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Inferno

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

. . . One day, for pleasure,
We read of Lancelot, by love constrained:
Alone, suspecting nothing, at our leisure.
. . .
And so was he who wrote it; that day we read
. . .
No further. . . .

Francesca speaks these lines in Canto V when she tells Dante the story of her love affair with Paolo, her husband’s brother, for which they are now both condemned to the tempest of the Second Circle of Hell (V.112–124). Francesca describes how she and Paolo, who had fallen secretly in love, read to one another from a story about Lancelot and Guinevere, who also shared an illicit love (Guinevere was King Arthur’s wife). Feeling that their own story was reflected in the story of the Arthurian lovers, Paolo and Francesca were overcome with emotion, and when they read about Lancelot and Guinevere’s first kiss, Paolo kissed Francesca; Francesca’s husband, spying on the lovers, had them killed before they had the opportunity to repent and seek God’s forgiveness.

This passage, in addition to being one of the most famous in Inferno, is one of the most moving. Dante heightens the tragic quality of the romance between Paolo and Francesca with his mastery of the style of romantic love poetry—one of the many modes that he assumes in Inferno. These lines also imply the power of literature to excite the emotions, a power that Dante hoped to harness. Perhaps most important, they offer a sympathetic story to explain the suffering of these souls in Hell, allowing the reader to share Dante’s compassion for them. As the poem progresses, the stories told by the damned souls grow less and less sympathetic, compelling the reader to share Dante’s growing abhorrence of sin and underscoring the poem’s theme that sin is not to be pitied.