On this date in 1293, the heretic and alchemist Capocchio was burned at the stake in Siena.
Little is known about about this man’s life, but thanks to his contemporary Dante we know a great deal about his afterlife. Capocchio appears among the “Falsifiers” or “Imposters” haunting the eighth circle of hell in Cantos XXIX and XXX of the Inferno.
We meet Capocchio butting into a conversation Dante is having with a different (also executed) shade — Capocchio crying out to support their mutual disdain for the “flighty” Sienese.
“But should you want to know who seconds you
Against the Sienese, direct your eyes to me
So that my face can give you a clear answer:
“See, I am the shade of Capocchio
Who falsified base metals through alchemy
And, if I read you rightly, you recall
“How fine an ape of nature I have been.”
This remark implies that Dante might have known Capocchio in life. Dante had a vivid destiny in mind for his maybe-acquaintance a few passages later, when
two shadows I saw, stripped and pallid,
Biting and running in the selfsame way
A hog behaves when let out of the sty.
One came straight at Capocchio and sank
His tusks into his scruff and, dragging him,
Scraped his stomach against the stony floor.
And the one left behind, the Aretine,
Shivering said, “That ghoul is Gianni Schicchi,
And he goes rabid, like that, mauling others.”