Circle Six: The Heretics

Dante and Virgil surrounded by burning coffins
Dante and Virgil surrounded by burning coffins

As Dante and Virgil await the heavenly messenger, Dante asks if anyone of his standing has ever ventured so far into hell. Virgil replies that he has once before made the journey at the request of Erichtho. Suddenly the Three Infernal Furies appear and call to Medusa to come turn him to stone. Virgil is well aware of the danger and says to Dante, "Turn your back and keep your eyes shut tight;/ for should the Gorgon come and you look at her,/ never again would you return to the light." Soon after the Heavenly Messenger appears and all evil creatures scatter as he reproaches them. The Poets are now free to enter the city of Dis.

As Dante and Virgil enter the city, Dante notices endless tombs engulfed in flame. The heretics spend eternity in this region of hell inside of the walls of the city of dis. These shades were put here because they rejected the Christian belief that the soul continues to live after death. Virgil points out the group of heretics called the Epicureans, the group of shades who were labeled heretics because they believed the soul dies with the physical body.


Erichtho: sorceress who summoned Virgil to venture into Hell in search of a soul from Judaica (the final pit of Hell)

The Three Infernal Furies (Erinyes)- Megaera, Alecto, and Tisiphone; the handmaidens of Medusa. Dante and Virgil are confronted by the trio of furies at the gates of Dis. In Greek Mythology, they are the deities of vengeance and a personification of the anger of the dead. They were born from the blood of the genitalia of Uranus after being castrated by his son, Cronus.

Furies at the Gate of Dis
Furies at the Gate of Dis

Heavenly Messenger- Opens the gates of Disfor Dante and Virgil. He mimics the actions and appearance of the Roman Messenger God, Mercury, who also leads the dead into the underworld.

Farinata degli Uberti- Epicurean; Leader of the Ghibellinbes in Florence; defeated the Guelphs at Florence. Removed from power in 1258 and exiled from Florence. After defeating the Guelphs at Montaperti, he returned triumphantly to Florence and remained there until his death in 1264. In 1283, a decree of heresy was published against Farinata. His body was burned after death (posthumous execution by inquisition for being a heretic).

Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti-He was an Epicurean, Florentine Guelph, father of Guido Cavalcanti, and friend of Dante Alighieri. He was denounced as a heretic by the church despite his pro-papal attitudes; he may have been an atheist along with his son, Guido. Cavalcante marries his son to the daughter of Farinata degli Uberti, a prominent Florentine Ghibelline.

Guido Cavalcanti- He is the Guelph son of Cavalcante, an Epicurean, and an intellectual influence on his friend, Dante Alighieri.

The Knowledge of the Damned- damned can see into the future but have no knowledge of the past or present. After Judgement, the damned will no longer think; there will be no future and they will not know the past or their present situation.

Frederick II- Epicurean Holy Roman Emperor; had a group of poets, respected by Dante, who gathered around him and wrote poems of courtly love.

Cardinal Ubaldini- uttered the words, “If I have a soul”; this was enough for Dante to consider him a heretic.

Interesting Facts:

Medusa, the guardian of the gates of Dis, was one of three Gorgon sisters; she was the most beautiful and the only mortal one. Perseus was sent to slay her and retrieve her head which had the power to turn anything to stone. From the wound, Pegasus and Chrysaor were born; they were the children of Medusa and Poseidon and consummated in a temple to Athena.

Theseus, trapped in the underworld on a rock, guarded by the furies, was released from his eternal punishment by Hercules during his twelfth labor. Also, Theseus slayed the Minotaur and found his way out of the labyrinth with the help of a thread, and Medea tried to kill him in Athens when she feared he would steal the throne from her own son.
Galileo was found suspect of heresy when he proposed that the sun sat motionless in the center of the universe as opposed to the Earth. He eventually recanted his beliefs publicly and lived out the rest of his life in house arrest.
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Lady Gaga and most modern musicians would all be classified as heretics. They recite songs that promote living in the present and not planning for the future. Usher sings, in DJ Got Us Falling In Love, "Keep downing drinks like there's no tomorrow".

The Latin poet, Horace, wrote, "Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero". Translated as, "Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the future". Carpe Diem poets have been around since ancient times; they stressed the importance of living each day to the fullest and drinking one's wine because they might not be around tomorrow.