Paolo and Francesca in Canto V

The classic Inferno by Dante Alighieri is beautifully woven to reflect the realities or unrealities of the time. In the book, the writer tells of his tales through the various circles of hell which he calls Cantos. Interesting, however, is the manner in which he describes the characters such that they are seen to be facing tragedies in their life in hell. The writer categorizes the different types of sins that people can commit and subjects the characters to various punishments, each of which is in a separate circle in hell. In so doing, the writer subjects the characters to relatively tragic states even though they appear to possess incredibly beautiful character, personality and intellect.

The journey through hell is as a result of Dante getting lost in a dark wood that he was travelling through. As he tries to escape three beasts, he comes across the ghost of Virgil who guides him through the circles of hell in his desire to reach heaven. The writer is sure to prepare a gift in heaven which turns out to be Beatrice, Dante’s wife (Alighieri, pp 763). In fact, the writer asserts that it is Beatrice who sent Virgil on a mission to save Dante and bring him to her. Each of the circles of hell houses a different and unique category of sinners with different punishments bestowed upon them. For instance, the first circle of hell houses the pagans who include Virgil and many other famous writers and poets. The second circle of hell which forms the bulk of this analysis is one which is specially reserved for the sin of lust.

The second circle is manned by a monster called Minos who assigns punishment to the sinners based on their confessions. Inside this circle, he meets Francesca who narrates her tale and how love was her undoing. The writer presents the character Francesca in an emotional and sympathetic way by saying that she was married to her husband for political reasons. At one instance, he goes ahead to claim that Francesca was tricked into marrying Gianciotto, her husband. The eloquence with which Francesca narrates the power of love by using anaphora emphasizes the admiration of Dante for love poetry. The story narrates that Francesca and Paolo are both punished in hell for their adultery and thus the subjection to the circle of lust (Alighieri, pp 875). She expounds that she had been married to Paolo’s brother Gianciotto.

Francesca discloses that she was not shy of expressing her feelings towards Paolo, who she loved even though she was married to his brother. One day, she reveals, her husband caught them together inside her bedroom and was sure that they were lovers. Francesca opened the door and pretended that all was well before her husband. Unknown to Francesca, Paolo had got stuck in a ladder as he attempted to run away. Gianciotto then killed the two of them, although he had not intended to kill his wife. The circumstance that led to her death is an emphasis of the beauty of love. When Gianciotto jumped to slay Paolo with his sword, Francesca rushed in between and faced the death first. The husband was too disappointed and ended up killing Paolo as well. The portrayal of the two characters as lovebirds and the lack of love between Francesca and her husband show the reality that was then.

The writer further says, through Francesca, that Gianciotto was thrown into the circle of Caina for killing his family members. This assertion, in character is a balanced move to portray both parties (Francesca and Gianciotto) as losers in the fight. However, the fact that Francesca and Paolo were taken to the same circle of hell may be taken to mean that love conquers all because despite having sinned, their love continued even in hell. In fact, the writer refers to Francesca and Paolo as ‘those two who pass together’ perhaps to show that their love was so evident even in suffering. Moreover, Minos assures him that they will come if petitioned due to the ‘love that propels them’ (Lawall, pp 15). The writer is further sympathetic to the union between Francesca and Paolo as he claims that Gianciotto was disfigured and uncouth. These characteristics are totally different with those of Paolo who is described as elegant and handsome. It may, therefore seem that the writer had some of bias and preferred that Francesca be united with Paolo.

In the narration of the story of Francesca and Paolo, the writer unravels the relationship between love and lust. It is important to note that the relationship between the two is merely because one is vice which may be a result of the other and this makes the whole idea challenging. In so doing, the writer is keen on exploring the nexus between the power of attraction toward bodily beauty and the force of possessive desire for sexual which is utterly destructive. The writer describes the people in the circle of hell as carnal sinners who substitute and replace reason with desire. Dante appears to be saying that the line between lust and love is thin and can be crossed if one, or both lovers, act on such a misguided desire.

The positioning of the sin of lust in the second circle of hell and the first circle in which an unrepented sin is punished is intriguing. It can as such be interpreted to mean two different things because of its ambiguity. The foremost location can be taken to be farthest from Satan and therefore implying that it’s the least sin in hell. This assertion would thus go ahead and encourage others to engage in it since Satan does not concern so much over it. The other interpretation would, however, be taken to underline the association of sex with the original sin that led to the fall of mankind as narrated in the Bible.

Among all the characters that Dante presents within the different circles of hell, one thing is common; that they are all in a tragic state. Even though Francesca and Paolo are presented as having a high intellect and of good character, they still have to undergo the tragedies. Perhaps the writer is keen on showing that life is not all sweet and without suffering, because if it did then no one would be in hell. By portraying Francesca and Paolo as troubled souls who must face their punishment, the writer shows that all actions must bear corresponding consequences. Nevertheless, despite their tragedies, Francesca and Paolo are presented as a happy couple who despite lamenting their place in hell do not regret their love (Havely pp 375).

After hearing the sad story, Dante fell just as a dead body falls fainting as if he had met death. The fact that he wept for the two characters is good enough proof that sometimes people face sufferings that they do not deserve to face. He presents the suffering imparted on the two as having been brought about by their love for each other. In hindsight though, it is also true that this love for each other was hurtful to Gianciotto, Francesca’s husband and brother to Paolo. After witnessing the lustful, Dante then proceeded to the next circle of hell where the gluttonous must lie in mud while enduring a horde of excrement and filth.


Works cited

Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno. Ed. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander. New York: Anchor, 2002. Print.

Havely, N. “Review: The Inferno of Dante Alighieri: The Inferno of Dante Alighieri.” The Cambridge Quarterly 32.4 (2003): 373-76. Web.

Lawall, Sarah. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces: The Western Tradition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.

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