against my kin this people is so fell?"

"The slaughter and great havoc," I replied,
"That colour'd Arbia's flood with crimson stain—
To these impute, that in our hallow'd dome
Such orisons ascend."  Sighing he shook
The head, then thus resum'd: "In that affray
I stood not singly, nor without just cause
Assuredly should with the rest have stirr'd;
But singly there I stood, when by consent
Of all, Florence had to the ground been raz'd,
The one who openly forbad the deed."

"So may thy lineage find at last repose,"
I thus adjur'd him, "as thou solve this knot,
Which now involves my mind.  If right I hear,
Ye seem to view beforehand, that which time
Leads with him, of the present uninform'd."

"We view, as one who hath an evil sight,"
He answer'd, "plainly, objects far remote:
So much of his large spendour yet imparts
The' Almighty Ruler; but when they approach
Or actually exist, our intellect
Then wholly fails, nor of your human state
Except what others bring us know we aught.
Hence therefore mayst thou understand, that all
Our knowledge in that instant shall expire,
When on futurity the portals close."

Then conscious of my fault, and by remorse
Smitten, I added thus: "Now shalt thou say
To him there fallen, that his offspring still
Is to the living join'd; and bid him know,
That if from answer silent I abstain'd,
'Twas that my thought was occupied intent
Upon that error, which thy help hath solv'd."

But now my master summoning me back
I heard, and with more eager haste besought
The spirit to inform me, who with him
Partook his lot.  He answer thus return'd:

"More than a thousand with me here are laid
Within is Frederick, second of that name,
And the Lord Cardinal, and of the rest
I speak not."  He, this said, from sight withdrew.
But I my steps towards the ancient bard
Reverting, ruminated on the words
Betokening me such ill.  Onward he mov'd,
And thus in going question'd: "Whence the' amaze
That holds thy senses wrapt?"  I satisfied
The' inquiry, and the sage enjoin'd me straight:
"Let thy safe memory store what thou hast heard
To thee importing harm; and note thou this,"
With his rais'd finger bidding me take heed,

"When thou shalt stand before her gracious beam,
Whose bright eye all surveys, she of thy life
The future tenour will to thee unfold."

Forthwith he to the left hand turn'd his feet:
We left the wall, and tow'rds the middle space
Went by a path, that to a valley strikes;
Which e'en thus high exhal'd its noisome steam.


  1. "The Queen of this realm" is Hecate (also known as Proserpine), the wife of Hades. She was often linked with the moon. In 1304, a little over four years after this prophecy, the Whites tried to overtake Florence. It would be their final attempt. Dante would remain in exile for the remainder of his life.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  2. Here Dante is speaking to the departed soul and former leader of the Guelph party, Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti (died circa 128). His son was the poet Guido Cavalcanti, whose works were translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the 19th century and by Ezra Pound in the 20th century. Dante Alighieri and Guido were very close; Dante called the man his "first friend" in La Vita Nuova. Guido ended up marrying Farinata's daughter Beatrice in a effort to end the political fighting between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. In this passage, it is not entirely clear whom Guido holds in such ill-esteem. It might be Virgil, Beatrice, or even God.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  3. As Virgil and Dante descend into the lower levels of the underworld, the odorous atmosphere becomes overwhelming.

    — Stephen Holliday
  4. Virgil comforts Dante by telling him that he is soon to see Beatrice, who will tell him of his future.

    — Stephen Holliday
  5. Of all the heretics here, Farinata mentions only two: Emperor Frederick II and Cardinal Ottaviano degli Ubaldini. Frederick is a critical political figure for Dante because he and his son, Manfred, supported the Ghibellines against the Guelphs. Frederick, who is praised by Dante in a later work for his support of art, music, and literature, is among the heretics most likely because Dante still holds him responsible for aiding the Ghibellines. Cardinal Ubaldini is here because, as a church leader, he should have supported the Guelph party (allied with the Pope), but instead supported the Ghibellines, allies of the Emperor.

    — Stephen Holliday
  6. Dante asks Farinata to explain to Cavalcanti, who fell back into the tomb, that his son, Guido, is actually still living. Dante didn't answer Cavalcanti's question because he was unsure of the answer until talking further with Farinata.

    — Stephen Holliday
  7. In other words, as soon as the future becomes the present, the damned lose their ability to foresee events.

    — Stephen Holliday
  8. Farinata and the other heretics, perhaps all of the damned, have "farsightedness." They can see distant events clearly and therefore predict the future, but as events come closer to the present, they lose their vision.

    — Stephen Holliday
  9. This is a magnanimous gesture from Dante. He reaches across political lines to acknowledge Farinata's courage in standing up to his own party. Farinata's principles transcend party divisions—Dante being a Guelph, Farinata a Ghibelline.

    — Stephen Holliday
  10. Farinata refers to his attempt to stop the destruction of Florence when his political party, the Ghibellines, defeated the Guelphs in 1304.

    — Stephen Holliday
  11. Dante refers to a battle in 531 B. C. between Alexander the Great and Darius, the Persian king, near the Tuscan river Arbia (Arbeia). The conflict is often known as the Battle of Gaugamela. Alexander defeated Darius.

    — Stephen Holliday
  12. "The other" refers to Farinata, who has been standing quietly listening to the exchange between Dante and Cavalcanti.  Farinata is called "great of soul (in Italian magnanimo, which literally translates to "magnanimous") because, when the Ghibellines destroyed the Guelphs in Florence and wanted to sack the city, Farinata tried to stop the destruction.

    — Stephen Holliday
  13. After inferring from Dante's expression that his son, Guido, is dead, Cavalcante lies back down in the tomb in despair and disappears from the narrative.

    — Stephen Holliday
  14. Cavalcanti seems desperate to learn the fate of his son, whom he knows is Dante's friend.  In Dante's Vita nuova (1295), Dante's exploration of courtly love, Dante calls Cavalcante's son, Guido, his best friend.

    — Stephen Holliday
  15. This refers to Cavalcante de' Cavalcanti. As a member of the Guelph family, Cavalcanti was an enemy of Farinata and the Ghibellines, and an ally of Dante. In an attempt to create peace between the Ghibellines and Guelph families, Cavalcanti arranged for his son, Guido, to marry Farinata's daughter, Beatrice degli Uberti (no relation to Dante's beloved Beatrice).

    — Stephen Holliday
  16. This is a not-so-subtle way for Farinata to determine if Dante's family supports the Ghibellines, Farinata's party, or the Guelphs, Dante's.  

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. Dante and Virgil, having passed through the gates of Dis, are now in the sixth circle of Hell. This circle resembles a cemetery and is reserved for the most grievous heretics, those who deny the immortality of the soul.

    — Stephen Holliday
  18. This is Manete Degli Ulberti, a Florentine man who was commonly known as "Farinata." He was born in the early 13th century. By 1289, he was the leader of the Ghibellines, the party that had expelled the Guelphs from Florence in 1248. The Ghibellines were themselves exiled by the returning Guelphs. This pattern of ouster and return persisted until the Guelphs were thrown out permanently in 1260. Farinata died in 1264, the year prior to Dante's birth. In 1283, Farinata and his wife were posthumously branded as heretics for their mutual rejection of the resurrection of Christ.

    — Jamie Wheeler
  19. Josaphat is a mythical locale in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is thus described in the Bible, Joel 3:2: 

    I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.

    Josaphat is a valley that lies between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. This is the site of Last Judgment, when bodies wil be reclaimed, sent to Heaven or sentenced to Hell.

    Epicurus (342-270 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who argued that everything had a natural, not a supernatural, explanation. He also argued that the greatest good was freedom from pain and anxiety.  To be free, one must strive towards virtue, temperance, and a harmonious mind and spirit. Epicurus denied that any sort of divine intervention existed, denied the idea of eternal punishment, and denied the eternity of the soul.

    — Jamie Wheeler