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CANTO SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The two poets make their way down to the Second Circle of Hell. Minos, the judge of the underworld resides on this circle. The souls of the sinner relate to him their sinful deeds. And accordingly he assigns them to a particular Circle of Hell. He indicates this by wrapping his tail around him the required number of times. Hell has nine circles in all, the first being the Limbo. As the number increases from one to nine, the souls have to descend deeper and deeper into Hell.
When Minos detects the pilgrim he Wars the latter against entering Hell. He also advice's him to be careful about whom he trusts. He tells the pilgrim that it is easy to enter Hell but he must not let his guard down. Virgil informs Minos that the Pilgrim's journey is fated by the grace of God. And therefore Minor has no right to interfere with their (Virgil and Dante's) descent into Hell.
The pilgrim hears loud sounds of grief expressed in weeping. There is darkness and wind is storming all around. The punished souls are lashed by and whirled about by this storm. Every time they are blown past Minos ("their place of judgement") they shout and curse God's power. He hears that the Lustful are punished here. They put lust before reason and sinned in lust. The wind buffets them continuously and they are forever denied any rest or comfort.
The pilgrim asks his guide to identify these tormented souls. Virgil points out empress Semiramis, Cleopatra, Helen, Achilles, Paris, Tristan and many more who died on earth due to their lust. Dante feels enormous pity for all these men and women. He sees two souls who are moving together and tells his guide that he wants to speak to them. Virgil tells him that when the two souls are near them, the pilgrim must ask them to approach the two poets. When the wind brings the two souls close to them the pilgrim expresses his desire for speech with them. When they approach the pilgrim they thank him for his kindness and tell him to ask them whatever he wishes to know. One of these souls tells him how they fell in love and how it led to their death. Their murder is in Caina, a region in Hell where people who betray their Rin (relatives) are punished.
The pilgrim feels pity for these souls, whose love brought them eternal damnation. The pilgrim asks Francesca and Paolo, how they were led into adultery. She tells him that one day she and Paolo were reading the tale of how Lancelot fill in love. It was then that they recognized their desire for each other and succumbed to it. She says it was that book they read and thus its author actually who led them into physical intimacy. While she is speaking the soul of Paolo is weeping by her side. This sight moves the Pilgrim's heart with such pity that he faints under the spell of this overwhelming emotion.
The two poets have now descended into the second circle of Hell. Unlike the souls in the first circle (Limbo), the soul here are those of unrepentant sinners. Thus Dante the Poet describe the second circle as one, which "holds ... much more pain". The result of this is that the punished souls express their pain in lewd wails or cries.
At the entrance of the second circle stands Minos. In mythology Minos is the son of Zeus and Europa. He was the King of Crete and acclaimed for his wisdom and judicial gifts. Thus in classical literature he is shown as the chief magistrate of the underworld. Dante the Poet also shows him as a judge but changes his physical appearance, so that Minos is shows as a beast.
Minos passes judgement on a soul by wrapping his tail around himself. The number of times the tail circles him indicates the circle (of Hell) to which the soul being judged is damned. When Minos perceives the Pilgrim he warns him about being too trustful. Virgil informs Minos of the true nature of their journey (sanctioned by Heaven/God) and the two poets proceed without further ado.
Once again the pilgrim perceives the sounds of suffering all around him. The sound of weeping are incessant ant they "pound at" the pilgrim. It is in this Canto that the pilgrim has his first encounter with the grotesqueness that is Hell. This is the first time he is seeing sinners judged by Minos, and souls suffering actual punishment. The verbal picture he paints is very effective. And the reader can imagine the Pilgrim's experience. The incessant "sounds of weeping" pounding at him is sure to prove very unsettling. He further adds that there was "no-light" at all. The place was lashed by a windstorm. And the punished souls were being continuously swept around by this storm. At the sight of Minos, they cursed God for putting them in this plight. All these are the souls of the lustful. Who on earth turned away from reason to satisfy their immoral lusts. The Contrapasso or punishment of the lust seems very apt. The "Tempest" or "Infernal Storm" that flings them around can be likened to the feelings of lust, which had swept through their bodies on earth. They offered no resistance to the storm of lust on earth and thus here in Hell they are helplessly at the mercy of the storm. Moreover there is darkness every where : this symbolizes the absence of reason. They turned away from reason on earth and without reason all is darkness (ignorance). And hence this same ignorance/darkness surrounds them in Hell as they suffer eternal punishment.
Dante the Poet compares these souls to various birds in the air, like the starlings and cranes. Such a comparison seems quite ironic. The birds are born aloft by the wind and the wind is a vehicle of their freedom. They employ it to carry them where they wish to do. The same wind is the enemy of the sinful souls. Not only does it deny them freedom, it also denies them rest.
The Pilgrim desires to know and identify these souls. His guide points out the one, he thinks, the Pilgrim should know about first. This is empress Semiramis, a legendary queen of Assyria, the wife and successor of Ninus. Ninus was a warrior king who founded the Assyrian empire of Nineveh and conquered the greater part of Asia. Semiramis indulged her passions without restraint and eventually ended up legalizing lust. Dante learned about her from Paulus Orosius who is a historian. This historian also says that it was Semiramis who rebuilt Babylon. In his work "City of God" Saint Augustine says that a conflict existed between the city of God founded by Abraham and the city of man rebuilt by Semiramis. So, for Dante she is the personification of immoral passion and also the founder of the degenerate society that is opposed to God's laws. She ruled "all the land that the Sultan rules", this refers to the area that now contains Egypt and Syria.
The next reference, to the one who "killed herself for love", is about Dido, the queen of Carthage. When her husband Sichaeus dies, she vows to remain faithful to his memory. Then the Trojan survivors of war come to Carthage an she falls in love with their leader, Aeneas. The two live together as man and wife till the gods remind Aeneas of his higher destiny: the founding of Rome and the Roman Empire. He deserts Dido and leaves for Italy. She, in her grief, commits suicide.
Cleopatra was the queen of Egypt from 68 BC to 30 BC. She was the daughter of Ptolemy Auletes (the last king of Egypt, before it was taken by the Romans). With the help of Julius Caesar (a Roman general whom she seduces) she disposes of her husband (also her brother; the Ptolemy custom was for the royal brother and sister to marry) and becomes the ruler of Egypt. When Caesar dies, she establishes a relationship with Mark Anthony (another Roman general). This guarantees her continued favor of the Romans. After Anthony's death she tries to seduce Octavianus (the Roman governor of Egypt). But she fails in this and commits suicide to avoid coming under Roman domination.
Helen was the wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. She was kidnapped and taken to Troy by Paris (the son of Priam, the King of Troy). Menelaus aided by other Greek nobles attacks Troy to recover her. After a siege that lasted ten years Troy was sacked and the Greeks recovered Helen. Paris was killed during the long siege.
Dante obtained his knowledge of the Trojan War from early medieval works. These include Dares the Phrygian's "De Excidio Trojae Mistoria" and Dictys of Gete's "De Bello Trojano". According to these stories Achilles (the unconquerable warrior) has been changed into an ordinary mortal. He falls in love with Polyxena the daughter of Priam, King of Troy and Hecuba. He desires to marry Polyxena. But her mother (Hecuba) and her brother Paris plot against Achilles. Achilles goes to a temple for his marriage. And it is here that Paris kills him.
Other occupants of this circle include Paris, the son of Priam (King of Troy). He (Paris) abducts Helen and thus causes the Trojan War. He dies during this war.
Tristar is another soul pointed to the Pilgrim by Virgil. Tristan is knight of Arthurian legend. He was the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. He was the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall. He is sent by his uncle to fetch Isolt, whom his uncle wishes to marry. Tristan and Isolt fall in love with each other. Eventually Isolt marries Mark but secretly continuous her affair with Tristan. One day Mark discovers them. His uncle kills Tristan.
Virgil points out numerable shades that have sinned due to lust. The reaction all this evokes in the Pilgrim is one of such profound pity that he is "dazed". By all that the Pilgrim has so far seem he should have learnt about the sin of lust. The presence of the beast Minos is a reminder that the souls condemned to Hell are those of unrepentant sinners. And as such they are unworthy of either God's forgiveness or of human pity. Virgil uses three tercets (a tercet is a stanza with three lines) to describe Semiramis - she makes lust legal. She can indulge her own lust freely. This example is meant to teach the Pilgrim nature of carnal sin. The pilgrim should despise these sinners because by their lack of remorse or repentance (for their sin) they blaspheme Divine Justice. But the pilgrim fails to comprehend all this and instead feels pity for these souls.
Eventually the Pilgrim's interest is caught by two souls who are moving together. He gently summons them and they comply. These are the souls of Tranasa and Paolo Malateste. Francesca was the wife of Gianciotta de Verruchio (Paolo's brother). While married to Gianciotta she entered a love relationship with her brother-in-law Paola. One day they are discovered in a love embrace by Gianciotte, who then kills them both.
Francesca is quick to discover the pity in the Pilgrim's nature and it is to this that she appeals as she tells her story. She begins three consecutive tercets with the word "Love" as if it absolves the two lovers of all blame and sin. This "love" that she so strongly emphasizes, clearly has more sexual overtones than spiritual ones. For she says that Paolo loved her for the "beauty of my body". And her fixation with him seems to be physical as well, for now the two are damned to suffer their punishment together (each unable to leave the other's side). She says her husband, who slew them both will go to Caina. It is a region Hell where the souls of those who betrayed their kin are punished.
Hearing all this the pilgrim feels pity for the plight of these lovers. The pilgrim asks her to relate how this situation comes about. She says it happens while they are reading the story of "Lancelot" (one of King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. Lancelot falls in love with Queen Guinevere, Arthur's wife. "Lancelot du Lac" a medieval French romance, relates this story. It says that the shy Lancelot with the help of Galehot gets a chance to meet the Queen. He confesses his love to her and the Queen kisses him. While they are reading this, according to Francesca, Paolo kisses her. Just as Gahelot brought Lancelot and Guinevere together, that and its write brought these two lovers together. Hence she refers to it as "Our Galehot".
There are two very opposing views about the honesty of Francesca. There are quite a few critics who take her at face value and believe her to be of a charming and guileless character. They also believe that she and Paolo have conquered Hell because they are inseparable even here. While other critics (Mark Musa, being one) totally disagree with this viewpoint. They view Francesco, as a deceitful charmer. It has been pointed out she may be lying while she relates the story of how Paolo kissed her. In the book "Lancelet due Lac" the hero (Lancelot) is portrayed as shy and it is the Queen who kisses him. Thus if this story was their inspiration it is quite possible that Francesca killed Paola instead of the other way round, as she claims. Moreover, their inseparableness in Hell is considered to be a part of their punishment. Paolo is shown as silent and weeping - not the picture of a happy man. She refers to him rather coldly as "that one" or "this one", new by his name. It hardly conveys a warm loving relationship between the two. They are each other's reminder of their sin and also their brutal death. Their constant togetherness will always remind them of their shame and the reason they are in Hell. Thus their transient joy in lust has become their own particular torture in Hell.
Even though the modern civics are not in agreement about Francesca's integrity, there is no doubt about the Pilgrim's integrity, there is no doubt about the Pilgrim's attitude towards her and Paolo. After hearing her tale and witnessing Paolo's weeping he is so overcome with pity that he faints.