What’s Love Got to Do with It?

  • the second circle (lust) is significantly more “infernal” or “hellish” than the first circle (Limbo): the presence of Minos at the threshold of the second circle
  • the first great dramatic encounter, with Francesca da Rimini: a self-serving user of the ideology of courtly love, whose tenets she imbibed as a reader of love lyric and Arthurian romance, the genres with which she still identifies
  • the possibility of seeing a different version of Francesca, if we take the route of historicizing her and uncovering her gendered history as dynastic wife and political pawn who attempts to exert agency in a patriarchal world (I do not discuss this historicized perspective in this commentary; for more on this, see “Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender”, cited in Coordinated Reading, and “Dante Alighieri” in Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, cited in Coordinated Reading). From this historicized perspective, it is less important that Dante put Francesca into his hell than that he saves her to history, preserving her from oblivion and becoming Francesca’s historian of record
  • love leads to (Cavalcantian) death in Inferno 5 (“Amor condusse noi ad una morte” [Love led the two of us unto one death [Inf. 5.106]) while love leads to salvation in Inferno 2: “amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare” (Love prompted me, that Love which makes me speak [Inf. 2.72])
  • Dante traces here his own lyric development from the early tenzoni with Dante da Maiano through the Sicilian, Cavalcantian, and Guinizzellian phases
  • Aristotle’s idea of “incontinence” (lack of moderation and self-control) is grafted onto courtly and lyric notions of excess desire

Our first move in treating Inferno 5 must be to put the treatment of lust as a sin into historical context. As I suggested in my 1998 essay “Dante and Cavalcanti (On Making Distinctions in Matters of Love): Inferno 5 in Its Lyric and Autobiographical Context” (see Coordinated Readings), we can do this by comparing Dante’s treatment of lust in Inferno 5 to that of various moralistic traditions, both written and visual: to vision literature, to didactic poetry and sermons, and to the contemporary artwork that we find in churches. The distance between Dante and the various moralistic traditions is immense. The instructive contrast helps us to realize that Dante is not particularly interested, in Inferno 5, in what the moralists call fornication. He is interested in the self’s negotiation of desire.

The visionaries follow a tradition in which punishment is inflicted on the sinful body part and are quite insistent that the tortures inflicted on fornicators are genital tortures. The visions demonstrate to what degree Dante, by contrast,
could be said to de-sexualize lust.

In the earliest Christian vision, St. Peter’s Apocalypse (2nd c. CE), we find women hung by their hair, hair that they plaited “not for the sake of beauty but to turn men to fornication”, and men “hung by their loins in that place of fire” (Eileen Gardiner, ed. Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante [New York: Italica Press, 1989], p. 6). At the end of the vision tradition is Thurkill’s Vision (dated 1206, of English provenance), whose adulterers must fornicate publicly in an infernal amphitheater, and then tear each other to pieces:

An adulterer was now brought into the sight of the furious demons
together with an adulteress, united together in foul contact. In the
presence of all they repeated their disgraceful love-making and immodest
gestures to their own confusion and amid the cursing of the demons.
Then, as if smitten with frenzy, they began to tear one another, changing
the outward love that they seemed to entertain toward one another before
into cruelty and hatred. (Gardiner, ed. Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante, pp. 230-231)

Visual depictions of hell are similarly focused. The treatment of the lustful in the Last Judgment of Dante’s contemporary Giotto (1267-1337 c.), in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova, offers graphic images of what art historians Anna Derbes and Mark Sandona call “torments directed at genitalia”. They describe Giotto’s figures thus:

For instance, just below Satan’s left arm, on the bristly back of a serpentine monster, is a soul doomed to spend eternity with a reptilian green demon gnawing on his penis. Above and to the right of Satan, a black demon grips another man’s penis in pincers. Hanging to the right are four more damned souls, two of whom—one male, one female—are suspended by their genitals, another by his tongue, and the fourth by her long hair, a common sign of luxuria. The fact that her hair is braided may also signify her concupiscence.  (Anna Derbes and Mark Sandona, The Usurer’s Heart: Giotto, Enrico Scrovegni, and the Arena Chapel in Padua, p. 66)

It goes without saying that Dante’s adulterers are not genitally tortured and do not fornicate in an infernal amphitheater to the prurient delight of demons. Or, rather, although it has always gone without saying, maybe we should say it as a thought experiment: to say it forces us to envision the Commedia as a text in which Paolo and Francesca perform a degraded sexual act for the pilgrim and his guide.

A word on the contrapasso that Dante devises in Inferno 5 is in order. Dante’s treatment of lust emphasizes the psychology of desire: his adulterers are tossed by a hellish wind—the “bufera infernal” of verse 31—as in life they were tossed about by their passions. The fourteenth-century commentator Guido da Pisa offers the gloss: ‘‘the lustful are moved in this world by every wind of temptation, so that their souls are always in continual motion and continual tempest’’. He cites Isaiah: ‘‘Cor impii quasi mare fervens quod quiescere non potest’’ (The heart of the wicked man is like a troubled sea that cannot rest). Moving forward from the Bible, Dante’s contrapasso draws on the Augustinian analysis of desire, based on a counterpoint between human motion and divine repose, between the human cor inquietum with its restless and unfulfilled longings and the eternally fulfilled quies of God.

In the essay mentioned above (“Dante and Cavalcanti: Inferno 5 in Its Lyric and Autobiographical Context”), I also proposed an Aristotelian intertext for the contrapasso of Inferno 5, one that to my knowledge had not previously been identified by the commentary tradition.

I proposed the importance for Inferno 5 of the passage in Book III, chapter 1 of Nicomachean Ethics in which Aristotle discusses compulsion and the will:

In a passage that has not, to my knowledge, been brought to bear on Inferno 5, Aristotle illustrates compulsion by offering precisely the example of a person being carried by a wind: ‘‘Those things, then, are thought involuntary, which take place by force or owing to ignorance; and that is compulsory of which the moving principle is outside, being a principle in which nothing is contributed by the person who acts—or, rather, is acted upon, e.g., if he were to be carried somewhere by a wind, or by men who had him in their power’’ (Nic. Ethics 3.1). Francesca, who speaks of her past actions as involuntary, of herself as having been acted upon rather than acting, and who is now carried by a wind, is the perfect embodiment of Aristotle’s example. We could say that she is Aristotle’s example of compulsion transplanted to the Christian afterlife. What for Aristotle serves as an example of compulsion—the example of a person being carried by a material wind—becomes in Dante’s afterworld the metaphor of a windy, tempestuous passion, a metaphor that has been fashioned into a literal feature of Dante’s infernal landscape. Aristotle’s physically compulsive wind has become the bufera infernal: it has become the tempest that represents the passions that Francesca calls ‘‘compulsive’’ but that Dante believes can and must be withstood by reason. (“Dante and Cavalcanti,” p. 74)

Aristotle’s discussion of compulsion and the will in Nicomachean Ethics Book 3 is highly relevant to the issues at stake in Inferno 5. Moreover, I believe that Dante in the Commedia uses the very examples of compulsion that Aristotle offers: “that is compulsory of which the moving principle is outside, being a principle in which nothing is contributed by the person who acts—or, rather, is acted upon, e.g., if he were to be carried somewhere by a wind, or by men who had him in their power’’ (Nic. Ethics 3.1). Both of Aristotle’s examples—being carried somewhere by a constraining wind or by powerful men—find their way into the Commedia’s treatment of compulsion: Francesca is analogous to Aristotle’s man who is “carried somewhere by a wind”, and Piccarda Donati, in Paradiso 3, is analogous to Aristotle’s man who is carried off “by men who had [her] in their power”.

The presence of the Aristotelian images of compulsion in the Commedia underscores the importance of Aristotle’s ethical doctrine of incontinence for Dante’s understanding of lust and desire.

* * *

Dante offers a clear philosophical definition of lust in Inferno 5: lust is the subjugation of reason by desire, the misalignment of our faculties. The lustful are “peccator carnali, / che la ragion sommettono al talento” (carnal sinners, / who subjugate reason to desire [Inf. 5.38-9]). This ethical definition is first put forward early in the canto and then subsequently Dante-poet stages an encounter with a charismatic sinner, Francesca da Rimini, who uses thrillingly beautiful language—language that draws on both love lyrics and Arthurian romance—to subvert the information contained by the ethical definition.

Here Dante follows a narrative method that he uses consistently, of first giving us information and then challenging our ability to integrate it. For instance, although “we are duly informed that ‘Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore’ (Justice moved my high maker [Inf. 3.4]), this is information that we will internalize—if at all—only after completing much of the voyage through hell, not here at the outset” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 31).

Francesca, who committed adultery with her brother-in-law Paolo, tells Dante that Love forced her to respond. She portrays herself as compelled by love. Love as an overwhelming force that cannot be withstood is a staple of the vernacular love lyric tradition. The Sicilian poet Giacomo da Lentini offers the language of passive surrender to a love that grips and holds him against his will. For example, in the canzone Madonna, dir vo voglio Giacomo writes ‘‘como l’amor m’ha priso’’ (as love has taken me) and ‘‘di tal guisa Amor m’ha vinto’’ (in such fashion has love conquered me). Guido delle Colonne too presents love as a force that seizes and overcomes him: in the canzone Ancor che l’aigua he writes ‘‘sì m’ave preso e tolto’’ (so love has taken and seized me) and in Amor, che lungiamente m’hai menato we find ‘‘Amor che vince tutto’’ (Love that conquers all). As I pointed out in “Dante and Cavalcanti”, Guido delle Colonne’s canzone Amor, che lungiamente m’hai menato “ is in effect a lyric version of Inferno 5 without the eschatological context”:

The Augustinian dialectic between menare and posare (termst hat will govern Inferno 5 as well) shapes the canzone from the outset, where the compulsive force of love is compared not to the roiling force of a gale on the sea but to the severe control of a rider on his mount; the lover begs love to loosen the reins by which he is so tightly bound: “Amor, che lungiamente m’hai menato / a freno stretto senza riposanza, / alarga le toi retene in pietanza” (1-3). (“Dante and Cavalcanti”, p. 75)

Dante began his poetic life as a lyric poet working within the conventions of courtly love and in the context of eros as an imperious force that cannot be withstood. In his very early sonnet to Dante da Maiano, Savere e cortesia, Dante Alighieri declares that there is no power that can impede love: “ché nulla cosa gli è incontro possente (for nothing has the power to take him [Love] on” [Savere e cortesia, 13]). Further discussion of Savere e cortesia within the context of the trajectory that leads to Inferno 5 may be found in Dante’s Lyric Poetry, cited in Coordinated Readings.

I will take this opportunity to add another echo of the early poetic exchanges with Dante da Maiano to the lyric repertory of Inferno 5. When Francesca says that “There is no greater sorrow / than thinking back upon a happy time / in misery”—“Nessun maggior dolore / che ricordarsi del tempo felice / ne la miseria” (Inf. 5.121-23)—she is echoing not only Boethius, as the commentaries note, but Dante’s own early tenzone del duol d’amore (tenzone on the suffering of love), where Dante Alighieri had used the same locution “maggior dolore” (greater suffering) now used by Francesca: “sacci bene, chi ama, / se non è amato, lo maggior dol porta” (know this full well: whoever loves / but is not loved will bear the greatest pain [Non canoscendo, 10–11]). To Francesca’s well-known echo of Dante’s early sonnet Amore e ’l cor gentil sono una cosa, we can thus add an echo of the tenzone with Dante da Maiano. It stands as a marker of how far Dante Alighieri has traveled in his view of love from those early days, when he believed in love as a compulsive force.

But already as a lyric poet, in his moral canzone Doglia mi reca, Dante had taken aim at the idea of love as a compulsive force. As Dante adds the ethical dimension to his poetry—and as he adds an Aristotelian ethical template—he becomes passionately invested in the belief that desire can be withstood, that reason can and must triumph. It is this profoundly psychological and ethical drama, with deep roots in the courtly tradition, and its extremely idiosyncratic and Dantean imbrication of Aristotle and courtliness (for which see my essay “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime”, cited in Coordinated Readings) that is ultimately played out in Dante’s treatment of lust in Inferno 5.

By insisting that reason can triumph over desire, and that the issue for us is to keep our faculties in proper alignment, Dante is able to withstand the siren call of dualism.

Dante is Aristotelian and he is not saying that desire is simply bad. He is saying that desire must be controlled, as per the Aristotelian doctrine of incontinence:

The philosophical implications of defining desire in terms of incontinence are frequently overlooked in a critical tradition that has insisted for centuries on the binary of secular versus divine love. Defining desire in terms of incontinence means that it is not defined dualistically, for the Aristotelian system of virtue as a mean between two sinful extremes is a unitary system, based on a spectrum of behaviors, not a dualistic one. (“Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime,” p. 167)

* * *

We now come to the deployment of the word “love” in Dante’s language. Dante-poet creates a virtual reality in which we must be active participants, learning, for instance, to decode who is using “amore” correctly and who is not. Dante makes such decoding particularly complex in Inferno 5 by having his protagonist, Francesca, draw on the literary language of love  (including, as we have seen above, on Dante’s own literary language of love), using poets and writers as her authorities.

We have seen love and desire already featured quite prominently in the first canti of Inferno. The word amor/amore appears in Inferno nineteen times, and of those, fourteen occurrences are in the first five canti: three times in Inferno 1, one time in Inferno 2, one time in Inferno 3, and nine times in Inferno 5. (We can increase the tally to twelve times in Inferno 5, if we add the adjective amorosa in Inf. 5.61 and the two forms of the verb amare in verse 103: “Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona”.)

Here are all the occurrences of the noun amor/amore in Inferno:

ch’eran con lui quando l’amor divino Inf. 1. 39
vagliami ’l lungo studio e ’l grande amore Inf. 1.83
ma sapïenza, amore e virtute Inf. 1.104
amor mi mosse, che mi fa parlare Inf. 2.72
la somma sapïenza e ’l primo amore Inf. 3.6
L’altra è colei che s’ancise amorosa Inf. 5.61
che con amore al fine combatteo Inf. 5.66
ch’amor di nostra vita dipartille Inf. 5.69
per quello amor che i mena, ed ei verranno Inf. 5.78
Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto Inf. 5.100
Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona Inf. 5.103
Amor condusse noi ad una morte Inf. 5.106
a che e come concedette amore Inf. 5.118-120
del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto Inf. 5.125
di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse Inf. 5.128
pur lo vinco d’amor che fa natura Inf. 11.56
Per l’altro modo quell’amor s’oblia Inf. 11.61
sentisse amor, per lo qual è chi creda Inf. 12.42
del vecchio padre, né ’l debito amore Inf. 26.95
al padre, fuor del dritto amore, amica Inf. 30.39

In Inferno 1 “amore” enters the Commedia as the divine love that moves the stars. Love is the life force, the force that binds and moves the universe; it is coexistent with intellect and with truth. Therefore, for Dante, that which we can properly call love can never be antithetical to intellect, reason, and truth. In the moral canzone Doglia mi reca nello core ardire, written post-exile in the first decade of the 14th century, Dante had already explained that we often use the word “amore” incorrectly, for love, properly understood, cannot exist “outside of reason’s garden”: “fuor d’orto di ragione” (Doglia mi reca, 147).

A passion that is antithetical to reason for Dante cannot be love. According to the canzone Doglia mi reca, if reason is not operative, then the passion in question is not love but merely “bestial appetite”: “appetito di fera” (Doglia mi reca, 143).

The second circle of Hell contains the lustful, the “peccator carnali” (carnal sinners [Inf. 5.38]) who allowed passion to dominate reason: “che la ragion sommettono al talento” (who subjected reason to desire [Inf. 5.39]). In defining lust in this manner Dante shows none of the prurient interest in sexual activity, none of the emphasis on fornication and non-normative behavior that has been in so many cultures throughout history the staple of preachers and moralistic writing. Dante is focused instead on the proper functioning of the human faculties in the healthy soul.

Again, Dante is not saying that desire is wrong per se. He is saying that reason must be in charge: what is wrong is for reason to be dominated by desire. As long as reason controls passion—and not the other way around—the soul is not in danger.

The souls whom we meet in this canto are all souls who, according to Dante’s placement of them here, put passion in charge of reason, thus inverting the proper functioning of our human faculties. It is clear therefore that from Dante’s perspective these “carnal sinners”—blown about for eternity by an infernal windstorm that is the externalization of the carnal passions that they allowed to control them while they were alive—did not experience what for Dante is love. They experienced lust, lussuria. And yet these sinners, in particular the sinner who speaks to Dante at length, Francesca da Rimini, characterize their experience as that of love.

By giving Francesca the lexicon of love, a vocabulary dominated by amor/amore, Dante scripts a performance and challenges his readers to interpret it. This is dramatic art, in which individual sinners use words that suit them, and not necessarily in a way that agrees with the narrator’s definitions.

Francesca’s performance is heightened by its literary register and by its intertextual resonances. A romantic aura envelops Dante’s encounter as Francesca tells the story of how she fell in love with her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta and was killed by her husband Gianciotto Malatesta. Her story draws on the language and the style of two quintessentially amorous literary genres: the love lyric, and the romance. The first part of her account is stylized and abstract and draws on the lyric, while the latter part is more life-like and detailed and draws on the prose romance (in particular the Lancelot romance). Francesca’s story is a prime example of Dante scripting for a sinner a seductive rhetorical power that makes us “forget” the definition of lust that we have just heard.

Francesca uses the tenets of the courtly love lyric to ascribe all agency to Love, conjured by her as an imperious and compulsive force that she and Paolo could not possibly resist or withstand. In her three famous terzine beginning with “Amor”, she explains that Love compelled Paolo to fall in love with Francesca (100-2), that Love compelled Francesca to reciprocate the love of Paolo (103-5), and that Love led both of them to their deaths (106-8):

Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende / prese costui (Love, that can quickly kindle the gentle heart, / took hold of him)  LOVE COMPELLED PAOLO

Lyric intertexts of note: Guido Guinizzelli’s canzone Al cor gentil rempaira sempre amore and Dante’s own imitation of Guinizzelli, the sonnet Amore e ’l cor gentil sono una cosa

Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona / mi prese (Love, that releases no beloved from loving, / took hold of me)    LOVE COMPELLED FRANCESCA

Lyric intertexts of note: Giacomo da Lentini’s “como l’amor m’ha priso” and “di tal guisa Amor m’ha vinto”
(Madonna, dir vo voglio, 2, 72); Guido delle Colonne, “si m’ave preso e tolto” (Ancor che l’aigua, 33), “Amor che vince tutto” (Amor, che lungiamente, 24)

Amor condusse noi ad una morte (Love led us to one death)  LOVE COMPELLED BOTH PAOLO & FRANCESCA

Lyric intertexts of note: Guido Cavalcanti, “Di sua potenza segue spesso morte” (Donna me prega, 35)

(For these intertextual connections between Donna me prega and Inferno 5, see my essay “Dante and Cavalcanti,” cited in Coordinated Readings)

Similarly, Francesca later explains that a book, the Lancelot romance, caused Paolo first to kiss her. Indeed, the book served as the facilitator of their adulterous romantic encounter, which occurred while they were reading it. In the verse “Galeotto fu ’l libro e chi lo scrisse” (a Gallehault indeed, that book and he who wrote it [Inf. 5.137]), Francesca literally blames the book that she and Paolo were reading for their liaison. The book is said, through complex literary resonance, to have behaved like Gallehault, the character in the Lancelot romance who facilitated the first kiss between Lancelot and Guinevere. The book “and he who wrote it”—the book’s author—are thus responsible for her first adulterous kiss.

Onto a discourse dealing with the ethics of desire, crafted of both vernacular and classical antecedents and focused on the question of whether we can be compelled by passion, Dante has layered a discourse about reading and interpretation: Francesca implicates her reading in her moral life. We—as readers of Inferno 5—also have to confront reading as a moral act, for we have the task of reading and interpreting her.

Dante-author, who as a young poet had written the very kind of love poetry that Francesca is here quoting, creates a dramatic scene at the end of the canto in which Dante-protagonist is unable to keep a critical distance from Francesca and her story. Dante-protagonist “falls for her”, literally, falling down in a dead faint in the canto’s last verse: “E caddi come corpo morto cade” (And then I fell as a dead body falls [Inf. 5.142]). The pilgrim swoons on the floor of hell, in a vivid enactment of the “love” that leads to death: “Amor condusse noi ad una morte” (Love led us to one death [Inf. 5.106]).

The idea of a love that leads to death is pervasive in the medieval lyric and romance, but for Dante its most sophisticated exponent is Guido Cavalcanti. Dante is here evoking the Cavalcantian love that held sway over him in an earlier phase of his lyric development (see, for instance, my discussion of the canzone Lo doloroso amor in Dante’s Lyric Poetry). A complex developmental trajectory is invoked in Inferno 5, one that goes all the way back to the tenzoni with Dante da Maiano and that passes through the Sicilian, Guinizzellian, and Cavalcantian phases of his poetics. These phases were mapped in the Vita Nuova long before being mapped in Inferno 5 (see Dante’s Poets and Dante’s Lyric Poetry). While in the Vita Nuova the turn to Guinizzelli frees the young Dante from Cavalcanti, Inferno 5 offers an autobiographically truer assessment whereby Cavalcanti exerts the greatest hold on his imagination.

In this developmental trajectory, Dante arrived at his mature moral formulation on the issue of passion and reason in the moral canzone Dogia mi reca, where love must belong “to reason’s garden” in order to be called “love”. The final stanza of Doglia mi reca is crucial for our topic, for it adumbrates one of the fundamental issues of Inferno 5, namely whether the use of the name “love” is sufficient guarantee that we are in fact talking of love. Dante is concerned with human desire, but also with how we use language when we deal with desire. Francesca talks repeatedly of “love”, but the narrator instructs us otherwise, telling us that we will encounter not lovers but “carnal sinners, / who subjugate reason to desire” (Inf. 5.38-39).

Similarly, Doglia mi reca raises the possibility that someone who desires—a woman who desires, no less—could define love in a self-serving way, could justify her actions by calling her appetite by the name of love. As with Francesca, although the lady of the canzone may use the word amore, she misapplies the signifier, for the impulse that grips her is in fact a “bestial appetite” that she calls by the name “love”: “chiamando amore appetito di fera!” (calling a bestial appetite [by the name] love! [Doglia mi reca, 143). Her mistake comes from the fact that she believes that love is disjoined from reason. Literally, she “believes love to be outside reason’s garden”: “e crede amor fuor d’orto di ragione” (Doglia mi reca, 147).

In Inferno 5, as in the great medieval romances and in much lyric poetry, particularly that of Dante’s best friend Guido Cavalcanti, love is that which leads to death. For Dante, Cavalcanti’s love leads to death precisely because it is disjoined from reason, a disjunction that Cavalcanti theorizes in his canzone Donna me prega. The love of which Cavalcanti wrote in Danna me prega is death-inducing—‘‘Di sua potenza segue spesso morte’’ (From love’s power death often follows)— precisely because it is separated from intellect and reason.

Dante broke with Cavalcanti and other vernacular precursors when he theologized the lady in the canzone Donne ch’avete intelletto d’amore. He broke with Cavalcanti even more thoroughly when he theorized a love that belongs “to reason’s garden” in the canzone Doglia mi reca. The positing of a love that is aligned with reason in Doglia mi reca, grafted onto the theologized courtliness of Donne ch’avete and onto the idea of consolation in the canzone Li occhi dolenti, leads to the salvific love that moved Beatrice to come to Dante’s aid in Inferno 2.

In fact, for the mature Dante, what Francesca and Cavalcanti describe is not love at all. Love had nothing to do with it.

Coordinated Reading

“Minos’s Tail: The Labor of Devising Hell (Aeneid 6.431–33 and Inferno 5.1–24),” 1996, rpt. Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), pp. 132-150; “Dante and Cavalcanti (On Making Distinctions in Matters of Love): Inferno 5 in Its Lyric and Autobiographical Context,” 1998, rpt. Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture, pp. 70-101; “Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender,” 2000, rpt. Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture, pp. 304-32; “Francesca da Rimini”, in The Dante Encyclopedia, ed. R. Lansing (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 2000), pp. 409-14; “Dante Alighieri,” in Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia, ed. Margaret Schaus (New York and London:  Routledge, 2006), pp. 190-192; “Dante’s Sympathy for the Other, or the Non-Stereotyping Imagination: Sexual and Racialized Others in the Commedia,” Critica del testo 14 (2011): 177-204; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” in Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), pp. 163-79; Dante’s Lyric Poetry: Poems of Youth and of the Vita Nuova (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014); Eileen Gardiner, ed. Visions of Heaven and Hell before Dante (New York: Italica Press, 1989); Anna Derbes and Mark Sandona, The Usurer’s Heart: Giotto, Enrico Scrovegni, and the Arena Chapel in Padua (University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008)

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Inferno 5: What’s Love Got to Do with It?.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/inferno/inferno-5/

About the Commento

1Così discesi del cerchio primaio
2giù nel secondo, che men loco cinghia
3e tanto più dolor, che punge a guaio.

4Stavvi Minòs orribilmente, e ringhia:
5essamina le colpe ne l’intrata;
6giudica e manda secondo ch’avvinghia.

7Dico che quando l’anima mal nata
8li vien dinanzi, tutta si confessa;
9e quel conoscitor de le peccata

10vede qual loco d’inferno è da essa;
11cignesi con la coda tante volte
12quantunque gradi vuol che giù sia messa.

13Sempre dinanzi a lui ne stanno molte:
14vanno a vicenda ciascuna al giudizio,
15dicono e odono e poi son giù volte.

16«O tu che vieni al doloroso ospizio»,
17disse Minòs a me quando mi vide,
18lasciando l’atto di cotanto offizio,

19«guarda com’ entri e di cui tu ti fide;
20non t’inganni l’ampiezza de l’intrare!».
21E ’l duca mio a lui: «Perché pur gride?

22Non impedir lo suo fatale andare:
23vuolsi così colà dove si puote
24ciò che si vuole, e più non dimandare».

25Or incomincian le dolenti note
26a farmisi sentire; or son venuto
27là dove molto pianto mi percuote.

28Io venni in loco d’ogne luce muto,
29che mugghia come fa mar per tempesta,
30se da contrari venti è combattuto.

31La bufera infernal, che mai non resta,
32mena li spirti con la sua rapina;
33voltando e percotendo li molesta.

34Quando giungon davanti a la ruina,
35quivi le strida, il compianto, il lamento;
36bestemmian quivi la virtù divina.

37Intesi ch’a così fatto tormento
38enno dannati i peccator carnali,
39che la ragion sommettono al talento.

40E come li stornei ne portan l’ali
41nel freddo tempo, a schiera larga e piena,
42così quel fiato li spiriti mali

43di qua, di là, di giù, di sù li mena;
44nulla speranza li conforta mai,
45non che di posa, ma di minor pena.

46E come i gru van cantando lor lai,
47faccendo in aere di sé lunga riga,
48così vid’ io venir, traendo guai,

49ombre portate da la detta briga;
50per ch’i’ dissi: «Maestro, chi son quelle
51genti che l’aura nera sì gastiga?».

52«La prima di color di cui novelle
53tu vuo’ saper», mi disse quelli allotta,
54«fu imperadrice di molte favelle.

55A vizio di lussuria fu sì rotta,
56che libito fé licito in sua legge,
57per tòrre il biasmo in che era condotta.

58Ell’ è Semiramìs, di cui si legge
59che succedette a Nino e fu sua sposa:
60tenne la terra che ’l Soldan corregge.

61L’altra è colei che s’ancise amorosa,
62e ruppe fede al cener di Sicheo;
63poi è Cleopatràs lussurïosa.

64Elena vedi, per cui tanto reo
65tempo si volse, e vedi ’l grande Achille,
66che con amore al fine combatteo.

67Vedi Parìs, Tristano»; e più di mille
68ombre mostrommi e nominommi a dito,
69ch’amor di nostra vita dipartille.

70Poscia ch’io ebbi ’l mio dottore udito
71nomar le donne antiche e ’ cavalieri,
72pietà mi giunse, e fui quasi smarrito.

73I’ cominciai: «Poeta, volontieri
74parlerei a quei due che ’nsieme vanno,
75e paion sì al vento esser leggeri».

76Ed elli a me: «Vedrai quando saranno
77più presso a noi; e tu allor li priega
78per quello amor che i mena, ed ei verranno».

79Sì tosto come il vento a noi li piega,
80mossi la voce: «O anime affannate,
81venite a noi parlar, s’altri nol niega!».

82Quali colombe dal disio chiamate
83con l’ali alzate e ferme al dolce nido
84vegnon per l’aere, dal voler portate;

85cotali uscir de la schiera ov’ è Dido,
86a noi venendo per l’aere maligno,
87sì forte fu l’affettüoso grido.

88«O animal grazïoso e benigno
89che visitando vai per l’aere perso
90noi che tignemmo il mondo di sanguigno,

91se fosse amico il re de l’universo,
92noi pregheremmo lui de la tua pace,
93poi c’hai pietà del nostro mal perverso.

94Di quel che udire e che parlar vi piace,
95noi udiremo e parleremo a voi,
96mentre che ’l vento, come fa, ci tace.

97Siede la terra dove nata fui
98su la marina dove ’l Po discende
99per aver pace co’ seguaci sui.

100Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende,
101prese costui de la bella persona
102che mi fu tolta; e ’l modo ancor m’offende.

103Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona,
104mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
105che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona.

106Amor condusse noi ad una morte.
107Caina attende chi a vita ci spense».
108Queste parole da lor ci fuor porte.

109Quand’ io intesi quell’ anime offense,
110china’ il viso, e tanto il tenni basso,
111fin che ’l poeta mi disse: «Che pense?».

112Quando rispuosi, cominciai: «Oh lasso,
113quanti dolci pensier, quanto disio
114menò costoro al doloroso passo!».

115Poi mi rivolsi a loro e parla’ io,
116e cominciai: «Francesca, i tuoi martìri
117a lagrimar mi fanno tristo e pio.

118Ma dimmi: al tempo d’i dolci sospiri,
119a che e come concedette amore
120che conosceste i dubbiosi disiri?».

121E quella a me: «Nessun maggior dolore
122che ricordarsi del tempo felice
123ne la miseria; e ciò sa ’l tuo dottore.

124Ma s’a conoscer la prima radice
125del nostro amor tu hai cotanto affetto,
126dirò come colui che piange e dice.

127Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto
128di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse;
129soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto.

130Per più fïate li occhi ci sospinse
131quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso;
132ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse.

133Quando leggemmo il disïato riso
134esser basciato da cotanto amante,
135questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,

136la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
137Galeotto fu ’l libro e chi lo scrisse:
138quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante».

139Mentre che l’uno spirto questo disse,
140l’altro piangëa; sì che di pietade
141io venni men così com’ io morisse.

142E caddi come corpo morto cade.

So I descended from the first enclosure
down to the second circle, that which girdles
less space but grief more great, that goads to weeping.

There dreadful Minos stands, gnashing his teeth:
examining the sins of those who enter,
he judges and assigns as his tail twines.

I mean that when the spirit born to evil
appears before him, it confesses all;
and he, the connoisseur of sin, can tell

the depth in Hell appropriate to it;
as many times as Minos wraps his tail
around himself, that marks the sinner’s level.

Always there is a crowd that stands before him:
each soul in turn advances toward that judgment;
they speak and hear, then they are cast below.

Arresting his extraordinary task,
Minos, as soon as he had seen me, said:
“O you who reach this house of suffering,

be careful how you enter, whom you trust;
the gate is wide, but do not be deceived!”
To which my guide replied: “But why protest?

Do not attempt to block his fated path:
our passage has been willed above, where One
can do what He has willed; and ask no more.”

Now notes of desperation have begun
to overtake my hearing; now I come
where mighty lamentation beats against me.

I reached a place where every light is muted,
which bellows like the sea beneath a tempest,
when it is battered by opposing winds.

The hellish hurricane, which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence:
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them.

When they come up against the ruined slope,
then there are cries and wailing and lament,
and there they curse the force of the divine.

I learned that those who undergo this torment
are damned because they sinned within the flesh,
subjecting reason to the rule of lust.

And as, in the cold season, starlings’ wings
bear them along in broad and crowded ranks
so does that blast bear on the guilty spirits:

now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them.
There is no hope that ever comforts them—
no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.

And just as cranes in flight will chant their lays,
arraying their long file across the air,
so did the shades I saw approaching, borne

by that assailing wind, lament and moan;
so that I asked him: “Master, who are those
who suffer punishment in this dark air?”

“The first of those about whose history
you want to know,” my master then told me
“once ruled as empress over many nations.

Her vice of lust became so customary
that she made license licit in her laws
to free her from the scandal she had caused.

She is Semiramis, of whom we read
that she was Ninus’ wife and his successor:
she held the land the Sultan now commands.

That other spirit killed herself for love,
and she betrayed the ashes of Sychaeus;
the wanton Cleopatra follows next.

See Helen, for whose sake so many years
of evil had to pass; see great Achilles,
who finally met love-in his last battle.

See Paris, Tristan . . .”—and he pointed out
and named to me more than a thousand shades
departed from our life because of love.

No sooner had I heard my teacher name
the ancient ladies and the knights, than pity
seized me, and I was like a man astray.

My first words: “Poet, I should willingly
speak with those two who go together there
and seem so lightly carried by the wind.”

And he to me: “You’ll see when they draw closer
to us, and then you may appeal to them
by that love which impels them. They will come.”

No sooner had the wind bent them toward us
than I urged on my voice: “O battered souls
if One does not forbid it, speak with us.”

Even as doves when summoned by desire,
borne forward by their will, move through the air
with wings uplifted, still, to their sweet nest,

those spirits left the ranks where Dido suffers
approaching us through the malignant air;
so powerful had been my loving cry.

“O living being, gracious and benign,
who through the darkened air have come to visit
our souls that stained the world with blood, if He

who rules the universe were friend to us
then we should pray to Him to give you peace
for you have pitied our atrocious state.

Whatever pleases you to hear and speak
will please us, too, to hear and speak with you,
now while the wind is silent, in this place.

The land where I was born lies on that shore
to which the Po together with the waters
that follow it descends to final rest.

Love, that can quickly seize the gentle heart,
took hold of him because of the fair body
taken from me—how that was done still wounds me.

Love, that releases no beloved from loving,
took hold of me so strongly through his beauty
that, as you see, it has not left me yet.

Love led the two of us unto one death.
Caina waits for him who took our life.”
These words were borne across from them to us.

When I had listened to those injured souls,
I bent my head and held it low until
the poet asked of me: “What are you thinking?”

When I replied, my words began: “Alas,
how many gentle thoughts, how deep a longing,
had led them to the agonizing pass!”

Then I addressed my speech again to them,
and I began: “Francesca, your afflictions
move me to tears of sorrow and of pity.

But tell me, in the time of gentle sighs,
with what and in what way did Love allow you
to recognize your still uncertain longings?”

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery—and this your teacher knows.

Yet if you long so much to understand
the first root of our love, then I shall tell
my tale to you as one who weeps and speaks.

One day, to pass the time away, we read
of Lancelot—how love had overcome him.
We were alone, and we suspected nothing.

And time and time again that reading led
our eyes to meet, and made our faces pale,
and yet one point alone defeated us.

When we had read how the desired smile
was kissed by one who was so true a lover,
this one, who never shall be parted from me,

while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth.
A Gallehault indeed, that book and he
who wrote it, too; that day we read no more.”

And while one spirit said these words to me,
the other wept, so that—because of pity—
I fainted, as if I had met my death.

And then I fell as a dead body falls.

THUS I descended out of the first circle
Down to the second, that less space begirds,
And so much greater dole, that goads to wailing.

There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls;
Examines the transgressions at the entrance;
Judges, and sends according as he girds him.

I say, that when the spirit evil—born
Cometh before him, wholly it confesses;
And this discriminator of transgressions

Seeth what place in Hell is meet for it;
Girds himself with his tail as many times
As grades he wishes it should be thrust down.

Always before him many of them stand;
They go by turns each one unto the judgment;
They speak, and hear, and then are downward hurled.

“O thou, that to this dolorous hostelry
Comest,”said Minos to me, when he saw me,
Leaving the practice of so great an office,

“Look how thou enterest, and in whom thou trustest;
Let not the portal’s amplitude deceive thee.”
And unto him my Guide: “Why criest thou too?

Do not impede his journey fate—ordained;
It is so willed there where is power to go
That which is willed; and ask no further question.”

And now begin the dolesome notes to grow
Audible unto me, now am I come
There where much lamentation strikes upon me.

I came into a place mute of all light,
Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest,
If by opposing winds ‘t is combated.

The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;
Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them.

When they arrive before the precipice,
There are the shrieks, the plaints, and the laments,
There they blaspheme the puissance divine.

I understood that unto such a torment
The carnal malefactors were condemned,
Who reason subjugate to appetite.

And as the wings of starlings bear them on
In the cold season in large band and full,
So doth that blast the spirits maledict;

It hither, thither, downward, upward, drives them;
No hope doth comfort them for evermore,
Not of repose, but even of lesser pain.

And as the cranes go chanting forth their lays,
Making in air a long line of themselves,
So saw I coming, uttering lamentations,

Shadows borne onward by the aforesaid stress.
Whereupon said I: “Master, who are those
People, whom the black air so castigates?”

“The first of those, of whom intelligence
Thou fain wouldst have, “then said he unto me,
“The empress was of many languages.

To sensual vices she was so abandoned,
That lustful she made licit in her law,
To remove the blame to which she had been led.

She is Semiramis of whom we read
That she succeeded Ninus, and was his spouse;
She held the land which now the Sultan rules.

The next is she who killed herself for love,
And broke faith with the ashes of Sichcaeus;
Then Cleopatra the voluptuous.”

Helen I saw, for whom so many ruthless
Seasons revolved; and saw the great Achilles,
Who at the last hour combated with Love

Paris I saw, Tristan; and more than a thousand
Shades did he name and point out with his finger,
Whom Love had separated from our life.

After that I had listened to my Teacher,
Naming the dames of eld and cavaliers,
Pity prevailed, and I was nigh bewildered.

And I began: “O Poet, willingly
Speak would I to those two, who go together,
And seem upon the wind to be so light.”

And, he to me: “Thou’lt mark, when they shall be
Nearer to us; and then do thou implore them
By love which leadeth them, and they will come.”

Soon as the wind in our direction sways them,
My voice uplift I: “O ye weary souls !
Come speak to us, if no one interdicts it.”

As turtle—doves, called onward by desire,
With open and steady wings to the sweet nest
Fly through the air by their volition borne,

So came they from the band where Dido is,
Approaching us athwart the air malign,
So strong was the affectionate appeal.

“O living creature gracious and benignant,
Who visiting goest through the purple air
Us, who have stained the world incarnadine,

If were the King of the Universe our friend,
We would pray unto him to give thee peace,
Since thou hast pity on our woe perverse.

Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak,
That will we hear, and we will speak to you,
While silent is the wind, as it is now.

Sitteth the city, wherein I was born,
Upon the sea—shore where the Po descends
To rest in peace with all his retinue.

Love, that on gentle heart doth swiftly seize,
Seized this man for the person beautiful
That was ta’en from me, and still the mode offends me.

Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving,
Seized me with pleasure of this man so strongly,
That, as thou seest, it doth not yet desert me;

Love has conducted us unto one death;
Caina waiteth him who quenched our life !”
These words were borne along from them to us.

As soon as I had heard those souls tormented,
I bowed my face, and so long held it down
Until the Poet said to me: “What thinkest ?”

When I made answer, I began: “Alas !
How many pleasant thoughts, how much desire,
Conducted these unto the dolorous pass !”

Then unto them I turned me, and I spake,
And I began: “Thine agonies, Francesca,
Sad and compassionate to weeping make me.

But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs,
By what and in what manner Love conceded,
That you should know your dubious desires?”

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.

But, if to recognise the earliest root
Of love in us thou hast so great desire,
I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.

One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
Alone we were and without any fear.

Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o’ercame us.

When as we read of the much—longed—for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne’er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein.”

And all the while one spirit uttered this,
The other one did weep so, that, for pity,
I swooned away as if I had been dying,

And fell, even as a dead body falls.

So I descended from the first enclosure
down to the second circle, that which girdles
less space but grief more great, that goads to weeping.

There dreadful Minos stands, gnashing his teeth:
examining the sins of those who enter,
he judges and assigns as his tail twines.

I mean that when the spirit born to evil
appears before him, it confesses all;
and he, the connoisseur of sin, can tell

the depth in Hell appropriate to it;
as many times as Minos wraps his tail
around himself, that marks the sinner’s level.

Always there is a crowd that stands before him:
each soul in turn advances toward that judgment;
they speak and hear, then they are cast below.

Arresting his extraordinary task,
Minos, as soon as he had seen me, said:
“O you who reach this house of suffering,

be careful how you enter, whom you trust;
the gate is wide, but do not be deceived!”
To which my guide replied: “But why protest?

Do not attempt to block his fated path:
our passage has been willed above, where One
can do what He has willed; and ask no more.”

Now notes of desperation have begun
to overtake my hearing; now I come
where mighty lamentation beats against me.

I reached a place where every light is muted,
which bellows like the sea beneath a tempest,
when it is battered by opposing winds.

The hellish hurricane, which never rests,
drives on the spirits with its violence:
wheeling and pounding, it harasses them.

When they come up against the ruined slope,
then there are cries and wailing and lament,
and there they curse the force of the divine.

I learned that those who undergo this torment
are damned because they sinned within the flesh,
subjecting reason to the rule of lust.

And as, in the cold season, starlings’ wings
bear them along in broad and crowded ranks
so does that blast bear on the guilty spirits:

now here, now there, now down, now up, it drives them.
There is no hope that ever comforts them—
no hope for rest and none for lesser pain.

And just as cranes in flight will chant their lays,
arraying their long file across the air,
so did the shades I saw approaching, borne

by that assailing wind, lament and moan;
so that I asked him: “Master, who are those
who suffer punishment in this dark air?”

“The first of those about whose history
you want to know,” my master then told me
“once ruled as empress over many nations.

Her vice of lust became so customary
that she made license licit in her laws
to free her from the scandal she had caused.

She is Semiramis, of whom we read
that she was Ninus’ wife and his successor:
she held the land the Sultan now commands.

That other spirit killed herself for love,
and she betrayed the ashes of Sychaeus;
the wanton Cleopatra follows next.

See Helen, for whose sake so many years
of evil had to pass; see great Achilles,
who finally met love-in his last battle.

See Paris, Tristan . . .”—and he pointed out
and named to me more than a thousand shades
departed from our life because of love.

No sooner had I heard my teacher name
the ancient ladies and the knights, than pity
seized me, and I was like a man astray.

My first words: “Poet, I should willingly
speak with those two who go together there
and seem so lightly carried by the wind.”

And he to me: “You’ll see when they draw closer
to us, and then you may appeal to them
by that love which impels them. They will come.”

No sooner had the wind bent them toward us
than I urged on my voice: “O battered souls
if One does not forbid it, speak with us.”

Even as doves when summoned by desire,
borne forward by their will, move through the air
with wings uplifted, still, to their sweet nest,

those spirits left the ranks where Dido suffers
approaching us through the malignant air;
so powerful had been my loving cry.

“O living being, gracious and benign,
who through the darkened air have come to visit
our souls that stained the world with blood, if He

who rules the universe were friend to us
then we should pray to Him to give you peace
for you have pitied our atrocious state.

Whatever pleases you to hear and speak
will please us, too, to hear and speak with you,
now while the wind is silent, in this place.

The land where I was born lies on that shore
to which the Po together with the waters
that follow it descends to final rest.

Love, that can quickly seize the gentle heart,
took hold of him because of the fair body
taken from me—how that was done still wounds me.

Love, that releases no beloved from loving,
took hold of me so strongly through his beauty
that, as you see, it has not left me yet.

Love led the two of us unto one death.
Caina waits for him who took our life.”
These words were borne across from them to us.

When I had listened to those injured souls,
I bent my head and held it low until
the poet asked of me: “What are you thinking?”

When I replied, my words began: “Alas,
how many gentle thoughts, how deep a longing,
had led them to the agonizing pass!”

Then I addressed my speech again to them,
and I began: “Francesca, your afflictions
move me to tears of sorrow and of pity.

But tell me, in the time of gentle sighs,
with what and in what way did Love allow you
to recognize your still uncertain longings?”

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow
than thinking back upon a happy time
in misery—and this your teacher knows.

Yet if you long so much to understand
the first root of our love, then I shall tell
my tale to you as one who weeps and speaks.

One day, to pass the time away, we read
of Lancelot—how love had overcome him.
We were alone, and we suspected nothing.

And time and time again that reading led
our eyes to meet, and made our faces pale,
and yet one point alone defeated us.

When we had read how the desired smile
was kissed by one who was so true a lover,
this one, who never shall be parted from me,

while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth.
A Gallehault indeed, that book and he
who wrote it, too; that day we read no more.”

And while one spirit said these words to me,
the other wept, so that—because of pity—
I fainted, as if I had met my death.

And then I fell as a dead body falls.

THUS I descended out of the first circle
Down to the second, that less space begirds,
And so much greater dole, that goads to wailing.

There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls;
Examines the transgressions at the entrance;
Judges, and sends according as he girds him.

I say, that when the spirit evil—born
Cometh before him, wholly it confesses;
And this discriminator of transgressions

Seeth what place in Hell is meet for it;
Girds himself with his tail as many times
As grades he wishes it should be thrust down.

Always before him many of them stand;
They go by turns each one unto the judgment;
They speak, and hear, and then are downward hurled.

“O thou, that to this dolorous hostelry
Comest,”said Minos to me, when he saw me,
Leaving the practice of so great an office,

“Look how thou enterest, and in whom thou trustest;
Let not the portal’s amplitude deceive thee.”
And unto him my Guide: “Why criest thou too?

Do not impede his journey fate—ordained;
It is so willed there where is power to go
That which is willed; and ask no further question.”

And now begin the dolesome notes to grow
Audible unto me, now am I come
There where much lamentation strikes upon me.

I came into a place mute of all light,
Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest,
If by opposing winds ‘t is combated.

The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;
Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them.

When they arrive before the precipice,
There are the shrieks, the plaints, and the laments,
There they blaspheme the puissance divine.

I understood that unto such a torment
The carnal malefactors were condemned,
Who reason subjugate to appetite.

And as the wings of starlings bear them on
In the cold season in large band and full,
So doth that blast the spirits maledict;

It hither, thither, downward, upward, drives them;
No hope doth comfort them for evermore,
Not of repose, but even of lesser pain.

And as the cranes go chanting forth their lays,
Making in air a long line of themselves,
So saw I coming, uttering lamentations,

Shadows borne onward by the aforesaid stress.
Whereupon said I: “Master, who are those
People, whom the black air so castigates?”

“The first of those, of whom intelligence
Thou fain wouldst have, “then said he unto me,
“The empress was of many languages.

To sensual vices she was so abandoned,
That lustful she made licit in her law,
To remove the blame to which she had been led.

She is Semiramis of whom we read
That she succeeded Ninus, and was his spouse;
She held the land which now the Sultan rules.

The next is she who killed herself for love,
And broke faith with the ashes of Sichcaeus;
Then Cleopatra the voluptuous.”

Helen I saw, for whom so many ruthless
Seasons revolved; and saw the great Achilles,
Who at the last hour combated with Love

Paris I saw, Tristan; and more than a thousand
Shades did he name and point out with his finger,
Whom Love had separated from our life.

After that I had listened to my Teacher,
Naming the dames of eld and cavaliers,
Pity prevailed, and I was nigh bewildered.

And I began: “O Poet, willingly
Speak would I to those two, who go together,
And seem upon the wind to be so light.”

And, he to me: “Thou’lt mark, when they shall be
Nearer to us; and then do thou implore them
By love which leadeth them, and they will come.”

Soon as the wind in our direction sways them,
My voice uplift I: “O ye weary souls !
Come speak to us, if no one interdicts it.”

As turtle—doves, called onward by desire,
With open and steady wings to the sweet nest
Fly through the air by their volition borne,

So came they from the band where Dido is,
Approaching us athwart the air malign,
So strong was the affectionate appeal.

“O living creature gracious and benignant,
Who visiting goest through the purple air
Us, who have stained the world incarnadine,

If were the King of the Universe our friend,
We would pray unto him to give thee peace,
Since thou hast pity on our woe perverse.

Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak,
That will we hear, and we will speak to you,
While silent is the wind, as it is now.

Sitteth the city, wherein I was born,
Upon the sea—shore where the Po descends
To rest in peace with all his retinue.

Love, that on gentle heart doth swiftly seize,
Seized this man for the person beautiful
That was ta’en from me, and still the mode offends me.

Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving,
Seized me with pleasure of this man so strongly,
That, as thou seest, it doth not yet desert me;

Love has conducted us unto one death;
Caina waiteth him who quenched our life !”
These words were borne along from them to us.

As soon as I had heard those souls tormented,
I bowed my face, and so long held it down
Until the Poet said to me: “What thinkest ?”

When I made answer, I began: “Alas !
How many pleasant thoughts, how much desire,
Conducted these unto the dolorous pass !”

Then unto them I turned me, and I spake,
And I began: “Thine agonies, Francesca,
Sad and compassionate to weeping make me.

But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs,
By what and in what manner Love conceded,
That you should know your dubious desires?”

And she to me: “There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.

But, if to recognise the earliest root
Of love in us thou hast so great desire,
I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.

One day we reading were for our delight
Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.
Alone we were and without any fear.

Full many a time our eyes together drew
That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;
But one point only was it that o’ercame us.

When as we read of the much—longed—for smile
Being by such a noble lover kissed,
This one, who ne’er from me shall be divided,

Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.
That day no farther did we read therein.”

And all the while one spirit uttered this,
The other one did weep so, that, for pity,
I swooned away as if I had been dying,

And fell, even as a dead body falls.

Reading by Francesco Bausi: Inferno 5

For more readings by Francesco Bausi, see the Bausi Readings page.