Canto 5 | Canto 6 | Canto 7
Canto 8 | Canto 9
Quando leggemmo il disiato riso
esser basciato da cotanto amante,
questi, che mai da me non fia diviso,
la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante.
Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse:
quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.
When we read that the yearned-for smile
was kissed by so great a lover,
he who will never be separated from me
kissed me on the mouth, all trembling.
Galeotto was the book and he who wrote
it: that day we read it no further.
Featured Dante Link:
Gustave Doré, Dante Engravings
The shades of the carnal sinners (i peccator carnali), those "who subject their reason to lust," are likened in the second circle to flocks of birds driven ceaselessly through the air by a whirlwind. Most of them are truly thoughtless and inconstant, like starlings pushed by the air di qua, di là, di giù, di sù (line 43 – here, there, down, up). Others, whose love was worthy of literary fame like Dido, Helen, Achilles, Cleopatra, Paris, and Tristan, are like cranes that fly in more orderly lines, almost above the whirlwind's force. It is from those exalted flocks that Paolo and Francesca descend, like doves called by their desire (quali colombe dal disio chiamate).
On one level Dante sympathizes with Paolo and Francesca, feeling pity so profound that he passes out ("and I fell as a dead body falls"). That they loved steadfastly in the face of social opposition and death is what made them heroes to the Romantics in the 19th century. Dante the poet, however, is as usual up to something much more complicated. On another level, this story is about the danger of bad reading, as Francesca blames the affair on the fact that they were reading an old medieval Romance, the Book of Lancelot du Lac, when they first kissed. This is a stance common to the sinners in Inferno, who are quick to blame their punishment on anything except their own sinfulness. One of the "cranes" is Semiramis, the Babylonian queen who changed her own laws so that she would not be blamed for her carnal sins, which Dante relates with the phrase che libito fé licito in sua legge, showing with a change of one letter that she made what was libidinous licit. As Francesca tells it, We were just reading one day, and the two characters kissed: we looked at each other over the book, and then sex happened.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca (detail)
Dante passes quickly through the sins of gluttony in the third circle (Canto 6), avarice and prodigality in the fourth (Canto 7), anger in the fifth (Canto 7), until he and Virgil arrive at the walls of Dis, the entrance into lower hell (Cantos 8 and 9). There, Virgil suffers his first failure, by which symbolically Dante seems to be showing us that the intellect, which Virgil embodies, is not enough to understand the truth of the journey. Virgil easily masters Phlegyas, the boatman who patrols the Styx (again, a figure of his own classical world). When the devils turn him away at the gate of Dis, a messenger must be sent from heaven to open the way for the travelers.
Happy Independence Day to my fellow statunitensi!