Dante's Inferno Canto 10: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Catherine Smith

Catherine has taught History, Literature, and Latin at the university level and holds a PhD in Education.

In Canto 10 of Dante's ''Inferno,'' Virgil and Dante explore the sixth circle of hell and have conversations with two of the inhabitants. This lesson summarizes Canto 10 and looks at key quotes.

What Happens in Canto 10?

In Canto 10, we find Virgil and Dante still in the sixth circle of hell. As they walk along, Virgil identifies some of the heretical sects that are trapped. Dante has conversations with two of the heretics and learns a bit about the kind of knowledge that the dead are entitled to. He also receives some information about his own future before Virgil indicates it's time to move along on their journey.

The Epicureans

We do not learn about many of the heretics in the sixth circle of hell, but Virgil points out one group in particular as he and Dante walk past their area:

''The cemetery on this part obtain

With Epicurus all his followers,

Who with the body make the spirit die.''

The Epicureans were a sect in the ancient world who believed that achieving pleasure, which they defined by escaping any kind of pain or discomfort, was the highest goal of human life. They also believed that the soul died with the body, so seeing them suffering in the underworld has a sense of irony with it.

Dante Meets Farinata

Dante and Virgil Meet Farinata
Sketch of Canto10

As Dante and Virgil pass the Epicureans and move on to other graves, a voice suddenly calls out:

''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.''

The owner of this voice turns out to be a man named Farinata, who, as the quote above suggests, is also from Florence and is excited to see someone from his home.

Virgil's Warning

As Dante appears ready to stop and have a conversation with Farinata, Virgil offers this bit of advice: ''See thy words be clear!'' It turns out that this bit of wisdom operates as foreshadowing, or a subtle hint at something that will occur later in the story, because Dante is about to stumble into a misunderstanding with the next spirit who talks to him, which we will get to later in the lesson.

Dante's Conversation with Farinata

As Farinata talks (and talks!) to Dante, we get the impression that he enjoys the sound of his own voice and that he was probably a somewhat arrogant man when he was alive. It also becomes clear that Farinata and Dante were on opposite sides of the political situation in Florence, but they still manage to carry on a polite conversation with one another.

Cavalcanti Interrupts

Cavalcanti Interrupts
Cavalcanti Interrupts

As Dante and Farinata are chatting with one another, another voice of one of the dead suddenly interrupts:

''...If thou through this blind prison go'st.

Led by thy lofty genius and profound,

Where is my son? and wherefore not with thee?''

This new presence turns out to be a man named Cavalcanti, whose son in life had been friends with Dante. Commentators on this scene often note how different Cavalcanti's tone is from Farinata's: while the latter tends to drone on about the political situation in Florence, Cavalcanti jumps right in to asking about his son in a tone of desperation. This scene is sometimes cited as evidence of how adept Dante was at moving back and forth quickly and easily between different conversational styles.

The Misunderstanding

After Cavalcanti asks about his son, Dante tries to explain the situation, but he uses the past tense in his discussion of Cavalcanti's son, which convinces Cavalcanti that his son has died:

''How! said'st thou he HAD?

No longer lives he? Strikes not on his eye

The blessed daylight?''

This is the scene that Virgil's warning foreshadowed: Because Dante was not entirely clear when he spoke to Cavalcanti, the latter misunderstood and decided that his son must have died. Before Dante can correct this misunderstanding, Cavalcanti fades away back into his grave, believing erroneously that his son has died.

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