The Divine Comedy Questions and Answers
by Dante Alighieri

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Why are Paolo and Franceseca suffering as one in hell?

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Francesca da Rimini was a contemporary of Dante's who carried on an affair with her husband's brother, Paolo Malatesta. Her husband, Giovanni Malatesta, killed both of them when he discovered they were lovers.

Dante places the lovers together in the second circle of Hell, along with such famous figures of antiquity as Cleopatra, Dido, Helen, and Paris. Not all the lovers are together, but Francesca and Paolo are, trapped in a whirlwind and blown about the circle. Dante is able to speak to Francesca and ask about the course of their love affair on earth. She replies, saying that her greatest grief now is to recall her joy then. As she speaks, Paolo does nothing but wail piteously. Dante faints from compassion and falls to the ground like a corpse.

The pain in Francesca's words is echoed by Paolo's continual wailing. Dante, who recognizes them immediately, is overwhelmed with grief at the thought that they must spend eternity together, confined within the whirlwind.

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