Explain the story of Paolo and Francesca in the second circle in canto V of Dante's Inferno. How is their fall related to romantic or courtly love? How is it not? Why does Dante sympathize with them?

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The second circle of hell, where Francesca and Paolo reside, is a dark place where people are punished by being buffeted ceaselessly around by howling winds.

Francesca and Paolo's story is as follows: Paolo was Francesca's brother-in-law. They read romances together about the love affair of Sir Lancelot and Guinevere, which raised their lust and encouraged them to start an affair. When Francesca's husband realized they were betraying him, he murdered them both, which is how they ended up in hell. (We learn that Francesca's husband is also destined for a different circle of hell for the sin of murder.)

Their fall is related to romantic or courtly love because a courtly romance was the catalyst to their affair. But their sin goes deeper than merely responding to a romantic story. It symbolizes the sin of putting desire before reason. Reason must control desire, Dante learns, or a human will be buffeted around by his desires and the impulses of the moment. This is why spending eternity blown about by high winds is a fitting punishment for these two lovers.

Dante sympathizes with the lovers because Francesca is such a beguiling story teller that he is seduced by her words. He even faints because he is so upset over her fate. Beatrice will later scold him for this, telling him that he needs to learn to put spiritual love ahead of carnal lust. If Dante had used his reason instead of leading with his emotions, he would not have fainted: he would have realized that the punishment was just.

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