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Dante's Inferno
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Canto V

The Second Circle, that of Carnal Sinners.—Minos.—Shades renowned of old.—Francesca da Rimini.

Thus I descended from the first circle down into the second, which girdles less space, and so much more woe that it goads to wailing. There abides Minos horribly, and snarls; he examines the sins at the entrance; he judges, and he sends according as he entwines himself. I mean, that, when the miscreant spirit comes there before him, it confesses itself wholly, and that discerner of sins sees what place of Hell is for it; he girdles himself with his tail so many times as the degrees he wills it should be sent down. Always before him stand many of them. They go, in turn, each to the judgment; they speak, and hear, and then are whirled below.

"O thou that comest to the woeful inn," said Minos to me, when he saw me, leaving the act of so great an office, "beware how thou enterest, and to whom thou trustest thyself; let not the amplitude of the entrance deceive thee." And my Leader to him, "Why then dost thou cry out? Hinder not his fated going; thus is it willed there where is power to do that which is willed; and ask thou no more."

Now the woeful notes begin to make themselves heard; now am I come where much lamentation smites me. I had come into a place mute of all light, that bellows as the sea does in a tempest, if it be combated by opposing winds. The infernal hurricane that never rests carries along the spirits in its rapine; whirling and smiting it molests them. When they arrive before its rushing blast, here are shrieks, and bewailing, and lamenting; here they blaspheme the power divine. I understood that to such torment are condemned the carnal sinners who subject reason to appetite. And as their wings bear along the starlings in the cold season in a troop large and full, so that blast the evil spirits; hither, thither, down, up it carries them; no hope ever comforts them, not of repose, but even of less pain.

And as the cranes go singing their lays, making in air a long line of themselves, so saw I come, uttering wails, shades borne along by the aforesaid strife. Wherefore I said, "Master, who are those folk whom the black air so castigates?" "The first of these of whom thou wishest to have knowledge," said he to me then, "was empress of many tongues. To the vice of luxury was she so abandoned that lust she made licit in her law, to take away the blame she had incurred. She is Semiramis, of whom it is read that she succeeded Ninus and had been his spouse; she held the land which the Soldan rules. That other is she who, for love, killed herself, and broke faith to the ashes of Sichaeus. Next is Cleopatra, the luxurious. See Helen, for whom so long a time of ill revolved; and see the great Achilles, who at the end fought with love. See Paris, Tristan,—" and more than a thousand shades he showed me with his finger, and named them, whom love had parted from our life.

After I had heard my Teacher name the dames of eld and the cavaliers, pity overcame me, and I was well nigh bewildered. I began, "Poet, willingly would I speak with those two that go together, and seem to be so light upon the wind." And he to me, "Thou shalt see when they shall be nearer to us, and do thou then pray them by that love which leads them, and they will come." Soon as the wind sways them toward us I lifted my voice, "O weary souls, come speak to us, if One forbid it not."

As doves, called by desire, with wings open and steady, fly through the air to their sweet nest, borne by their will, these issued from the troop where Dido is, coming to us through the malign air, so strong was the compassionate cry.

"O living creature, gracious and benign, that goest through the lurid air visiting us who stained the world blood-red,—if the King of the universe were a friend we would pray Him for thy peace, since thou hast pity on our perverse ill. Of what it pleaseth thee to hear, and what to speak, we will hear and we will speak to you, while the wind, as now, is hushed for us. The city where I was born sits upon the sea-shore, where the Po, with its followers, descends to have peace. 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. Caina awaits him who quenched our life." These words were borne to us from them.

Soon as I had heard those injured souls I bowed my face, and held it down, until the Poet said to me, "What art thou thinking?" When I replied, I began, "Alas! how many sweet thoughts, how great desire, led these unto the woeful pass." Then I turned me again to them, and I spoke, and began, "Francesca, thy torments make me sad and piteous to weeping. But tell me, at the time of the sweet sighs by what and how did love concede to you to know the dubious desires?" And she to me, "There is no greater woe than in misery to remember the happy time, and that thy Teacher knows. But if to know the first root of our love thou hast so great a longing, I will do like one who weeps and tells.

"We were rending one day, for delight, of Lancelot, how love constrained him. We were alone and without any suspicion. Many times that reading made us lift our eyes, and took the color from our faces, but only one point was that which overcame us. When we read of the longed-for smile being kissed by such a lover, this one, who never from me shall be divided, kissed my mouth all trembling. Galahaut was the book, and he who wrote it. That day we read in it no farther."[1]

[1] In the Romance, it was Galahaut that prevailed on Guinevere to give a kiss to Lancelot.

While one spirit said this the other was weeping so that through pity I swooned, as if I had been dying, and fell as a dead body falls.

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