Canto 5 Summary

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Last Updated February 28, 2023.

As Dante moves down from the First Circle, he soon discovers that the Second Circle is more tormenting. As he continues to go deeper into Hell, he encounters sinners who are guilty of the sin of lust. At the entrance to the Second Circle, the mythical figure King Minos serves as the guard; each soul must admit their sins to Minos, who determines their punishment. The atmosphere is gloomy, and the cries of the damned are audible to Dante, even from the gates.

Dante and Virgil pass through the Second Circle of Hell and observe a bevy of familiar figures, condemned to an afterlife of torment for their lustful ways. Among them, he sees the mistress of Babel, as well as historical figures, such as Cleopatra and Helen, who succumbed to their desires and embraced licentiousness. Dante also observes many men who succumbed to lust and are now suffering in this circle, including famous mythological characters such as Achilles, Paris, and Tristram, whom Dante is able to identify due to his expansive knowledge of history and mythology.

Dante converses with Francesca, who was married to Gianciotto da Verucchio but was intimately involved with his brother, Paolo. She explains how she and Paulo would read about the love affair of Sir Lancelot and Guinevere and of the story of Gallehault, adoring the shared aspects of their adulterous but loving relationships. Francesca adds that her story ends poorly, as her husband killed her after discovering her infidelity. Dante expresses his empathy towards Francesca and Paolo and is overwhelmed with pity.

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