Morte di Francesca da Rimini e di Paolo Malatesta

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Alexandre Cabanel, Morte di Francesca da Rimini e di Paolo Malatesta, 1870

When we read there of how the longed-for smile
Was being kissed by that heroic lover,
This man, who never shall be severed from me,

"Trembling all over, kissed me on the mouth.
That book — and its author — was a pander!
In it that day we did no further reading."

While the one spirit spoke these words, the other
Wept so sadly that pity swept over me
And I fainted as if face to face with death,

And I fell just as a dead body falls.

Inferno, Dante, Canto V

The story of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta is a tragic one of two lovers kept from each other because of her prior commitment to his brother, Gianciotto. The engagement was a seal to the end of a war between her and his father, but Gianciotto was an ugly and disformed man, therefore Francesca would never knowingly agree to the marriage. In place of Gianciotto, they sent his younger, more attractive brother, Paolo, to bring the marriage contract to Francesca.

She fell in love with him instantly and signed, only to find out the next day that she had been tricked. Paolo and Francesca continued to meet in secret, but as all secrets go, theirs was found out shortly after. Gianciotto came home from a meeting early, because he heard about the affair. Walking in on an unsuccessful escape, Gianciotto went to stab his brother, but out of instinctual love, Francesca stepped in front of the blade, dying instead. More enraged than before, Gianciotto successfully ended his brother's life.

In Dante's Inferno, he meets the lovers in the second circle of hell. There, she tells Dante about her husband and how he has been sentenced to the ring for familial betrayal, named Caina, after Cain and Abel, while Francesca and Paolo are kept in hell for adultery. 

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