As they traverse the sixth circle of the Heretics, the world of burning dead, Dante asks if he can see any one of these entombed sinners. Because if you haven’t noticed, the lids of the tombs are open.
What Dante really wants, as Virgil well knows, is to see if any of his Florentine friends are here.
Virgil answers that the tombs will be open until Judgment Day. He goes on to explain that everyone here is a follower of Epicurus (the Greek philosopher) who claimed that the soul dies with the body. Obviously, that was a bad thing to say because it goes against God’s doctrine and everyone who believes it winds up in Hell.
Suddenly, their conversation is interrupted by a voice that speaks eerily to Dante. It says that his accent sounds Tuscan (Dante is in fact from Tuscany), and the speaker want to talk with Dante about that.
Dante grabs onto to Virgil’s sleeve and whimpers because the voice is coming from an open tomb.
Virgil tells him to go back there and talk to Farinata. He’s made the effort to stand up in his torturous tomb for you.
Virgil pushes the cowering Dante towards the towering Farinata and orders him to answer appropriately.
Farinata sternly asks Dante who his ancestors were.
Dante meekly answers and, following Virgil’s instructions, tells everything.
But despite his efforts, Farinata frowns. It turns out that there’s bad blood between his own family and Dante’s, so much so that Farinata’s family drove them out.
Dante retorts that at least his family returned to fight back, unlike Farinata’s.
Before Farinata can reply, another soul rises up and begs Dante to tell him where his son is.
Dante eyes him up and down and apparently recognizes him… because he answers. And, being a poet, he makes his answer all ambiguous.
A quick aside for some brief, if complex, family history: This man is Cavalcante dei Cavalcanti, one of Dante’s political allies. His son, Guido, was a famous poet and Dante’s close friend. Like Dante, Guido was exiled when the Blacks took over Florence.
From Dante’s reply, Cavalcante gets the idea that his son is dead. When Dante doesn’t rush to correct him, the poor soul falls back inside his tomb in a great show of grief.
Farinata, who has watched this exchange with indifference, resumes the conversation with Dante as if nothing has happened. He regrets that his family proved so cowardly in comparison to Dante’s but asks why the Florentines are so mean to his kin.
We now interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a minor history lesson: Dante cites the battle of Montaperti as the cause of strife between their families. To clarify, Farinata was a leader of the Ghibelline party, the sworn enemy of Dante’s Guelph party. At Montaperti, the Ghibellines defeated the Guelphs. So there are some hard feelings.
But Farinata defends himself against Dante’s charges, saying he was not alone in standing against Dante’s people at Montaperti. But, when all his Ghibelline friends suggested ransacking Florence, Farinata alone defended Dante's hometown.
But something is bothering Dante. Instead of pursuing this line of thought, he asks Farinata to clarify something for him. He asks if the dead can see the future, but not the present.
In his fancy way, Farinata answers yes. He and his fellow sinners can divine the future, but know nothing about the present state of human affairs.
Now, Dante feels bad about lying to Cavalcante (since he can’t see the present). He tells Farinata to let Cavalcante know that his son Guido is indeed still alive.
Now Virgil is telling Dante to get a move on so Dante hurriedly ask his last questions: Who else is in this circle? Can you name them?
Farinata answers that this circle features such celebrities as King Frederick II, the Ghibelline Cardinal, and others.
Virgil, hauling Dante along, asks why he looks so worried. Dante tells him about these random other people that Farinata won’t tell him about.
Virgil, being all authoritative again, informs Dante that one day he will meet an all-seeing divine woman (read: Beatrice) that will be able to tell him everything. The message: don’t worry about it.
So they keep walking. Virgil chooses to turn to the left, following a path that goes down into a valley.