Dante wants to know whether its possible to speak to the souls in the tombs, and Virgil explains that they are now in the section of the Sixth Circle where lie those heretics who believed that the soul dies with the body, and soon his wish will be granted. Farinata, a Florentine of earlier times whom Dante greatly respected, even though he was of a different party, a Ghibelline, rises erect in his tomb, seeming to scorn Hell, and speaks to Dante, asking who his ancestors were. Hearing their names, he says they were his and his partys enemies, and he drove them out twice. Yes, says Dante, but they came back; the Ghibellines havent learned that art. Just then, the shade beside Farinata rises up, having recognized Dante. If youre allowed to come here because youre such a good poet, why isnt my son Guido Cavalcanti with you? Perhaps your Guido scorned the blessed lady Im being led toward, answers Dante. Isnt my son still alive, the father cries, and when Dante doesnt immediately answer, he falls back in despair. Farinata ignores him and goes on where they were interrupted. The pain of hearing that the Ghibellines havent been able to return is, he says, worse than the pain of Hell. But soon Dante will learn how hard it is to learn the art of returning after being banished. After asking Farinata to tell Guidos father that his son is still alive, Dante goes on with Virgil brooding about Farinatas ominous words, and Virgil assures him Beatrice will tell him all his fate. Then they come to the brink of the next level, and a foul stench rises up from it.
The heretics have all rejected truths Dante believed they really knew deserved to be believed. The example here, of those who deny the immortality of the soul, is a good one-as far as Dante knew, everyone with any claim to wisdom, whether pagan or Christian, had always been sure of the immortality of the soul. The best analogy would be someone who refuses to believe that pollution is a problem, even though he lives in a city where the air is so bad that his asthma tortures him. Hes not going to be swept along, just because everyone else believes something.
Some have thought that Dante really, even if unconsciously, wants us to admire Farinata, to see him as so strong he can scorn Hell. Others point out that he is so “strong,” he feels no compassion for the man beside him in the tomb.