Freshman Foundations 100
28 September 1308
Dante's Francesca and Paolo: "She Loves You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" In Canto V of The Inferno, Dante offers what seems to be a sympathetic portrait of two medieval lovers caught and condemned after re-enacting a passionate scene from Arthurian Romance. A modern reader might well find the story of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta moving, especially when the narrator himself swoons with pity at the canto's end. It is true that in Dante's ethical scheme, the sin of Paolo and Francesca is not among the worst: the two lovers are guilty of "incontinence" rather than bestial intemperance, and the elegant, literary way in which they sin only increases our desire to excuse the sin itself. Even so, we should remember that in The Inferno, sinners experience God's Love as perpetual Justice. Our task as readers, Dante would surely say, is to align our will with God's plan, not to lament for the sinners. A thorough examination of two key sections in Canto VFrancesca's conversations with the narratorwill show that the Canto distances us from the narrator's empathetic reaction, asking us to move beyond our own pity and towards a just reflection upon the "misreading" that threatens to lead us into violation of the just commands of Dante's god. Early on, Canto V certainly tempts us to pity Francesca and Paolothe list of lost souls that Virgil offers to satisfy the narrator's curiosity from lines 52-68 evokes a literary tradition with which Dante must have been quite familiar: Semíramis of Assyria, Cleopatra, Helen of Sparta, Paris of Troy, and Tristan of Romance fame are just a few among the countless lovers condemned to eternal buffeting by what Virgil calls "the hellish hurricane, which never rests, / [and] drives on the spirits with its violence" (30-31). The narrator knows these figures and their stories well; such stories are the lifeblood of epic and romance. Not even Virgil's stern...
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