Canto V

From the First Circle thus I downward went
Into the Second,[248] which girds narrower space,
But greater woe compelling loud lament.
Minos[249] waits awful there and snarls, the case
Examining of all who enter in;
And, as he girds him, dooms them to their place.
I say, each ill-starred spirit must begin
On reaching him its guilt in full to tell;
And he, omniscient as concerning sin,
Sees to what circle it belongs in Hell;
Then round him is his tail as often curled
As he would have it stages deep to dwell.

And evermore before him stand a world
Of shades; and all in turn to judgment come,
Confess and hear, and then are downward hurled.[250]
'O thou who comest to the very home
Of woe,' when he beheld me Minos cried,
Ceasing a while from utterance of doom,
'Enter not rashly nor in all confide;
By ease of entering be not led astray.'
'Why also[251] growling?' answered him my Guide;
'Seek not his course predestinate to stay;
For thus 'tis willed[252] where nothing ever fails
Of what is willed. No further speech essay.'
And now by me are agonising wails
Distinguished plain; now am I come outright
Where grievous lamentation me assails.
Now had I reached a place devoid of light,
Raging as in a tempest howls the sea
When with it winds, blown thwart each other, fight.
The infernal storm is raging ceaselessly,
Sweeping the shades along with it, and them
It smites and whirls, nor lets them ever be.
Arrived at the precipitous extreme,[253]
In shrieks and lamentations they complain,
And even the Power Divine itself blaspheme.

I understood[254] that to this mode of pain
Are doomed the sinners of the carnal kind,
Who o'er their reason let their impulse reign.
As starlings in the winter-time combined
Float on the wing in crowded phalanx wide,
So these bad spirits, driven by that wind,
Float up and down and veer from side to side;
Nor for their comfort any hope they spy
Of rest, or even of suffering mollified.
And as the cranes[255] in long-drawn company
Pursue their flight while uttering their song,
So I beheld approach with wailing cry
Shades lifted onward by that whirlwind strong.
'Master, what folk are these,'[256] I therefore said,
'Who by the murky air are whipped along?'
'She, first of them,' his answer thus was made,
'Of whom thou wouldst a wider knowledge win,
O'er many tongues and peoples, empire swayed.

So ruined was she by licentious sin
That she decreed lust should be uncontrolled,
To ease the shame that she herself was in.
She is Semiramis, of whom 'tis told
She followed Ninus, and his wife had been.
Hers were the realms now by the Sultan ruled.
The next[257] is she who, amorous and self-slain,
Unto Sichæus' dust did faithless show:
Then lustful Cleopatra.' Next was seen
Helen, for whom so many years in woe
Ran out; and I the great Achilles knew,
Who at the last[258] encountered love for foe.

Paris I saw and Tristram.[259] In review
A thousand shades and more, he one by one
Pointed and named, whom love from life withdrew.
And after I had heard my Teacher run
O'er many a dame of yore and many a knight,
I, lost in pity, was wellnigh undone.
Then I: 'O Poet, if I only might
Speak with the two that as companions hie,
And on the wind appear to be so light!'[260]
And he to me: 'When they shall come more nigh
Them shalt thou mark, and by the love shalt pray
Which leads them onward, and they will comply.'
Soon as the wind bends them to where we stay
I lift my voice: 'O wearied souls and worn!
Come speak with us if none[261] the boon gainsay.'
Then even as doves,[262] urged by desire, return
On outspread wings and firm to their sweet nest
As through the air by mere volition borne,
From Dido's[263] band those spirits issuing pressed
Towards where we were, athwart the air malign;
My passionate prayer such influence possessed.

'O living creature,[264] gracious and benign,
Us visiting in this obscurèd air,
Who did the earth with blood incarnadine;
If in the favour of the King we were
Who rules the world, we for thy peace[265] would pray,
Since our misfortunes thy compassion stir.
Whate'er now pleases thee to hear or say
We listen to, or tell, at your demand;[266]
While yet the wind, as now, doth silent stay.
My native city[267] lies upon the strand
Where to the sea descends the river Po
For peace, with all his tributary band.
Love, in a generous heart set soon aglow,
Seized him for the fair form was mine above;
And still it irks me to have lost it so.[268]
Love, which absolves[269] no one beloved from love,
So strong a passion for him in me wrought
That, as thou seest, I still its mastery prove.

Love led us where we in one death were caught.
For him who slew us waits Caïna[270] now.'
Unto our ears these words from them were brought.
When I had heard these troubled souls, my brow
I downward bent, and long while musing stayed,
Until the Poet asked: 'What thinkest thou?'
And when I answered him, 'Alas!' I said,
'Sweet thoughts how many, and what strong desire,
These to their sad catastrophe betrayed!'
Then, turned once more to them, I to inquire
Began: 'Francesca, these thine agonies
Me with compassion unto tears inspire.
But tell me, at the season of sweet sighs
What sign made love, and what the means he chose
To strip your dubious longings of disguise?'
And she to me: 'The bitterest of woes
Is to remember in the midst of pain
A happy past; as well thy teacher[271] knows.
Yet none the less, and since thou art so fain
The first occasion of our love to hear,
Like one I speak that cannot tears restrain.
As we for pastime one day reading were
How Lancelot[272] by love was fettered fast--
All by ourselves and without any fear--
Moved by the tale our eyes we often cast
On one another, and our colour fled;
But one word was it, vanquished us at last.
When how the smile, long wearied for, we read
Was kissed by him who loved like none before,
This one, who henceforth never leaves me, laid
A kiss on my mouth, trembling the while all o'er.

The book was Galahad,[273] and he as well
Who wrote the book. That day we read no more.'
And while one shade continued thus to tell,
The other wept so bitterly, I swooned
Away for pity, and as dead I fell:
Yea, as a corpse falls, fell I on the ground.


[248] _The Second_: The Second Circle of the Inferno, and the first of
punishment. The lower the circle, the more rigorous the penalty endured
in it. Here is punished carnal sin.

[249] _Minos_: Son of Jupiter and King of Crete, so severely just as to
be made after death one of the judges of the under world. He is degraded
by Dante, as many other noble persons of the old mythology are by him,
into a demon. Unlike the fallen angels of Milton, Dante's devils have no
interest of their own. Their only function is to help in working out
human destinies.

[250] _Downward hurled_: Each falls to his proper place without
lingering by the way. All through Inferno there is an absence of direct
Divine interposition. It is ruled, as it were, by a course of nature.
The sinners, compelled by a fatal impulse, advance to hear their doom,
just as they fall inevitably one by one into Charon's boat. Minos by a
sort of devilish instinct sentences each sinner to his appropriate
punishment. In _Inf._ xxvii. 127 we find the words in which Minos utters
his judgment. In _Inf._ xxi. 29 a devil bears the sinner to his own

[251] _Why also, etc._: Like Charon. If Minos represents conscience, as
some would have it, Dante is here again assailed by misgivings as to his
enterprise, and is quieted by reason in the person of Virgil.

[252] _Thus 'tis willed, etc._: These two lines are the same as those to
Charon, _Inf._ iii. 95, 96.

[253] _Precipitous extreme_: Opinions vary as to what is meant by
_ruina_. As Dante is certainly still on the outer edge of the Second
Circle or terrace, and while standing there hears distinctly the words
the spirits say when they reach the _ruina_, it most likely denotes the
steep slope falling from the First to the Second Circle. The spirits,
driven against the wall which hems them in, burst into sharp
lamentations against their irremediable fate.

[254] _I understood, etc._: From the nature of the punishment, which,
like all the others invented by Dante, bears some relation to the sin to
which it is assigned. They who on earth failed to exercise
self-restraint are beaten hither and thither by every wind that blows;
and, as once they were blinded by passion, so now they see nothing
plainly in that dim and obscure place. That Dante should assign the
least grievous punishment of all to this sin throws light upon his views
of life. In his eyes it had more than any other the excuse of natural
bent, and had least of malice. Here, it must be remarked, are no
seducers. For them a lower depth is reserved (_Inf._ xviii. See also
_Purg._ xxvii. 15).

[255] _The cranes_: 'The cranes are a kind of bird that go in a troop,
as cavaliers go to battle, following one another in single file. And one
of them goes always in front as their gonfalonier, guiding and leading
them with its voice' (Brunetto Latini, _Tesoro_, v. 27).

[256] _What folk are these_: The general crowd of sinners guilty of
unlawful love are described as being close packed like starlings. The
other troop, who go in single file like cranes, are those regarding whom
Dante specially inquires; and they prove to be the nobler sort of
sinners--lovers with something tragic or pathetic in their fate.

[257] _The next_: Dido, perhaps not named by Virgil because to him she
owed her fame. For love of Æneas she broke the vow of perpetual chastity
made on the tomb of her husband.

[258] _At the last, etc._: Achilles, when about to espouse Polyxena, and
when off his guard, was slain.

[259] _Paris ... and Tristram_: Paris of Troy, and the Tristram of King
Arthur's Table.

[260] _So light_: Denoting the violence of the passion to which they had

[261] _If none_: If no Superior Power.

[262] _Doves_: The motion of the tempest-driven shades is compared to
the flight of birds--starlings, cranes, and doves. This last simile
prepares us for the tenderness of Francesca's tale.

[263] _Dido_: Has been already indicated, and is now named. This
association of the two lovers with Virgil's Dido is a further delicate
touch to engage our sympathy; for her love, though illicit, was the
infirmity of a noble heart.

[264] _Living creature_: 'Animal.' No shade, but an animated body.

[265] _Thy peace_: Peace from all the doubts that assail him, and which
have compelled him to the journey: peace, it may be, from temptation to
sin cognate to her own. Even in the gloom of Inferno her great
goodheartedness is left her--a consolation, if not a grace.

[266] _Your demand_: By a refinement of courtesy, Francesca, though
addressing only Dante, includes Virgil in her profession of willingness
to tell all they care to hear. But as almost always, he remains silent.
It is not for his good the journey is being made.

[267] _Native city_: Ravenna. The speaker is Francesca, daughter of
Guido of Polenta, lord of Ravenna. About the year 1275 she was married
to Gianciotto (Deformed John) Malatesta, son of the lord of Rimini; the
marriage, like most of that time in the class to which she belonged,
being one of political convenience. She allowed her affections to settle
on Paolo, her husband's handsome brother; and Gianciotto's suspicions
having been aroused, he surprised the lovers and slew them on the spot.
This happened at Pesaro. The association of Francesca's name with Rimini
is merely accidental. The date of her death is not known. Dante can
never have set eyes on Francesca; but at the battle of Campaldino in
1289, where he was present, a troop of cavaliers from Pistoia fought on
the Florentine side under the command of her brother Bernardino; and in
the following year, Dante being then twenty-five years of age, her
father, Guido, was Podesta in Florence. The Guido of Polenta, lord of
Ravenna, whom Dante had for his last and most generous patron, was
grandson of that elder Guido, and nephew of Francesca.

[268] _To have lost it so_: A husband's right and duty were too well
defined in the prevalent social code for her to complain that Gianciotto
avenged himself. What she does resent is that she was left no
breathing-space for repentance and farewells.

[269] _Which absolves, etc._: Which compels whoever is beloved to love
in return. Here is the key to Dante's comparatively lenient estimate of
the guilt of Francesca's sin. See line 39, and _Inf._ xi. 83. The Church
allowed no distinctions with regard to the lost. Dante, for his own
purposes, invents a scale of guilt; and in settling the degrees of it he
is greatly influenced by human feeling--sometimes by private likes and
dislikes. The vestibule of the caitiffs, _e.g._, is his own creation.

[270] _Caïna_: The Division of the Ninth and lowest Circle, assigned to
those treacherous to their kindred (_Inf._ xxxii. 58). Her husband was
still living in 1300.--May not the words of this line be spoken by
Paolo? It is as a fratricide even more than as the slayer of his wife
that Gianciotto is to find his place in Caïna. The words are more in
keeping with the masculine than the feminine character. They certainly
jar somewhat with the gentler censure of line 102. And, immediately
after, Dante speaks of what the 'souls' have said.

[271] _Thy teacher_: Boethius, one of Dante's favourite authors
(_Convito_ ii. 13), says in his _De Consol. Phil._, 'The greatest misery
in adverse fortune is once to have been happy.' But, granting that Dante
found the idea in Boethius, it is clearly Virgil that Francesca means.
She sees that Dante's guide is a shade, and gathers from his grave
passionless aspect that he is one condemned for ever to look back with
futile regret upon his happier past.

[272] _Lancelot_: King Arthur's famous knight, who was too bashful to
make his love for Queen Guinivere known to her. Galahad, holding the
secret of both, persuaded the Queen to make the first declaration of
love at a meeting he arranged for between them. Her smile, or laugh, as
she 'took Lancelot by the chin and kissed him,' assured her lover of his
conquest. The Arthurian Romances were the favourite reading of the
Italian nobles of Dante's time.

[273] _Galahad_: From the part played by Galahad, or Galeotto, in the
tale of Lancelot, his name grew to be Italian for Pander. The book, says
Francesca, was that which tells of Galahad; and the author of it proved
a very Galahad to us. The early editions of the _Decameron_ bear the
second title of 'The Prince Galeotto.'