HELL V

CANTO V

The second circle; Minos; the carnal sinners; Paolo and Francesca.

canto summary and diagram

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1 Thus I left the first circle, descending To the second, which holds less space * But so much more grief, that one cries from the sting. 4 There Minos snarls and distorts his ugly face, * Judges the sins of those who enter And coils his tail to assign them a place. 7 By this I mean that when an ill–born sinner Comes before him he makes a full confession, And that connoiseur of sin can decipher 10 Exactly that soul's destination; The number of times he coils his tail about Him marks the level of that sinner's station. inferno v 13 There is always a crowd hanging about in doubt, Waiting for judgment; one by one they explain, They listen, and then they're promptly flung out. 16 "Oh you who come to the house of pain," Said Minos when he saw me, setting aside His duties and speaking with disdain, 19 "Take care how you enter and in whom you confide, And don't be fooled by the wide gate." "Stop shouting and don't interfere," said my guide, inferno v 22 "His journey is decreed by fate, Willed on high by one who can do whatever He wills, so don't attempt to intimidate." 25 Now doleful notes begin to quiver My ears; and now I come to a spot where lament After lament pounds me like a hammer. 28 I came to a place where light was absent, A place which bellowed like a stormy sea when Clashing winds whip it into torment. inferno v 31 The infernal hurricane, which can never slacken, Drives the spirits with its violence; Whirling and lashing, it leaves them beaten. 34 Swept back before their place of sentence," The spirits shriek, moan, lament, and Curse the divine power with vehemence. 37 I learned that those condemned to this brand Of torture are called carnal sinners, Those who put reason under lust's command. inferno v 40 And just as starlings in cold winters Are borne by their wings in large, crowded flocks, So by this blast are these evil gliders. 43 Now here, now there, now up, now down the wind knocks These shades, with no hope of either rest Or relief from pain, so cruelly it mocks. 46 And like chanting cranes, stretched from east to west Across the sky in one long file, So these shades wailed their ceaseless protest inferno v 49 While borne by that wind so brutally hostile. " Master," I inquired, "who are these shadows To whom the dark air is so vile?" 52 And he replied: "The first of those ," * You want to know about, the empress of a region With many different tongues, chose 55 A life of lust and corruption, Then tried to wipe the disgrace away By legalizing her own kind of degeneration. inferno v 58 Semiramis is her name, and legends say She succeeded her husband Ninus and governed Those lands the Sultan rules today. 61 The next one killed herself when love was spurned, * Having betrayed the ashes of Sichaeus earlier; Then comes Cleopatra, whose lust always burned; 64 Then behold Helen, for whom the world had to suffer * Years of evil; and see Achilles the grand, * Who at last was beaten by love, the better fighter. inferno v 67 See Paris, Tristan..." And more than a thousand * Shades he showed me, pointing with his finger And naming all those undone by love's hand. 70 As soon as I'd heard my teacher," Name each ancient lady and knight I was seized with pity, and spoke as if in a fever: 73 "Poet, is it possible that I might Speak with those two souls who ride * The wind together and seem to be so light?" inferno v 76 And he: "You'll see for yourself when they glide A bit closer; if you desire their conversation, Entreat them by that love which is their guide." 79 When the wind veered them in our direction I raised my voice: "Weary souls, come rest And speak with us, if the rules make no objection." 82 As doves, summoned by desire, steered by firmest Will, broad and poised of wing, Soar through the air toward their sweet nest, inferno v 85 So these two left the group containing Dido and rode the foul wind to where we stood, So powerful had been my call, so tender and caring. 88 "Oh living creature, gracious and good," Who comes through the murky air to spend Time with us who stained the world with blood, 91 If the king of the universe were our friend We would pray to him for your well being, For you have shown pity for our unhappy end. inferno v 94 Gladly will we discuss anything It would please you to understand, As long as the wind is not blowing. 97 Where the Po and its tributaries reach the sand On the way to their final rest Lies the place where I was born, my native land. * 100 Love, kindled in the gentle heart and breast * So quickly, seized this one by the beauty Of my body, since taken from me, in a way I still protest. * inferno v 103 Love, which releases no beloved from the duty Of loving, engendered such responsive passion In me that as you see we're one in perpetuity. 106 Love led us to death in conjunction; ," For him who took our life Caina waits below." * These words came from them in our direction. 109 When I'd heard these bruised souls I gave a bow Of the head and held it low until the Poet Asked me: " What are you thinking now?" inferno v 112 "Alas," I began, when at last I spoke, "what dulcet Thoughts, what longing led them to this fate? " And I turned to them again with regret. 115 "Francesca, your anguished state Makes me weep with pity and sadness, But one thing I would have you relate: 118 In that time when sighs were full of sweetness, By what means did love permit these low And doubtful longings into your awareness?" inferno v 121 And she: " There is no greater sorrow * Than to recall, when sad, a time that was happier, As your teacher must surely know. 124 But if you are so eager To grasp the root of our affection I will have to weep and speak together. 127 One day, to pass the time, we read how passion * Conquered Lancelot; we were alone, Innocent, and without suspicion. inferno v 130 The reading made our eyes prone To meet, our faces to grow pale and then rally; And in such a moment was our destruction sewn. 133 For when we read how that magnetically Attractive smile was kissed by such a lover, This one here, linked to me eternally, 136 Kissed my mouth while trembling all over: A Galehot was that book and its writer, for following This we put it down, and forever closed the cover." inferno v 139 While the one spirit was thus speaking The other wept so much that I held my head In pity and fainted like one dying. 142 Then I fell, as a body falls when dead." *

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NOTES

2. The circles of Hell form a funnel.^
 4.   Minos, son of Zeus and Europa, was a mythological king 
of Crete; known for wisdom and judicial skill, he became chief 
judge of the underworld in classical literature.  See  Aeneid VI.^
 52–60.   Semiramis succeeded her husband as ruler of Assyria.  
Dante possibly confuses her capital, Babylon, with the Babylon 
in Egypt, thus mistakenly making her ruler of Egypt.^
 61. Dido, Queen of Carthage, fell in love with Aeneas after 
the death of her husband, Sichaeus, and committed suicide when 
he sailed for Italy.^
64–65. Helen, wife of King Menelaus of Sparta, was abducted by Paris, thus instigating the Trojan War.^
 65.   According to Homer, Achilles was killed beneath the walls 
of Troy after killing Hector.  Medieval legend, however, had 
Achilles lured to the temple of Apollo, where he expected to have 
Priam's daughter Polyxena in exchange for joining the Trojans; 
he was slain there by Paris.^
 
67. Paris was the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. Tristan, one of King Arthur's knights, loved Yseult, wife of his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall; in one version Tristan is killed by his uncle with a poisoned lance.^
 
74. The two are Francesca, daughter of Guido Vecchio da Polenta, and Paolo Malatesta, third son of Malatesta da Verrucchio, lord of Rimini. Francesca was married for political reasons to Giancotto, the deformed second son, with whom she had a daughter. Paolo was also married, with two children. The two became lovers, and when Giancotto discovered them together he killed them both.^
 99.   Ravenna.^
 100–106. Francesca is most likely imitating the poets of the
 stil nuovo, such as Guinizelli and Cavalcanti, to gain 
favor with Dante; these poets, however, wrote of a more idealistic 
and less sensual love than hers.  All through her description 
she is attempting to deny her culpability in the affair, and to
charm the poet.^
 
102. There are two popular interpretations here. Francesca may be saying that she still protests the violence with which her husband, Gianciotto, killed her—by running her through with a sword whose thrust was meant for his brother. More plausibly, she is saying that the suddenness of her death left her no time to repent, thus condemning her to eternal damnation. A third interpretation, favored by a minority of commentators, is that she is protesting the intensity of Paolo's passion, not only as it was in life, but as it continues into eternity. There is a remote possibility that Dante, who in Ravenna was under the protection of Guido Novello da Polenta, a nephew of Francesca da Rimini, was using this episode to pay tribute to Guido's family. Of course the Inferno was already completed by this time, but it has been argued that Dante might have received favors from Francesco's father, Guido Minore da Polenta, when he was mayor of Florence, and Dante was 25.^
107. Named after Cain, Caina is one of the four divisions of Cocytus, the lowest part of Hell, where those who betrayed their kin are punished. ^
 121–123. While this observation is from Boethius, whom Dante had 
studied,"your teacher" clearly designates Virgil.^
 127–138.   This Arthurian romance was well known to Dante.  
Galehot was a go–between for Lancelot and Guinevere, just as, 
Francesca claims, the book was for herself and Paolo.^
 142.   Dante the traveller, not the poet who later wrote the poem, 
seems to have been taken in by Francesca.  At the very least, 
since he is still at the beginning of his journey, he is more 
sympathetic and impressionable than he will become later.^

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