«Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse; soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto. Per più fïate li occhi ci sospinse quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso; ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse. Quando leggemmo il disïato 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».
Dante, Inferno, canto V, v. 127-138.
Immediately after meeting Minos, who has the task of judging and directing souls in the different circles of hell, Dante and Virgil find themselves surrounded by the lustful, “those carnal sinners, who subject their reason to their sensual appetite”.
They are souls transported in a constant whirlwind that seems to “roar” and lament, as screams and curses are heard coming from sinners when they get to the abyss.
Among the famous damned are Semiramis, Dido, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Achilles, Paris, Tristan and Paolo and Francesca, a couple that immediately catches the attention of the poet. Francesca da Polenta and Paolo Malatesti are next to each other, and only at the express request of the poet, they stop to tell their sad story.
In actuality, Francesca tells of the tragic love, Paolo does not say a word during the long conversation. The story of the pretty girl from Ravenna begins with a description of their courtship, and in particular refers to the famous phrase: “When we had read of how the longed-for smile / was kissed by such a lover, this one here, / who nevermore shall be divided from me, / trembling all over, kissed me on my mouth. / A Gallehault the book, and he who wrote it! / No further in it did we read that day.”
Their love thus begins with a reading of the fatal book on love between Lancelot and Guinevere, and as it was tragic love between the two lovers, the history between the contemporaries of Dante could not be otherwise.
Dante is fascinated by the sweetness of the words of Francesca and her kindness of heart, which arouse in him many reflections on love and thoughts on the passionate desire that led the lovers to damnation, to the point of making him cry and faint.
Dante’s description of the two lovers is graceful, in line with the courtly love of Dolce Stilnovo, according to whom feelings blossom in kind hearts spontaneously and are not the result of political compromises and pacts.