Dante, Farinata, and Florence: An Analysis of the Opposing Forces with a Common Goal

February 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

Dante’s Inferno is a classic work of the Christian author, depicting his fictitious journey through the hierarchical levels of Hell in the year 1300 AD. As Dante travels down through the underworld, he stops at each stage of condemnation, often talking to some of the pitiful sinners, learning about their crimes and the punishments God has damned them to for eternity. The sinners to whom Dante chooses to speak are generally real people, well known in Dante’s 14th century Florence for their political significance, or for their infamous transgressions. These conversations add a depth of realism to the otherwise fantastic and imagined journey that is the Inferno. One such sinner with whom Dante speaks is Farinata degli Uberti, in life a noble Florentine and chief of the Ghibelline faction, a proimperial political party; however, in death, Farinata wallows in the sixth circle of Hell, where the heretics dwell. Dante had his loyalties to his family’s party, the Guelphs, a party that desired papal supremacy; however, Dante holds more sympathy than hate for the man who “loves his noble fatherland more than he hates his Florentine enemies” (Sinclair, 141). Dante overlooks the injustices the Ghibellines performed against the Guelphs and, instead of hating this man for some of his worldly actions, honors him for his pure love of Florence.Dante, in canto X of the Inferno, is approached by the shade of Farinata and is immediately asked, “‘who were thy ancestors?'” (135). Dante identified himself as a Guelph and quickly the man and the shade delve into an argument over Florentine politics. Farinata expresses his acrimony towards the Guelph party by saying “‘they were fierce enemies to me and to my forebears and to my party, so that twice over I scattered them'” (135). Farinata is referring to the 1248 exile of the Guelphs out of Florence, their return in 1251, and the second expulsion of the Guelphs in 1260 after the battle at Montaperti (translated as “hill of death”). Farinata had actually been expelled from Florence himself in 1258. Despite this episode, Farinata refused to accept defeat. He took control of the nearby Florentine rival Siena, who allied with King Manfred of Sicily. Together, they composed a force of over 20,000 soldiers. The Guelphs, however, had the more numerous forces, organizing all males in Florence aged 15 through 70, and calling in reinforcements from several neighboring cities, papal states, and exiled Guelphs in Siena. On September 4, 1260 – the bloodiest day of the Italian Middle Ages – the Guelphs and Ghibellines clashed near Montaperti, spilling so much blood into the nearby river Arbia that it became red. Bocca degli Abati, a man seen later in canto XXXII, in the ninth circle of Hell, was a Ghibelline who fought for the Guelphs until turning on them mid-battle and mutilating the Guelphs’ standard bearer. The Ghibellines were victorious and were lead back into Florence by Guido Novello and Farinata.This triumph, however, was short-lived. In 1266, two years after Farinata’s death, the Guelphs returned to Florence and issued multiple decrees to exclude the Uberti family from Florence. Dante allows Farinata a post-mortem self defense in the Inferno; Farinata begs, “‘tell me why that people is so pitiless against my kindred in all its laws” (137). Dante blames Montaperti, replying, “‘the rout and the great slaughter that stained the Arbia red are the cause of such devotions'” (137). Farinata defends himself, saying “‘In that I was not alone, nor without cause'” (137). When the Ghibellines, in open counsel, were in favor of destroying Florence after Montaperti, Farinata points out to Dante that “‘I was alone… the one man to defend her before them all” (137). Clearly, most Guelphs ignored this fact in 1266 when they banished the Uberti family, and even later in 1283 when Farinata and his wife were retrospectively convicted of heresy.Dante, on the contrary, does not deny Farinata the credit he deserves for his role in saving Florence. Dante treats Farinata with great respect, addressing him in the polite you form (“vostri” [canto x: 51]) and even referring to him as “magnanimo” (canto x: 73), which, literally translated, means “virtuous, great-souled man”. Dante portrays Farinata, a man many of his contemporaries looked upon with disdain, as a humane loyalist who “loves his ‘noble fatherland’ more than he hates his Florentine enemies” (Sinclair, 141). The sympathy comes from Dante’s personal political views that “were neither Guelph nor Ghibelline in the common sense of the words. He condemned both parties and would have Church and Empire, instead of striving with each other, to return each to its proper office” (141).Besides a deep love of Florence, Farinata and Dante are unified by their similar experiences of expulsion from the city. The Guelph party, after regaining power, split into White Guelphs and Black Guelphs; Dante sided with the less radical White faction, and was sent to Pope Boniface VIII to request that he limit his tyrannical abuse of power. At this time, the Black Guelphs came into strong power in Florence and forced Dante into exile. Dante, like Farinata, only wanted to do what he believed would be most beneficial for his city-state but was penalized for doing so. During their conversation, Farinata predicts Dante’s coming exile and his failure to reconcile with the city by saying, “‘but not fifty times shall the face of the lady who reigns here be rekindled before thou shalt know for thyself how hard is that art” (137). Dante likens the passage of time before his exile to Proserpine, Queen of Hell, metaphorically providing his opinion of Pope Boniface VIII’s rule. By sympathizing with a Ghibelline leader and denouncing the pope’s rule, Dante is proving that loyalty to Florence, not loyalty to a self-serving leader or to an arbitrary faction, should be the pinnacle of one’s political goals.Due to their shared experiences and loyalties to Florence, Dante is delivering mercy to a man who really should rightfully be in a lower circle of Hell. Farinata was infamous for leading the battle that claimed over 14,000 lives. Logically, Farinata should be condemned to the first bolgia of circle seven, where the “‘tyrants who gave their hands to blood and plunder” (161) reside. These shades boil in a river of blood; an image that is reminiscent of the battle of Montaperti, when the river Arbia turned red from the massive bloodshed. Circle seven is home to notorious warriors such as Alexander the Great, the Northern Italian dictators Ezzelino and Obizzo, a Guelph and Ghibelline respectively, and Attila the Hun, all men who mounted their armies with evil, power-hungry intentions. Farinata differed from these men in one significant way – he fought to regain control of Florence. Farinata did not fight to expand an empire, nor did he relish torturing those subordinate to him; Farinata fought for his pure political convictions, thinking he was doing what was best for Florence. Dante, by placing Farinata in the sixth circle, is acknowledging that the prominent Ghibelline, as a proimperialist, defied the authority of the Church and should be condemned for heresy. However, by refusing to sentence Farinata to the circle of violence, Dante delivers the message that Farinata’s actions were performed with the best intentions for Florence and he should not be punished for such a noble cause.Dante takes a harsher stance on Bocca degli Abati, the Ghibelline spy that began fighting in the Guelph ranks until he was given a secret signal and turned on his fellow soldiers. This was the single act that threw the Guelphs into pandemonium and gave the less numerous Ghibellines the victory. Though clearly planned by Farinata and his fellow Ghibelline army leaders, Bocca was the one punished in Antenora, the second bolgia of the ninth circle, and the place of residence for traitors to their country. All shades in this circle “were in the ice, setting their teeth to the note of the stork. Each kept his face bent down; by the mouth the cold and by the eyes the misery of the heart finds evidence among them” (397). Additionally, Dante portrays Bocca as “dog-like with the cold” (399). Dante the pilgrim clearly has a good idea of this shade’s identity. After Dante inadvertently kicks his face and Bocca weeps, “Why dost thou trample on me? Unless thou comest to add to the revenge for Montaperti, why dost thou molest me?” (Sinclair, 399) Dante tells Virgil, “My Master, now wait for me here, that through him I may be cleared of a doubt” (399). Ensuing is a violent exchange between Bocca and Dante, in which Bocca’s identity is not revealed until another shade yells “‘what ails thee, Bocca?” (401). Dante’s hatred for Bocca is obvious through his violent actions and harsh language. Bocca’s action was one of true deceit; however, in theory, was his crime any worse than those who conspired for him to perform the dreadful action? Bocca was really just a weapon used by the Ghibellines to win the battle. With this fact in mind, we can conclude that Dante held no respect for Bocca because he performed his act of treachery to act out an order, not because he believed that the Ghibellines were working in the best interest of Florence and that they were more deserving of victory. Bocca was a puppet who, unlike Farinata, fought because he was told to, not because he had a passion for Florence. Dante makes it clear – in true Christian form – that he is concerned with intentions rather than actions. Therefore, he can justify placing two men who are infamous for the same harrowing event in two vastly different circles.Dante was a man with very strong opinions and feelings that transcended political parties and opposing factions. Dante, by juxtaposing Guelphs and Ghibellines in the same circles, sometimes even right next to each other, proves that subjective divisions on earth mean nothing in the afterlife. Whether Guelph or Ghibelline is inconsequential, what matters are one’s motives and one’s intentions for Florence. Farinata was a brutal conqueror; however, he was also a dedicated Florentine who lead his men into the battle at Monttaperti for the betterment of Florence. Dante chooses to portray this latter side of Farinata, the devoted and heroic side, because in him, Dante sees a great deal of himself, and his own desires and affections for Florence. With these, Dante can find no fault and, thus, no adequate punishment.Works Cited and ReferencedDante. The Divine Comedy: Inferno. (John Sinclair Trans.) New York: Oxford University Press, 1939.”The Battle at the Hill of Death.” Created 2001. http://www.brighton73.freeserve.co.uk/tomsplace/interests/medieval/montaperti.htm. Accessed 25 February 2004.Batzarov, Zdravko. “Guelphs and Ghibellines.” Encyclopdia Orbis Latini. http://www.orbilat.com/Encyclopaedia/G/Guelphs_and_Ghibellines.html. Accessed 25 February 2004.

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