Friday, March 27, 2009

TC: Inferno V: Francesca's Anaphora (Certain Evil Souls)

Krefeld Project: Dining Room Scene 2: Eric Fischl, 2003

From the Fifth Book of the Inferno

"In Dante's Inferno, why does Francesca's heart still hurt and ache?"
enquires a tenth grade student at an online study site.

"Francesca's heart still aches because she is still experiencing the
sin, but now with full understanding of its meaning and importance.
Those emotions—and her clinging to them—are part of the punishment.

This shows how sinners cling to their sin, and how rarely they change,
even in hell," comes the reply, from a "freshman college teacher."

Francesca's sin is clinging to love. There is a sin of anaphora,

a carrying up or back, or phrasal repetition, in her clinging to Amor.

Few things are more tiresome than arguments through anaphora.

We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight

in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight
with growing, etc.

Yet war and poetry and sex are full of them.

Here is Francesca's:

Amor, ch'ai cor gentil ratto s'apprende

prese costui de la bella persona

che mi fu tolta; e 'l modo ancor m'offende.

Amor, ch'a nullo amato amar perdona,

mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,

che, come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona.

Amor conduisse noi ad una morte.

(trans. Henry F. Cary:)

“Love, that in gentle heart is quickly learnt,
Entangled him by that fair form, from me
Ta’en in such cruel sort, as grieves me still:
Love, that denial takes from none beloved,
Caught me with pleasing him so passing well,
That, as thou seest, he yet deserts me not.
Love brought us to one death."

Francesca's famous anaphora cleverly frames and sets off two fateful laws of love and their tragic, or shall we say unfortunate, consequences. Love catches fire quickly in the gentle heart; thus Paolo, naturally gentle-hearted, cannot help having the spark of love ignite in his heart a wild conflagration. Love absolves no one from loving in return; thus Francesca, for her part, has no choice but to love him who loves her. Francesca speaks the language of the all powerful god of Love. In suggesting Love refuses to take no for an answer, moreover, she is a sock-puppet of her own defense attorney, summing up the case: neither she nor Paolo should be blamed, because they were merely channeling the power of the god, acting-out, as it were, not themselves but Love. Of course the faultiness of these arguments is obvious to Dante, whose evident sympathy for them as tender lovers sways him not at all from placing Paolo and Francesca in the second circle. On the one hand, he seems to say, how poetic their love was! And on the other, more gravely: but here they are in Hell, are they not?

All these "tragic" loves, Francesca, Dido, Cleopatra. Pleasant, surfeited, melancholy, indeed, but tragic? asks Dante.

Love, that on gentle heart quickly lays hold, seized him for the fair person that was taken from me, and the mode still hurts me. Love, which absolves no loved one from loving, seized me for the pleasing of him so strongly that, as thou seest, it does not even now abandon me. Love brought us to one death.

And it keeps on down through the centuries, this pleasant perversity of an argument.

Francesca—according to the Boccaccio account that provided Dante instigation for his invocation of the fatal romance—was a victim from the beginning. She was blatantly tricked into marrying Gianciotto, who was disfigured and uncouth, when the handsome and elegant Paolo was sent in his brother's place to settle the nuptial contract. Gianciotto was, as the saying goes, doing a number on Francesca . Finding herself roped into an unfortunate union, and, understandably feeling thus ill done by, the young woman did not attempt to make a secret of her affections for Paolo. Things went along then as such things do. Informed this was going on, Gianciotto snuck up and caught the lovers together in Francesca's bedchamber. Unaware that Paolo had got stuck in his attempt to escape down a ladder, Francesca admitted Gianciotto. Meanwhile, enter the unlucky Paolo. Gianciotto lunged at him with a sword. Francesca stepped between the two and was slain. Gionciotto, now having a truly bad day, ruing his poor aim and with a double score to settle, promptly finished off Paolo. Francesca and Paolo, Boccaccio concludes, were buried, amid a sea of by many tears, in a single tomb. Thus "Love brought us to one death" was, as far as the fable went, pretty much the truth of this pretty fiction which Dante chose to import into his his poem, securing it forever with that repetition of Amor, the circuiting anaphora Francesca tosses off in the unregarding way of a woman letting her hair fall down around the shoulders on which she has long borne the burden of a great unfairness.

Now ’gin the rueful wailings to be heard.
Now am I come where many a plaining voice
Smites on mine ear. Into a place I came
Where light was silent all. Bellowing there groan’d
A noise, as of a sea in tempest torn
By warring winds. The stormy blast of Hell
With restless fury drives the spirits on,
Whirl’d round and dash’d amain with sore annoy.
When they arrive before the ruinous sweep,
There shrieks are heard, there lamentations, moans,
And blasphemies ’gainst the good Power in Heaven.
I understood, that to this torment sad
The carnal sinners are condemn’d, in whom
Reason by lust is sway’d. As, in large troops
And multitudinous, when winter reigns,
The starlings on their wings are borne abroad;
So bears the tyrannous gust those evil souls.
On this side and on that, above, below,
It drives them: hope of rest to solace them
Is none, nor e’en of milder pang. As cranes,
Chanting their dolorous notes, traverse the sky,
Stretch’d out in long array; so I beheld
Spirits, who came loud wailing, hurried on
By their dire doom. Then I: “Instructor! who
Are these, by the black air so scourged?” “The first
’Mong those, of whom thou question’st,” he replied,
“O’er many tongues was empress. She in vice
Of luxury was so shameless, that she made
Liking be lawful by promulged decree,
To clear the blame she had herself incurr’d.
This is Semiramis, of whom ’tis writ,
That she succeeded Ninus her espoused;
And held the land, which now the Soldan rules.
The next in amorous fury slew herself,
And to Sichæus’ ashes broke her faith:
Then follows Cleopatra, lustful queen.”
There mark’d I Helen, for whose sake so long
The time was fraught with evil; there the great
Achilles, who with love fought to the end.
Paris I saw, and Tristan; and beside,
A thousand more he show’d me, and by name
Pointed them out, whom love bereaved of life.
When I had heard my sage instructor name
Those dames and knights of antique days, o’erpower’d
By pity, well-nigh in amaze my mind
Was lost; and I began: “Bard! willingly
I would address those two together coming,
Which seem so light before the wind.” He thus:
“Note thou, when nearer they to us approach.
Then by that love which carries them along,
Entreat; and they will come.” Soon as the wind
Sway’d them towards us, I thus framed my speech:
“O wearied spirits! come, and hold discourse
With us, if by none else restrain’d. As doves
By fond desire invited, on wide wings
And firm, to their sweet nest returning home,
Cleave the air, wafted by their will along;
Thus issued, from that troop where Dido ranks,
They, through the ill air speeding: with such force
My cry prevail’d, by strong affection urged.
“O gracious creature and benign! who go’st
Visiting, through this element obscure,
Us, who the world with bloody stain imbrued;
If, for a friend, the King of all, we own’d,
Our prayer to him should for thy peace arise,
Since thou hast pity on our evil plight.
Of whatsoe’er to hear or to discourse
It pleases thee, that will we hear, of that
Freely with thee discourse, while e’er the wind,
As now, is mute. The land, that gave me birth,
Is situate on the coast, where Po descends
To rest in ocean with his sequent streams.
“Love, that in gentle heart is quickly learnt,
Entangled him by that fair form, from me
Ta’en in such cruel sort, as grieves me still:
Love, that denial takes from none beloved,
Caught me with pleasing him so passing well,
That, as thou seest, he yet deserts me not.
Love brought us to one death: Caïna waits
The soul, who spilt our life.” Such were their words;
At hearing which, downward I bent my looks,
And held them there so long, that the bard cried:
“What art thou pondering?” I in answer thus:
“Alas! by what sweet thoughts, what fond desire
Must they at length to that ill pass have reach’d!”
Then turning, I to them my speech address’d,
And thus began: “Francesca! your sad fate
Even to tears my grief and pity moves.
But tell me; in the time of your sweet sighs,
By what, and how Love granted, that ye knew
Your yet uncertain wishes?” She replied:
“No greater grief than to remember days
Of joy, when misery is at hand. That kens
Thy learn’d instructor. Yet so eagerly
If thou art bent to know the primal root,
From whence our love gat being, I will do
As one, who weeps and tells his tale. One day,
For our delight we read of Lancelot,
How him love thrall’d. Alone we were, and no
Suspicion near us. Oft-times by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our alter’d cheek. But at one point
Alone we fell. When of that smile we read,
The wished smile so raptorously kiss’d
By one so deep in love, then he, who ne’er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kiss’d. The book and writer both
Were love’s purveyors. In its leaves that day
We read no more.” While thus one spirit spake,
The other wail’d so sorely, that heart-struck
I, through compassion fainting, seem’d not far
From death, and like a corse fell to the ground.

(lines 27-138)

The Bed, the Chair, Head to Foot: Eric Fischl, 2000.


Nora said...

This probably says more about me than it does about Dante, Francesca, or the silent Paolo, but one of the things that sticks with me from that passage is the line, "that day/ We read no more."

Maybe it was my guilty conscience, but when I was an undergrad and reading a lot of Dante, that seemed so tied St. Augustine's account of hearing the voice singing, "Take it and read, take it and read" in the moment that finally lead to his salvation. So much hinges on that moment when we take up or neglect our reading.

I was five years in to my undergraduate degree, and more prone to being whipped around by my own perpetual hurricane than to sitting quietly with a book, so that particular brand of fire and brimstone was disquieting to say the least.

TC said...


Ah, dear Augustine: "Tolle lege, tolle lege..."

What the bell seemed to say to him, at the famous moment of his conversion. He opened his eyes and they fell on Romans 12: 13-14--"The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light..." "...make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof."

The "good" Augustine. And yet, just a few entries earlier:

"Give me chastity and continence, but just not now."

Evidently that's what ageing will do to a person. Perhaps it only takes days, or even minutes. Salvation? Or just old, stodgy and bookish?

One gets the feeling that at P. and F.'s age the Good Augustine was probably still working through his Bad Augustine phase. Perhaps then, at least in Augustine's case, conversion was merely a matter of those pesky hormones dying down, or maybe just backing off a bit?

Then again, A. recalls Samuel Johnson, 14 July, 1763, as recorded by Boswell: "A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good."

So maybe it's just the luck of having a good, wholesome book to hand, when the inclination comes. Yet then again, were I Francesca, I'd probably prefer the tale of Lancelot to Romans, any day.

It just goes to show?

Nora said...

Yes, Augustine was just lucky no one had a sword handy during his own Lancelot-and-Guinevere reading days.

And for some reason, I now have this song in my head.

TC said...


About Augustine, yes, and thankfully not even a Swiss Army Knife.

Strange blast from the past with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians--Augustine and I used to sit around the spinning turntable enjoying ourselves with that one, but it was later than we thought.

john keats said...

A Dream, After Reading Dante's Episode Of Paolo And Francesca

As Hermes once took to his feathers light,
When lulled Argus, baffled, swooned and slept,
So on a Delphic reed, my idle spright
So played, so charmed, so conquered, so bereft
The dragon-world of all its hundred eyes;
And seeing it asleep, so fled away,
Not to pure Ida with its snow-cold skies,
Nor unto Tempe, where Jove grieved a day;
But to that second circle of sad Hell,
Where in the gust, the whirlwind, and the flaw
Of rain and hail-stones, lovers need not tell
Their sorrows. Pale were the sweet lips I saw,
Pale were the lips I kissed, and fair the form
I floated with, about that melancholy storm.

John Keats