Circle 6: Heresy

Guy P. Raffa

in Danteworlds

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226702674
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226702780 | DOI:
Circle 6: Heresy

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This chapter presents a brief plot summary for the sixth circle of Hell, followed by explanations of “encounters” and “allusions”, significant verses (in Italian and English), and study questions to aid in comprehension and facilitate discussion of the poem. After passing through the walls of Dis, Virgil leads Dante across the sixth circle of Hell, a vast plain resembling a cemetery. Stone tombs, raised above the ground with their lids removed, glow red from the heat of flames. Buried in these sepulchers are the souls of heretics, each tomb holding an untold number of individuals who adhered to a particular doctrine but who are all punished according to the broadest notion of heresy: denial of the soul's immortality. Dante sees standing upright in one tomb the imposing figure of Farinata, a Florentine leader of the Ghibellines, the political party bitterly opposed to the party of Dante's ancestors. Peering out from the same tomb is the father of Dante's best friend; Cavalcante is upset that his son Guido is not with Dante on the journey. Here Dante learns, as the result of a misunderstanding, that the damned possess the power to see the future but not the present. Needing time to adjust to the stench wafting up from lower circles, the travelers take refuge behind the tomb of a heretical pope. Virgil uses this time to describe the overall layout of Hell and the reasons for this organization.

Keywords: Dante Alighieri; Virgil; tombs; heretics; Farinata; Cavalcante; hell

Chapter.  2834 words. 

Subjects: Literature

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