Farinata: Circle 6, Inferno 10
Farinata cuts an imposing figure--rising out of his burning tomb "from the waist up" and seeming to "have great contempt for hell"--when Dante turns to address him in the circle of the heretics (Inf. 10.31-6). His very first question to Dante--"Who were your ancestors?" (10.42)-- reveals the tight relationship between family and politics in thirteenth-century Italy. As a Florentine leader of the ghibellines, Farinata was an enemy to the party of Dante's ancestors, the guelphs (before the ghibellines were defeated and the guelphs splintered into white and black factions). Although Farinata's ghibellines twice defeated the guelphs (in 1248 and 1260), the guelphs both times succeeded in returning to power--unlike the ghibellines following their defeat in 1266. Farinata's family (the Uberti) was explicitly excluded from later amnesties (he had died in 1264), and in 1283 he and his wife (both posthumously charged with heresy) were excommunicated. Their bodies were disinterred and burned, and the possessions of their heirs confiscated.
These politically motivated wars and vendettas, in which victors banished their adversaries, literally divided Florence's populace. While there is certainly no love lost between Dante and Farinata, there is a measure of respect. Farinata, called magnanimo--"great-hearted"--by the narrator (10.73), put Florence above politics when he stood up to his victorious colleagues and argued against destroying the city completely (10.91-3). What does it say about Dante, himself an exiled victim of partisan politics, to present Farinata as both a political enemy and a defender of Florence?