Canto 13 | Canto 14
Ma fu' io solo, là dove sofferto
fu per ciascun di tòrre via Fiorenza,
colui che la difesi a viso aperto.
But I alone, there where all others
would have suffered Florence to be razed,
was the one who defended her openly.
Sandro Botticelli, Drawings of Dante
Farinata was condemned posthumously as a heretic for holding a version of this belief. The citizens of Florence dug up his family tomb, burned his remains, and spread them on unblessed ground. They razed all of his family's property and pledged that nothing would be allowed to stand there: in fact, much of the open space of the Piazza della Signoria in Florence today is on the site of Uberti property. Epicureanism is not at all the subject of Canto 10, however, and what Dante and Farinata speak about is the civil conflict that consumed Florence and all of Tuscany in the 13th and 14th centuries. Farinata was the scion of a powerful noble family and a member of the Ghibelline party, mostly the landed families who allied themselves with the Holy Roman Emperor against the Pope's claims on territory in central Italy.
The Ghibellines drove their opponents, the Guelfs (mostly urban families not of the old aristocracy), out of Florence, but the pendulum swung back and forth between the two sides for many years, with disastrous consequences for the city. In a scene that parodies the Gospel account of the resurrection of Jesus, Farinata rises up from his sarcophagus, having recognized Dante's Florentine accent. Using the informal tu, which means he is quite certain that Dante, whoever he is, is his social inferior, Farinata imperiously summons Dante to his side. In a hostile exchange, the Guelf Dante and the Ghibelline Farinata exchange verbal attacks. Farinata reminds Dante that twice he drove the Guelfs out of Florence, and Dante thinks he has won the confrontation because he can inform Farinata that the Guelfs have now finally defeated the Ghibellines after Farinata's death.
Gustave Doré, Virgil and Dante speak with Farinata
The irony is that, while trying to disapprove of the spirit of factionalism represented by Farinata, the old Ghibelline, Dante engages in the very same party-based division that leads to his own downfall. Dante was not only a member of the Whites, but shortly after the supposed date of the journey described in the Commedia, he was elected as one of the Priors of Florence, the six-member council that acted as the city's chief executive. It is the hardening of political opposition into violent factions that undoes Florence, and Dante with it, no matter which side is up. The Ghibellines expel the Guelfs; the Guelfs expel the Ghibellines. Farinata's forces slaughtered the Florentine Guelfs at the Battle of Montaperti in 1283, which stained the Arbia red (che fece l'Arbia colorata in rosso) as Dante memorably puts it. The Ghibellines nearly decided to raze all of Florence to the ground, which was prevented only because Farinata opposed it (see the quote featured above). The ultimate Guelf victory led to the destruction of Farinata's property and his condemnation as a heretic. Yet even here at the edge of lower hell, Farinata and Dante continue to argue.
In Canto 11, as the pilgrims pause to let their noses adjust to the stench rising up from below, Virgil helps Dante understand the divisions of lower hell, where violence, fraud, and treachery are punished. The scenes of violence in the seventh circle (Canto 12) seem to be evoked in Lorenzetti's Fresco of Bad Government in Siena's Palazzo Pubblico (more on that soon), where the figure of Timor (Fear) hovers over a city and countryside terrorized by armed men. The centaurs recall the condottieri, or mercenary soldiers who alternately defended and terrorized the city-states of Italy. Also in the seventh circle are the suicides (Canto 13), who commit violence against themselves, represented chiefly by Pier della Vigna, another vivid character in the Commedia, and the blasphemers, usurers, and Sodomites (Canto 14), who commit violence against God. More about that in the next post.