Francesca and Paolo

In Canto V, Dante and Virgil enter the second circle of hell, carnal lust. The punishment for the souls who have sin in lust is an “infernal storm, eternal in its rage”. As the storm continues to whirl the damned souls, Virgil points out the souls that are being swept by the black wind, which include: Semiramis, Cleopatra, Helen, and Tristan. However, what caught the interest of Dante the pilgrim, was the two souls that were moving together. Dante called them down, where he heard the story of Francesca and Paolo.

Francesca, the wife of Gianciottois, had an affair with her husband’s brother, Paolo, in a moment of weakness. While reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, Francesca found herself slowly falling in love with Paolo as many parts of Lancelot’s story felt similar to their love story of Francesca and Paolo. As a result of a sudden moment of passion, Francesca and Paolo were killed by Gianciottois, who is confined in the lower circles of hell for the sin of killing his kin.

The punishment in the second circle of hell fits the sin in life because the unceasing storm sweeping the souls in hell represents the helpless tempests of passion the souls felt in life. Lust and passion trap Francesca unconditionally in a whirl of emotions. Just like a storm, unpredictable in its motions, the desire Francesca felt for Paolo came from an innocent book reading to pass away time. As Francesca states, she was “innocent of suspicion.” Then as Francesca and Paolo kissed, Paolo trembled, showing a sign of fear of the sin he knew he had committed. Paolo’s trembling shows that regardless of reason, his emotions compelled him to commit an act of sin. Analogous to the storm which drags and sweeps the powerless soul, passion and lust can take control of the body and make it helpless to its needs.

The lust between Francesca and Paolo is incomparable to the sin of lust displayed by other figures listed, as can be implied by Dante’s strong sense of pity for them, to the point where he faints. Through the focus of Francesca’s story for Canto V, I get the sense that the second circle of hell is less the sin of lust, but rather the sin of the weakness of will and reason. Adultery is a form of betrayal, which according to Dante, should be one of the lowest circles of hell, however, it’s not. Adultery is the least sinful of sins as this is one of the first circles we are introduced to that contains a punishment. What is seen as one of the worst acts of betrayal on earth, is given on of the most lenient divine punishments in hell

About Kimberly Chang

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2 Responses to Francesca and Paolo

  1. d.gorelik says:

    Hi Kimberly!
    This was a very beautiful analysis of the text. I really loved the comparison of the punishment of an eternal storm in The Second Circle of Hell to the tumultuous whirlwind of a lustful romance on Earth. I too believed that adultry was a form of betrayal, but Dante does not seem to view adultry as such. I am also rather surprised that he placed adultry and lustfulness so early on in the circles of hell!

    I found it very interesting that reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere compelled Francesca to fall in love with Paolo. Paolo and Francesca met such an unfortunate end from such an innocent origin.

  2. s.borodach1 says:

    I really appreciate your analysis, especially when you wrote, “Lust and passion trap Francesca unconditionally in a whirl of emotions. Just like a storm, unpredictable in its motions…” Your use of rhyme to describe the similarity is awesome.
    Your point that this sin of lust is found in the Second Circle of Hell and not in a lower sphere of hell, as Dante expected it to be, might well indicate that the sin is not as grievous as initially thought.

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