Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik

advertisement
Medieval Academy of America
Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender
Author(s): Teodolinda Barolini
Reviewed work(s):
Source: Speculum, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 1-28
Published by: Medieval Academy of America
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2887423 .
Accessed: 27/08/2012 23:26
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]
.
Medieval Academy of America is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
Speculum.
http://www.jstor.org
Dante and Francescada Rimini:
Realpolitik,
Romance,Gender
By Teodolinda
Barolini
toDante'sappropriations
andrevisions
ofhistory,
the
Whileweareaccustomed
caseofFrancesca
thenorm,
da Rimini
(Inf.5.73-142)is rather
different
from
sinceinhercasenotraceremains
ofthehistorical
record
thatthepoetcouldhave
Thereis nocompletely
documentation
appropriated.
independent
ofFrancesca's
weareindebted
forwhatweknowtoDanteandtohiscommentators.
A
story;
MarcoBattagli,
inpassing
fourteenth-century
chronicler
ofRimini,
alludes
tothe
in 1352,thuspostdating
event,
buthishistory
was written
bythreedecades
Dante'sdeathin 1321.1Twofactors
comeintoplaywhenwe assessBattagli's
as anindependent
verification
ofFrancesca's
ontheonehand,he
chronicle
story:
he
isanindisputable
authority
regarding
Rimini
andtheMalatesta;2
ontheother,
knewDante's
poem.3
Therefore,
Battagli's
passing
andindirect
reference
(towhich
induecourse)
weshallreturn
serves
atbestas plausibly
confirmation
independent
is silent.
ofan occurrence
aboutwhichthecontemporary
historical
record
That
thesilence
of
silence
is broken
byDante.4Byreintegrating
history-including
history-into our readingof canto 5, we restorea contextin whichto remember
thatin thecase of Francescada RiminiDante is thehistorianof record:in effect
he saved Francescafromoblivion,givingher a voice and a name.
of the littlethatwe know
Technically,we know thatDante is the transmitter
1 Marco Battagliwas born in Riminiin the first
decade of the fourteenth
centuryand died before
1376; his chronicle,Marcha (thetitlederivesfromtheauthor'sChristianname),compileseventsfrom
creationto 1354 and was writtenbetween1350 and 1354. The last book containsthe chapter"On
accordingto itseditor,
theOriginsoftheMalatesta" ("De originedominorumde Malatestis"),written,
in 1352; see Marcha,ed. Aldo FrancescoMassera, RerumItalicorumScriptores16/3(Cittadi Castello,
1913), p. xxiii. Battagli'ssentenceon Paolo's death elicitsfromMassera the followingcomment:"E'
dell'Inferno,
questa la notiziapiutanticadella tragediache ci rimanga,eccezionfattadei commentatori
to thankBenjaminKohl forsteering
in fontistoriche"(p. 31). I would like to take thisopportunity
me towardBattagliand forprovidingvaluable feedbackas I workedon thisessay.
2 Accordingto Massera, Battagli'schapteron the Malatesta "costituisce
la piuianticaed autorevole
fontedi storia malatestianae municipale" (p. xlvii). For more on Battagli,see Massera's lengthy
preface.
3Regarding Battagli's"assai vasta e varia cultura,"0. Bantinotesthat "in essa hanno larga parte
(come appare spesso dalle espressionie dai concetti)la Bibbia e le operedell'Alighieri";see Dizionario
biograficodegliItaliani,7 (Rome, 1965), p. 208.
4 Indeed, we mightwell wonder how we can feel sure that the storyas a whole is not Dante's
invention.While he obviouslyinventedthematerialforwhichonlyone of themurderedprotagonists
could have vouched,thebare factsof Francesca'sadulteryand murdermusthave occurred,giventhat
the commentators
who followDante fillin key details-like theprotagonists'names-that he omits
fromInferno5 and thatFrancesca'sfamily,
well acquaintedwithDante and hispoetry(Guido Novello
da Polenta,Francesca'snephewand Dante's host in Ravenna, even triedhis hand at Dante-inspired
love lyrics),neverdeniedhis account. On Dante and the Polenta family,and forGuido da Polenta's
poetry,see Corrado Ricci, L'ultimorifugiodi Dante (1891; repr.Ravenna, 1965).
Speculum 75 (2000)
1
2
Dante and Francescada Rimini
about Francescada Rimini.FrancescoTorraca,whose 1902 essay on Inferno5
has not been surpassedin historicalrichness,clearlystatesas much ("Del fatto,
nessuna cronaca contemporanea,nessundocumentoci ha conservatomemoria;
primo,e solo narratorecontemporaneo,Dante" ),5 and thepointis repeatedin the
Enciclopedia dantesca'sarticleon Francesca ("II raccontodantescorestal'unica
testimonianzaantica intornoal drammadi adulterioe di morteconsumatoalla
cortemalatestiana,ignoratodalle cronachee dai documentilocali coevi o posteof Francesca,
when we beginto wonder about the historicity
riorin")6Similarly,
on thehistoricalFrancesca
we discovertheexistenceof a specializedbibliography
of greaterudition.But it rarelyintersectswiththe much largerliterarybibliographyon Inferno5, and its findings-includingthe fundamentalfactthatthere
is no historicalrecordoftheeventsnarratedin thecanto-are rarelyfactoredinto
literaryreadings.Torraca'sclarityabout the silenceof the historicalrecordhas
not informedsubsequentreadingsof thecanto.
of the factthatDante is the
This essay attemptsto recuperatethe significance
historianof recordwithrespectto Francescada Riminiaridto integratetheimas well as theimplicationsof a historicizedFranplicationsof thisunderstanding,
cesca, intoour criticalresponseto Inferno5. My subtitleoutlinestheparameters
of my reading:realpolitik,because Dante viewed Francesca'slifeas politically
her death the resultof the pragmaticmatrimonialpoliticsthatgovdetermined,
erneddynasticalliances;7romance,because Dante injectedromanceintoFrancebetweenher
the tensiorn
sca's essentiallypoliticalstory,as a way of highlighting
5"Il canto V dell'Inferno,"originallypublishedin Nuova antologia,1902, repr.in Studidanteschi
(Naples, 1912), pp. 383-442, citationp. 409.
6 AntonioEnzo Quaglio, "Francescada Rimini,"in Enciclopediadantesca(henceforth
ED), 6 vols.
(Rome, 1970-78), 3:1. A dramaticaccountof thelacuna in two majorchroniclesofthelate duecento,
by PietroCantinelliand Salimbeneda Parma, is offeredby Nevio Matteiniin Francescada Rimnini:
Storia,mito,arte (Bologna, 1965):
Il Chronicondi PietroCantinelli?Tace. Il Cantinelli,nato probabilmentea Faenza intornoal
1243 e morto,forse,nel 1306, ci porgel'illustrazionestoricapiu autenticadella Divina Commedia.
"I personaggidanteschi"-scrive il Torracanella prefazione- "sono qui una fol]a.... Perl'ultimo
trentenniodel secolo XIII Bologna e la Romagna non hanno un'altracronaca propriaaltrettanto
ampia, abbondante,ordinataed esatta." Fra i Polentanivi compaiono: Guido Minore,Bernardino,
Lamberto,Ostasio, Guido Riccio, Albericoe Geremia.Fra i Malatesti:il "Mastin vecchio,"Gianciotto, Malatestino,Rambertoe il figlioGiovanni. Di Francesca e Paolo neppurei nomi sono
ricordati.
E Salimbeneda Parma? Tace anch'egli.Fra' Salimbene,che visse dal 1221 al 1289, assistettea
diversifattinotevolissimied avvicin6personalitadella Chiesa e della politica,uominidi toga t-di
armi. Soggiorn6in Romagna, soprattuttoa Ravenna, per cinque anni. La prima data che ricorre
nella sua Cronicae il 21 luglio1283; l'ultima1'8 settembre1287.... Parla di Guido da Montefeltro
e di TebaldelloZambrasi,di Malatesta da Verucchioe dei Manfredi,dei Traversarie degliAccarisi,
di Guido Minore e di Guido Riccio. Di Paolo e Francescanulla. (Pp. 57-58)
7This point is clearlymade by the distinguished
Romagnol historianAugustoVasina in his entry
"Malatesta" in the Enciclopediadantesca: "Persiio dietroil drammadi Paolo M[alatesta] e di Francesca da Polenta (If V 82-138) e ben presenteuna rigidalogica dinastica,tesa,mediantel'unionefra
Giovanni(Gianciotto)M[alatesta] e Francesca,a finidi tirannide.In realtatale politicamatrimoniale,
senza dubbio all'origine di quella tragedia, era destinata a rassodare un'alleanza familiarefra
M[alatesta] e Polentaniproprionel momentopiu criticodella loro ascesa al dominiosignorile,rispettivamentesu Riminie su Ravenna" (ED 3:782).
Dante and Francescada Rimini
3
roleas pawnofthestateand herdesireforpersonalfulfillment
(romanceis the
genre,in fact,thatmakespossiblethefocuson personaldesire);gender,
because
thechoiceof romanceas themodality
forthisparticular
narrative,
a narrative
foundedon dynastic
is a choicethatnecessarily
marriage,
bringsus to gender.
I hope to throwlighton the ways in whichFrancesca'sstory,as told
Ultimately,
by Dante, is a genderedstory,one in which unusual value is placed on the personhood of the dynasticwife.8
The keyfactofFrancescada Rimini'slifeis a dynastic-political-fact: Francesca
was born into a familythataspiredto dominionover Ravenna (and achievedit,
'in 1275); she marriedinto a familythataspiredto dominionover Rimini(they,
too, succeeded,twentyyearslater,in 1295). She thusserveda dynasticfunction,
as a link betweenthe two mostpowerfulrisingdynastiesof Romagna. She was
the daughterof Guido Minore da Polenta (so called to distinguishhim fromhis
cousin Guido Riccio, he is also referred
to as Guido il Vecchioda Polenta),lord
of Ravenna. Circa 1275 she married Giovanni (called Gianciotto, "crippled
John")Malatesta,thesecond son of Malatesta da Verucchio,firstlord of Rimini
(Gianciottohimselfwas neverlord of Rimini).9She died because ofthismarriage,
between1283 and 1286.
Earlycommentators
of the Commedia
show theirawarenessof thesignificance
of thesefactsby givingFrancesca'sstory a politicalframe;theystresstheimportance of her marriageas a political alliance, as an attemptto bringpeace and
stabilityto Romagnabyallyingtheregion'stwo mostpowerfulfamilies.Beginning
witha succinctstatementabout dynasticpower- "In Romagna sono due grandi
case, in Riminoi Malatesti,in Ravenna quelli da Polenta" ("In Romnagna
there
are two great families,in Rimini the Malatesta, in Ravenna those fromPolenta")-the Florentinewriterof the Ottimocommento(ca. 1333) explainsthat
these warringdynastiesmade peace and that GianciottomarriedFrancesca in
orderto guarantee,to bring"fermezza"to, theiraccord:
... le quali case perla lorograndezzaebberoguerrainsieme,
dellaqualefeceropace;
alla cui fermezza
JanniSciancatodi MesserMalatesta,uomode l'abitorustico,
e del
cuorefranco,
e armigero,
e crudele,
tolsepermoglieFrancesca
diMesserGuido
figliuola
il vechioda Polenta,donnabellissima
delcorpo,e gaia ne' sembianti.
(... thesefamilieson account of theirgreatnesswere at war witheach otherand then
made peace; to guaranteethe peace Gianni Sciancato of Messer Malatesta, a man of
8 Of course,we should expectfromDante theculturallyunexpected;see, withrespectto theunorthodoxrole he assignsBeatrice,JoanM. Ferrante,"Dante's Beatrice:Priestof an Androgynous
God,"
in CEMERS Occasional Papers,2 (Binghamton,
N.Y., 1992).
9 Most scholarsconcurin puttingthe marriageat thistime,althoughTorracaopts fora laterdate;
see "Il canto V dell'Inferno,"esp. p. 420. Afterthedeathof Malatesta da Verucchio,powerwentfirst
to Giarciotto'solder brother,Malatestino,second lord of Rimini,and thento his halfbrother,
Pandolfo,Malatesta da Verucchio'sson by his second wife.The EnciclopediadantescaentriesbyVasina
on thevariousmembersof theMalatesta clan are morehelpfulin reconstructing
Francesca'slifethan
Quaglio's entryon Francesca,whose firstparagrapherroneouslycalls Gianciotto"signoredi Rimini"
(ED 3:1). It is worthnoting,however,thatthismistakeis frequently
made, and is perhapsdue to the
contaminationof Boccaccio's account; see, forinstance,the commentaryof Anna Maria Chiavacci
Leonardi,Commedia,1: Inferno(Milan, 1991), p. 155.
4
Dante and Francescada Rimini
rusticdress,braveheart,a warrior,
and cruel,tookas wifeFrancesca,
thedaughter
of
in
MesserGuidotheelderof Polenta,a ladyverybeautiful
of bodyand lighthearted
demeanor.)10
The Ottimo'scomment,while incorrectin its details(therewas no war between
theMalatesta and thePolentaniat thattime),1"is correctin itsfundamental
analysis,whichviewsdynastic"case" ofa certain"grandezza"as operatingin a frameworkthatis entirely
politicaland thatprecludesneutrality:
theyare eitherenemies
or-as was alreadythecase withthesetwo-allies.12 Boccaccio (ca. 1373) follows
the Ottimoin recountingthatupon thecessationof hostilitiesbetweenGuido da
Polenta and Malatesta of Rimini,themarriageof theiroffspring
was engineered
as a way of cementing("fermeza"again) thenew peace:
di messerGuidovecchioda Polenta,signor
E' adunqueda saperechecosteifufigliuola
di Ravennae di Cervia;ed essendostatalungaguerrae dannosatra lui e i signori
e compostala pacetra
Malatestida Rimino,adivenne
chepercertimezzanifutrattata
loro.La quale acci6chepiuifermeza
avesse,piacquea ciascunadellepartidi volerla
e '1parentadotrattato
fuche '1 dettomesserGuidodovesse
fortificare
perparentado;
a Gian
chiamatamadonnaFrancesca,
darepermoglieunasua giovanee bellafigliuola,
di messer
Malatesta.
Ciotto,figliuolo
ofGuidoda Polentatheelder,lordofRa(You mustknowthatshewas thedaughter
himandtheMalatesta,lords
vennaand Cervia.A long,harshwarhadragedbetween
of Rimini,
whenthrough
certainintermediaries,
To
peacewas treatedand concluded.
itwitha marriage.
makeitall themorefirm,
bothsideswerepleasedto cement
WherethatMesserGuidowastogivehisbeautiful
called
uponitwas arranged
youngdaughter,
inmarriage
MadonnaFrancesca,
to Gianciotto,
sonofMesserMalatesta.)13
Benvenutoda Imola, despite being fromRomagna, seems to possess no more
information
thantheOttimo,whose descriptions
oftheprotagonists
he translates;
he does specifythatGianciottois the son of Malatesta senior,who was the first
to seize power over Rimini: "filiusDomini Malatestae senioris,qui primusacof theAnonimoFiorentino
quivisitdominiumArimini"(DDP). The commentary
Over
(ca. 1400) followsBoccaccio in everyway, includingthe dynasticframe.14
10 L'Ottimno
copmnento
della "Divina Commedia," citedfromtheDartmouthDante ProjectDatabase,
http://www.dartmouth.edu/-iibrary/
(henceforth
DDP). Translationsare mineunlessotherwisenoted.
11TorracacorrectstheOttimnoon thisscore: "Di una guerracombattutain quel periodotraRiminesi
e Ravennatinon restanessunamenzione"("II canto V dell'Inferno,"p. 412).
12 In fact,the decreerelatingto the dowryof Margheritade' Paltenieri,
Malatesta da Verucchio's
secondwife,was drawnup in Guido da Polenta'shouse,on 25 July1266; see Aldo FrancescoMassia,"Note malatestiane,"Archiviostoricoitaliano,5th ser.,47 (1911), 3-48, at p. 17.
13 Esposizionisopra la "Comnedia"
di Dante, ed. GiorgioPadoan, vol. 6 of Tuttele operedi Giovanni
Boccaccio, ed. VittoreBranca (Milan, 1965), p. 315. The translationby Mario Domandi is in the
commentaryvolume of The Divine Comedy: Inferno,trans. Charles S. Singleton(Princeton,N.J.,
1970), p. 87.
14 "Egli e da sapere che gran tempo fu guerratra messerGuido da Polenta et messerMalatesta
vecchioda Rimino.Ora, percheera rincresciuta
all'una parteet all'altra,di comuneconcordiafeciono
pace, et accio che meglios'osservasse,fecionoparentadoinsieme" ("It should be known thatfora
long timetherewas war betweenMesser Guido da Polenta and Messer Malatesta of Rimini.Now,
since both sides were unhappyabout the war,theydecidedtogetherto make peace, and so thatthe
peace would be bettermaintained,theyarrangeda marriagebetweenthem" [DDP]).
Dante and Francescada Rimini
5
ofDaniello(1568)
thecenturies,
however,
bythetimewereachthecommentaries
andpoliticalelement
ofFrancesca's
story
andCastelvetro
(ca. 1570),thedynastic
theromance
elements
ofDante'sstory
beginstofade,as thereception
foregrounds
and abandonsthepoliticalframework.
Ifwe wereto tryto reconstruct
data ofFrancesca's
life
thebasicbiographical
The textoffers
onlythe
fromtheCommedia,
we wouldfindthetaskimpossible.
following
facts:Francesca's
birthplace
("Siedela terradovenatafui/su la marina
dove'1Po discende
/peraverpaceco' seguacisui" [Inf.5.97-99]), herChristian
name("Francesca,i tuoimart'iri"
[Inf.5.116]), thefactthatshe and herlover
werekilledbya kinsman("Caina attendechia vitaci spense"[Inf.5.107]),the
-factthat the lovers are related by marriage("i due cognati" [Inf. 6.2]).15 This
presentationis remarkablyoblique, on a numberof counts.First,it omitsaltogetherthe names of Francesca's lover and husband. Second, while Francesca's
fromhernatalcity,
Christianname is registered,
herfamilynamemustbe inferred
Ravenna,whichin turnis nevernamedbutalludedto in a geographicalperiphrasis
thatplaces her land of birth"on the shorewherethe Po descendsto be at peace
withits followers,"thatis, whereit reachestheAdriatic.Third,thefactthatshe
and her loverwere killedby a brotheris presentedin one compactand elliptical
verse that in itselfrequiresglossing:"Caina awaits him who put out our life"
destinedforthatpartof hell'slowimpliesthatthe lovers'murdereris a brother,
est circlethathouses traitorsof kin and is named afterCain, the firstfratricide.
(Whilereadersof theInfernoeventuallylearnthatthiszone houses all traitorsof
of fratricide.)
kin, the word Caina causes one to think,in this case correctly,
Fourth,the factthatthe murdereris relatedto both lovers,in otherwords,the
factthat the lovers were themselveslinkedby "parentado," to use Boccaccio's
word, is givento us only afterthe encounterwith Francescahas ended, at the
beginningof canto 6 whenthenarratorrefersto themas "i due cognati."
Accordingto theaccountsthataccretedaroundthespare nucleusin Inferno5,
Francescaenteredinto an adulterouslove affairwithPaolo Malatesta,thirdson
of Malatesta da Verucchio,knownas Paolo il Bello; she and Paolo werekilledby
Gianciotto,most likelybetween1283 and 1286. The date of death mustbe inferredcircumstantially,
likeeveryothereventofFrancesca'sunrecordedlife.Paolo,
who in 1269 marriedOrabile Beatrice,countessof Ghiaggiolo(bywhomhe had
two children),was in Florenceas capitano del popolo in 1282; he tenderedhis
By 1286 Gianresignationon thefirstofFebruary1283 and returnedto Rimini.16
So thedeathsofPaolo and Francescahad to occurbetween
ciottohad remarried.17
1283 and 1286.
15The textis fromLa "Commedia" secondo l'anticavulgata,ed. GiorgioPetrocchi,
4 vols. (Milan,
1966-67).
16 See Torraca, "II canto V dell'Inferno,"p. 434. Torraca speculatesthat the seventeen-year-old
Dante metPaolo Malatesta when he servedas capitanodel popolo in Florencein 1282 (p. 433).
17 Torraca reconstructs
as follows: "Mori [Francesca]tra il 1283 e il 1286. Dopo il febbraiodel
1283, non accade piuidi trovarnessuna tracciadi Paolo; nel febbraiodel 1287, a un atto di grande
i suoi fratelli,
non lui. Nel 1288, il vecchioMalatestas'impegnaalle
importanzapolitica,intervengono
futurenozze di Malatestino,non suo figlio,quello, 'che vedeva pur con l'uno'; ma un bambino,che
Giovanniaveva avuto da Zambrasina,la seconda moglie:se anche il bambinonon avessesuperatoun
anno di eta, il matrimoniodi Zambrasinacon Giovannidoveva essereavvenutodue anniinnanzi,nel
1286" ("Il canto V dell'Inferno,"p. 419). The gistof this informationwas originallyput forthby
LuigiToniniin Della storiacivilee sacra riminese,3 (Rimini,1862), pp. 257-58.
6
Dante and Francescada Rimini
intotheinformation
vacuumleftbyDante,theearliest
Stepping
commentators
thecrucialdata thatthe Commedia
omits.JacopoAlighieri
beginby offering
(ca. 1322) givesthenamesof all theprotagonists
and a schematic
of
rendering
events:
Essendosidegliantichiinfino
a qui ragionato,
di duemodernamente
si segue,de' quali
l'unfuunadonnanominata
monnaFrancesca
figliuola
dimesser
Guidoda Polenta,
cioe
Guidovecchioda Polentadi Romagna,e della cittadi Ravenna,e l'altroPaolo d'i
Malatestida Rimini,
la qualeessendodel fratello
del dettoPaulomoglie,il qualeebbe
nomeGianniIsciancato,
conleiusando,cioecotdettosuocognato,alcuna
carnalmente
voltainsieme,
dal maritofurmorti.(JacopoAlighieri,
DDP)
oftheancientsup to now,whatfollowsregardstwomoderns,
(Havingdiscoursed
of
whomonewasa ladynamedMadonnaFrancesca,
ofMesserGuidoda Polenta,
daughter
thatis, GuidotheelderofPolentafromRomagna,and fromthecityofRavenna,and
theotherPaolooftheMalatestaofRimini;
shewasthewifeofthebrother
ofsaidPaolo,
whosenamewas GianniSciancato,
and havingcarnalrelations
withhim,thatis,with
heraforementioned
on a fewoccasionstogether,
brother-in-law,
theywerekilledbythe
husband.)
Shortlyafterwards,
Jacopo della Lana (1324-28) adds some color;includingthe
firstdescriptionofthedeathscene: "infinetrovolliin sul peccato,preseuna spada,
e conficolliinsiemein tal modo che abbracciatiad uno morirono"("finallyhe
foundthemwhile sinning,took a sword and piercedthemat the same timein
such a way thatlocked togetherin one embracetheydied" [DDP]). The Ottimo
commentogoes further,
addingthedynasticframe,charactersketchesof theprotagonists,and a servantwho conveysthenews of theadulterousliaisonto Gianciotto. It is Boccaccio, the greatraconteur,who elaboratesFrancesca'sstoryto
novella-likeproportionsand whose imprinton it is mostindelible.
We have seen thatDante himselftellsus verylittle.This factin itselfrequires
criticalacknowledgment,
as well as recognitionof how different
our readerlysituationis fromthatofthepoem'searlyreaders,forwhomthehistoricalimportance
ofDante's intervention
would have beenexplicit.We on theotherhandhaveheard
or encounteredso manytellingsof Francesca'stale-our culturalimaginaryhas
been for so long overstockedwith commentaries,paintings,dramas,tragedies,
poems,and musicalresponsesto Francesca-that we onlywithdifficulty
clearthe
culturalunderbrushenough to re-createthe relativeemptinessin which Dante
wrote Inferno5.18 The case of Francesca is only one example-albeit a major
one-of a problemthatwe encounterin anycenturies-long
criticalenterprise:
the
problemof a receptionthatto some degreewe must unlearn.In the particular
case of Francesca da Rimini,unlearningthe receptionentailskeepingclear theboundariesbetweenwhat Dante tellsus and what is added to the storylateron
and, most importantly,
stayingfocused on the significanceof the existenceof
18 For a resumeof Francesca'sfortunes
in drama,figurative
art,and music,see Matteini,Franicesca
da Rimnini:
Storia,mito,arte,pp. 96-143.
Dante and Francescada Rimini
7
Dante'stelling-without
whichwe wouldnothaveheardofFrancescaat all,let
aloneelaborated
herintotheheroineofall thosemelodramas.19
Instaging
theinfernal
meeting
between
himself
andFrancesca,
Danterepresents
himself
as ableto identify
heron thebasisofverylittleinformation.
Shetellshim
thatsheis fromRavenna(inan anmbiguous
fashion,
sinceRavennais nottheonly
citythatfitsherdescription),20
thatloveboundherpartner
to herandhertohim,
thatloveledherandherloverto onedeath,andthatCainaawaitstheirmurderer.
Afterhe has learnedthismuch,thepilgrim
is able to addressFrancescabyher
Christianname: "Francesca,i tuoi martirn
/ a lagrimarmi fanno tristoe pio"
("Francesca,your sufferings
make me weep forsadness and pity" [Inf.5.1164 7]). Dante's stagingthusoffersus two possibilities:thathe consideredFrancesca's
storynotorious,despiteits absence fromthe chroniclesavailable duringhis lifetime; that he wanted to renderthe storynotorious,which he does principally
throughthe immortalverseshe dedicatesto its protagonist,but also by treating
her as alreadyfamous.The realityis mostlikelya combinationof bothpossibilities,namely,that he took a storythat was notoriousenough for him to have
heard it, but thateventuallywould have been lost, and made it a storythathas
neverbeen forgotten.
Giventhatwe can inferfromDante's stagingboththeconferred
and thegenuine
notorietyof Francesca'sstory,we can further
inferthatculturalcelebrityis part
ofthepointhere:Dante is investigating
a certainkindoffameand whatitsignifies
about'thepublic imaginary,
and he is inventinga certainkind of fame,one that
resonatesstillin our own day. Inferno5 testifies
thatFrancesca'sstoryhad made
her,by the firstdecade of the fourteenth
centuryin centralItaly,a culturalicon
whose recognizability
is analogous to thatof the late Princessof Wales today.It
further
testifies
thatDante, in takingthe notoriousbut forgettable
eventsof the
nascentMalatesta dynastyand fashioningtheminto Francesca'sunforgettable
leastvaluablememstory-which happensalso to be thestoryof itsdynastically
ber-invented a new kindofcelebrity.
This new-and, I would argue,genderedcelebrityarisesfromthedynamiccollisionoftwo opposed stresses:therealpolitik
of dynasticmarriageand thewish-fulfillment
fantasyof romance.The paradigm
thatresultsrevolvesaroundthenecessarypassivityand indeedvictimhoodof the
story'sprotagonistin one domain and heragencyas she refashionsherlifeto her
19 A perusal of twentieth-century
commentarieson Inferno5 will show thatneitherof the above
guidelinesis routinecriticalpractice;commentatorsdo not, firstof all, explicitlyindicateDante's
historicalrole in relatingFrancesca'sstory,nor,secondly,do theykeep clear the boundariesbetween
Dante's account and its elaborations.A separatestudycould be done of issues relatingto the commentarytradition,which includethe questionsraised by Dante's own reticence.For instance,what
did Dante thinka readerwould makeoftheverse"Caina attendechia vitaci spense"?Whilesuggestive
of fratricide
in itsallusionto Cain, itsprecisesignificance
can onlybe ascertainedthrougha commentaryor priorknowledgeof theInferno.By thesame token,did Dante take forgrantedthatcommenin thecase of Francescaforinstance,at leastthenecessarynamesand a skeletal
tatorswould furnish,
versionof events?As it happens, commentatorsimmediatelybegan to fillin the gaps, so that the
questionof what readingof Inferno5 emergesfroman encounterunmediatedby notescan be entertainedonlyas a thoughtexperiment.
20 Antonio Enzo Quaglio points out that "altre citta,oltre a Ravenna, potrebberoteoricamente
ambire,per la loro posizione geografica,compresa nell'allora estuariopadano, a tale onore"; see
"Francescada Riminitra Dante e Boccaccio," in Al di la di Francescae Laura (Padua, 1973), p. 10.
8
Dante and Francescada Rimini
likingin theother.Moreover,
through
thepilgrim's
behavior,
Dantechartsthe
culture's
voyeuristic
responseto sucha femaleprotagonist-aresponsethatwe
havewitnessed
exponentially
multiplied
(in thecase ofDiana, forinstance),
alin ourowntime.Butthecanto'sausterebiothoughnotfundamentally
altered,
graphical
minimalism
also suggests
thatDante,whilewanting
to engageina culon the one hand and
turaldebatewhosecoordinatesare dynasticmarriages
romanceon theother,
wantedto setthetermsofthedebateat a relatively
high
tocultural
isnecessarily
level.Whileourcompulsion
voyeurism
partofwhatneeds
in thiscontext,
itis nota compulsion
to be examined
to whichDantepanders.
Or is it? Here, too, theissue is a complexone, forwhileDante does not stoop
to the tabloid level of the commentators,one could reasonablyclaim that he
solicitstheirreactionsby settingromanceas part of his agenda. He does indeed
set romanceas partof a broad agenda, one thatalso includespoliticsand power
we have
and theinterplaybetweenthoseforces.Over centuriesof interpretation
in thekeyof romance,at themost
impoverishedthecanto byreadingit primarily
expandingthediscoursealong themoralaxis where(in a readingthathas always
coexistedwiththeromanticone and thathas dominatedforsome time)romance
is counteredby reason. Moreover,it is the natureof the Commedia's "living"
textualityto be dialectical,to catchthereaderin thevice,forexample,of loving
Vergiland losinghim,or, in thisinstance,in the act of voyeurismthatthe text
both solicitsand rebukes.21
What happenedafterFrancescaand Paolo ceased to
is drivento createfullnessat all
read that day? Where the commentary/tabloid
costs, the Commedia gives us the generativeopenness of lifeitself:a world of
possibilities,not of answers.
Dante places Francescaamong the carnal sinners,drivenby a relentlesswind
in hell as theywere drivenby theirpassions in life:"a cosi fattotormento/enno
dannatii peccatorcarnali,/che la ragionsommettonoal talento" ("to sudhtormentare damned the carnal sinners,who subjectreason to desire" [Inf.5.3739]). VergilidentifiesSemiramis,Dido, Cleopatra-the presenceof threeruling
queens here seems relevantto the dynasticconsiderationsthat underwrotethe
unionofFrancescawithGianciotto-and thenHelen,Achilles,Paris,and Tristan.
(He pointsto and names over a thousandshades, but theseare the ones whose
names Dante shareswith us.) In the course of listingthese souls, the narrative
registershifts(beginningwithAchilles,thefirstman) fromcriticaland moralistic
to pityingand romantic.In semanticterms,we movefrom"lust" to "love": from
to Semiramis's"vice of lust" and Cleopatra"the
lussuria and lussuriosa, referring
lustful,"we move to the amorewithwhichAchillesstrugglesat the end and the
amor thathas caused morethanone thousandsouls to departthislife.
Tercet70-72, which functionsas a pivot betweenthe two halves of canto 5,
betweenthe half of the canto that builds up to Francescaand the halfthat she
thediscourse.Here thenarratorrefersto
dominates,is taskedwithromanticizing
thepreviouslynamed "peccatorcarnali" as "le donne antichee ' cavalieri" (line
21
On lovingVergiland losinghim,see Teodolinda Barolini,Dante's Poets: Textualityand Truthin
the "Comedy" (Princeton,
N.J.,1984) chap. 3; on thedialecticaland "living"natureoftheCommedia's
see Barolini,The Undivine"Comedy": DetheologizingDante (Princeton,N.J.,1992), pastextuality,
sim.
Dante and Francescada Rimini
9
Theearlierfigures
arehere
71)-carnal sinners
becomeladiesofold andknights.
roindiscriminately
recastin a romantic
glow;theyarenow ladiesand knights,
arrivesa romantic
agenda,
manceheroesand heroines.
Witha romantic
register
surface.
When
signaledbytheissuesofcomplicity
andinvolvement
thatsuddenly
thepilgrim
ofold,pityovercomes
has heardVergilnametheladiesand knights
himand he is "almostlost": "pieta mi giunse,e fuiquasi smarrito"(line72). The
narrator'smoral clarity("to such tormentare damned the carnal sinners,who
subjectreason to desire") has givenway to thepilgrim'smoralconfusion.
Under the aegis of this moral confusionthe encounterwith Francesca takes
place, initiatedby an expressedattractionon Dante's part; summonedby the
pilgrim,thetwo approach and Francescabeginsto speak. The trecentocommentatorscommonlymarkthisjunctureas a transitionfromancientsto moderns(see
the passage fromJacopo Alighiericited above: "Essendosi degli antichiinfinoa
qui ragionato,di due modernamentesi segue"). This is certainlyan important
consideration,althoughit should be noted thatthe boundarybetweenancients
and modernsis in factsomewhatfuzzier;Tristan,named last in thepreviouslist,
is alreadya modern,and a quintessentially
romanticmodernat that.As is frequentlythecase in thedynamicbetweentheCommediaand itscritics,a transition
viewedby criticsas absoluteis engineeredby thepoet as a graduatedprocess.So,
too, in this particularcase, the transitiondoes not occur all at once: stringent
preceptsslacken gradually,untilwe reach the pivotal tercetthat proclaimsthe
"peccatorcarnali" to be "donne antichee ' cavalieri,"by whichpointwe have
fromancients
entereda new frameofreference.
Once accomplished,thetransition
to modernsis a subsetin thelargertransitionfromtheframeof moral responsibilityto theframeof romance.
In theologizedterms,to entertheframeof romancesignifies
enteringa context
in whichmoral responsibility
and personalagencyare suspendedby an all-consumingsentiment,
where passion rules untrammeledby reason. In thiscontext
Francesca'spassivityis a function-as also etymologically-ofher passion; her
passivityreflectsher sinfulrefusalof moral agency,herrefusalto fashionherself
as a Christianagent.She consistently
producesherselfas an object,and thecritical
traditionhas respondedby readingherstory,and evenhersyntax,as a symptom
ofthelustforwhichsheis damned.To givea recentexamplefrommyown writing,
I offerthe syntaxof the lover in Dante's eroticcanzone "Jo son venuto" as a
in
source forFrancesca'ssyntax,notingthat "Francesca,too, uses constructions
whichLove is subjectand she is thepassive object."22Specificto myargumentis
theconnectionto Dante's lyricpast; thereadingof Francesca'ssyntactic
passivity
sinfulis by now a criticaltopos. Like the loverpersona of Dante's
as inherently
canzone,Francescaexperienceslove as a compulsiveforce,as a desirethatcannot
be withstood,evenifitleadsto death;unliketheloverin thecanzone,sheis situated
in a moralcontextin whichdesireuncheckedby freewill and reasonis sinful.
Such a reading,absolutelynot gendered,is not onlynot wrong;it is canonical
22
See "Dante and Cavalcanti (On Making Distinctionsin Mattersof Love): Inferno5 in Its Lyric
Context," Dante Studies 116 (1998), 31-63, where I note that Francesca's "Amor ... non
m'abbandona" (Inf. 5.103, 105) echoes the "Amor ... non m'abbandona" of the lover of "Jo son
venuto,"verses23-25.
10
Dante and Francescada Rimini
and hermeneutically
fundamental,
as thecanto'sreception
demonstrates.
Noneour understanding
of
theless,I believethata gendered
readingcan supplement
5, andthattheparadigm
whatis at stakeforDanteinInferno
ofrealpolitik
versus
romanceprovides
theframework
fora gendered
reading.
Against
thisframework
an alternativereadingsuggestsitself,wherebyFrancesca'ssyntacticpassivityreflects,first,her authentichistoricalpassivityas dynasticpawn in a world where
matrimonialallianceswere power politicsand, second,herabilityto createpleasurablepassivityforherselfas theobject of a man's attention.To thedegreethat
Francescasucceedsin obtainingpleasureforherselfthatwould otherwisebe deniedher,to thedegree(I shouldprobablyspecify)thatDante's Francescadefinitely
succeedsin obtainingpleasurethatmay or may not have been obtained by the
historicalFrancesca,it is possibleto findagencyin herpassivity.Thus, byfiguring
herselfas objectin a romanticfantasy,as literalsyntacticobjectin a verselike "la
he kissedme on themouth"[Inf.
bocca mi bascio tuttotremante"("all trembling
5.136; italicsmine]),Francescamay be seen as assertingheragencyand herpersonhood againsta dynasticpatriarchythatassignedno value to herpleasure.23
I am arguing,in otherwords,thatagencyis doublyconstitutedin thiscanto,
both along the moral axis to whichwe are accustomedand along a genderedhistoricized-axis. Althoughwe are not explicitlyaccustomedto the latter,its
latentpresenceis nonethelessmostlikelyresponsibleforthe sympathythecanto
has always elicitedforits femaleprotagonistfromthe mostlymale readerswho
have traditionally
writtenabout theexperienceof readingInferno5. Sensingthe
presenceofgenderedissuesin thecanto,thesereadershave expressedtheirawareforFrancesca:thustherehave beenromanticcelebrationsofher
nessin sympathy
refined"femininity"
that have in turndrawn the scorn of less impressionistic
who have insisted,legitimately
commentators,
enough,on therubric"carnalsinners."24SympathyforFrancescahas takentheformof male gallantry,
wantingto
excuse her simplybecause of her sex, but withouttakinginto accountwhat her
sex actuallysignifies.Dante, however,I propose,does take into accountFrancesca's sex and itssignificance:
theissueofagencyis complicatedpreciselybyDante's
23
In thinkingof how Francesca could activelyconstructher passivity,I found usefulJaniceA.
Radway,Reading theRomance: Women,Patriarchy,
and Popular Literature(Chapel Hill, N.C., and
London, 1984). Accordingto Radway,"To qualifyas a romance,thestorymustchroniclenotmerely
the eventsof a courtshipbut what it feelslike to be the object of one" (p. 64). Furtheron, Radway
writes,"Passivityis at the heartof the romanceexperiencein the sense that the finalgoal of each
narrativeis the creationof thatperfectunionwherethe ideal male,who is masculineand strongyet
nurturanttoo, finallyrecognizesthe intrinsicworthof the heroine.Thereafter,
she is requiredto-do
nothingmore than exist as the centerof this paragon's attention.Romanticescape is, therefore,
a
temporarybut literaldenial of the demands women recognizeas an integralpart of theirroles as
nurturing
wives and mothers.It is also a figurative
journeyto a utopian stateof total receptiveness
wherethereader,as a resultof heridentification
withthe heroine,feelsherselftheobjectof someone
else's attentionand solicitude.Ultimately,
the romancepermitsits reader the experienceof feeling
cared forand thesenseof havingbeenreconstituted
affectively,
evenifbothare livedonlyvicariously"
(p. 97).
24 While FrancescoDe Sanctisis voluble on Francesca'sfeminine
"delicatezza," his romanticsensibilitydoes not lead him to make the ultimateerror-for which he castigatesPierreGinguen6-of
holdingthatshe is not damned;see "Francescada Rimini,"orig. 1869, repr.in Lezioni sulla "Divina
Commedia,"ed. Michele Manfredi(Bari, 1955), pp. 137-47.
Dante and Francescada Rimini
11
desireto engage,along withthenongenderedmoralissues,also thegenderedand
historicalissues thatare implicitin his choice of a femaleprotagonistwhom he
situateswithinthecoordinatesof dynasticmarriageand romance.
Whileitis a criticalcommonplaceto notethatFrancescatakesno responsibility
forher lifestory,it is not a criticalcommonplaceto historicizeherlife;as I indicated at the outset,the historicizing
frameworkprovidedby the earlycommentatorswas lost to the traditionby the Renaissance.Only the act of historicizing
Francesca,however,allows us to rememberthat,in real life,responsibility
was
available to herexclusivelyin theformsof acceptanceand resignation.I willturn
laterto reconstructing
in greaterdetailthecontextof thehistoricalFrancescaas
U3antemay have viewedit; forthe moment,in returning
to the textI would ask
thereaderto bearin mindthatlack of agencyin Francesca'slanguageis a complex
thatcuts across multipledomainsand resonatesdifferently
in each.
signifier
In herfamoustercets,each beginningwith"Love" as subject,Francescadraws
on the fundamentaltenetsof the establishedamatorycode to tell her storyin,
precisely,
coded form.The chosencode dictatesbiographicaland historicalopacity;in place of recognizablehumans engagingin recognizablehuman behavior,
thecode renderstheloversas particlesadriftin a forcefieldgovernedby powers
beyondtheircontrol:love, beauty,nobility.When otherpeople are involved,they
are renderedas demonizedabstractions.Deftlyand denselytheseversesweave a
plotthatcontainsno humanagency.The firsttercetgoes to theheartofFrancesca's
storybyplacingherand herloveron a matrixof love and violentdeath,whileat
foreitherthat love or that death. Prothe same timeevading all responsibility
foundlyahistorical,the tercetyetsketchesthe lineamentsof a historythatis initiatedwiththe passions of the man. In thischronologyPaolo is the firstto love:
"Amor,ch'al cor gentilrattos'apprende,/prese costui de la bella persona/che
mi futolta;e '1modo ancorm'offende"(lines100-102). The syntacticdensityof
thislanguagecreatesa sense of tightlycompactedineluctability,
of a destinythat
cannotbe escaped. Francescatellsus thatlove,whichis quicklykindledin a noble
heart,seized Paolo, thatthe love thatseized him was forher beautifulbody,the
same body thatwas taken fromher,and thatthe mode (of what? of loving?of
The agentsof causalityhereare love, which
beingmurdered?)stilloffendsher.25
the noble-souledare not able to withstand(this preceptrecapitulatesthe poet
an authority,
and thusanotheragentof causality);26
Guido Guinizzelli,implicitly
Francesca'sphysicalbeauty,whichseizesPaolo; theunnamedagentsthattakeher
body fromher; and the mysteriousmodo-the way,the modality-that stilloffendsher.The next tercetis only somewhatless dense. She explains that,since
in love is obligatory(hereshe draws on The Artof CourtlyLove by
reciprocity
AndreasCapellanus,anotherimplicitauthority,
hence agent),love caused by his
beauty bound her reciprocally-and eternally:"Amor,ch'a nullo amato amar
perdona, / mi prese del costui piacer si forte,/ che, come vedi, ancor non
m'abbandona" ("Love, that absolves no beloved from loving, seized me so
25 For a resumeof interpretations
of "e 'I modo ancor m'offende,"see the Chiavacci Leonardi
commentary
to theInferno,pp. 168-69.
26
For the allusion to Guido Guinizzelliin this tercetand to Aiidreas Capellanus in the next,see
Barolini,Dante's Poets, pp. 5-7.
12
Dante and Francescada Rimini
that,as yousee,ithas notyetletmego" [lines103-5]).
strongly
forhisbeauty,
complex,morestark,still
Francesca'stwo-verse
conclusionis less syntactically
theroleofobject:"Amor
and equallydevotedto maintaining
opaque,however,
chia vitaci spense"("Loveledus to
condussenoi ad unamorte./Caina attende
onedeath.Cainaawaitshimwhoputoutourlife"[lines106-7]).
theseversesimply;theseabstractand
Again,letus takenoteof thecelebrity
to herinterlocutor.
declarations
manageto revealthespeaker'sidentity
codified
a querythatis undeniably
thepilgrim
formulates
Once he knowsheridentity,
theirdesires?Her
how did lovefirst
permittheloversto recognize
voyeuristic:
Dantesque,in termsof "poeticyield,"thatis,theratioof
responseis classically
expenditure
(verysparing).It introduces
goalsachieved(verygreat)to linguistic
Francesca
theromanceLancelotdu Lac, to whoseprotagonists
a newsubtext,
ever
andliterature
thecomplicity
ofwriting
herself
andPaolo.It brings
compares
ofthereaderas a mainthemeofthecanto,a themethat
moreto theattention
of theLancelotand its authoras the "goin Francesca's
indictment
culminates
to passion.
betweens"who broughther and Paolo to the point of surrendering
forthe presentinquiry,Francescarespondsto the implicit
And, mostinteresting
and detailed
voyeurismofthepilgrim'srequestbyprovidinga morecircumstantial
window onto her affair.We could say that,in responseto and in exchangefor
greatersympathy,
she relaxesthe tightlyscriptednatureof the interviewshe has
granted,perhapseventhatshe poses candidlyforthecameras.
The window thatFrancescaopens onto herlifeis a window onto Francescaas
subject,as agentin thepursuitofpleasure.Readingtogetherone day forpleasure,
"perdiletto,"thecouple read ofhow love seizedLancelot:thereadingconstrained
theireyesto meetand theirfacesto pale, and finally-but onlywhen theyread
of how LancelotkissedGuenevere-Paolo kissedher.This accountis broughtup
The first,"Galeotto fu '1
shortby two denselysuggestiveconsecutivestatements.
libro e chi lo scrisse"("A Gallehautwas the book and he who wroteit"), states
thatthe Old Frenchromanceand its authoroccupied thesame role-the role of
go-between-in the lives of Francesca and Paolo that the knightGallehautoccupied in the lives of Guenevereand Lancelot.Thus, the Lancelot romanceand
itsauthor-"'l libroe chi lo scrisse"-are responsibleforbringingtogetherFrancesca and Paolo, a formulathatseemsto leave littleroom forthe agencyof the
text'sreaders.And yetFrancesca'snextdeclaration,"quel giornopiiunon vi legin it"), powerfully
concludeswith
gemmoavante" ("that day we read no further
theiragency-Francesca's and Paolo's agency-both as readers,expressedwith
theactive(notpassive) "leggemmo,"and as readerswho cease to read. The elliptical concludingverseis an assertionof controlover the Commedia'sreaderss'as
well, who are leftto grapple with a statementthat suggestsvolumes but tells
nothing.Ultimately,
Francescahereuses languageto imposesilence,for,as though
herrecollectionofreadingno more,shenow speaksno more.The artful
mirroring
allusive "Galeotto"
opacityof her two last declarations-fromthe impressively
to the tantalizingfinal "avante" that suggestsforwardnesswhile denyingitlapses into genuinesilence.
juxtaposestwo
These versesare thegenialseal to an interviewthatdynamically
views of the lifestory:the lifestoryas reducedto abstractprinciplesversusthe
The task of assuagingour
lifestoryas reflectedin circumstanceand specificity.
Dante and Francescada Rimini
13
collective
desireforthelatterwas assumedfirstby theOttimocommento
but
especiallyby Boccaccio,who focuseda floodlight
of biographic
and romantic
detailontoDante'smagisterially
wrought
obscurity.
AsI notedearlier,
theOttimo
addsthedynastic
frame,
character
sketches
oftheprotagonists,
anda servant
who
conveysthenewsoftheadulterous
liaisonto Gianciotto.
The character
sketches
areintriguing
becausetheycreatean implicit
motivation
forFrancesca's
infidelity
on whichBoccacciolaterbuilds.The Ottimocommento
marksthecharacters
in
theinherent
sucha wayas tosuggest
compatibility
ofonecoupleversustheequally
inherent
incompatibility
oftheother.Gianciotto
is uncouthin hisappearance,
a
bravewarrior,and cruel("uomo dell'abitorustico,e del cuorefranco,e armigero,
e crudele");Francescais verybeautifuland lighthearted
in herdemeanor("donna
wellmannered,
bellissimadel corpo,e gaia ne' sembianti");Paolo is verybeautiful,
and disposed moreto leisurethanto work ("uomo molto bello del corpo, e ben
costumato,e acconcio piiua riposo, che a travaglio"). Francesca and Paolo are
congruent,in balance, while Gianciottois incongruent,
out of balance: if Francesca is "bellissimadel corpo," Paolo, too, is "moltobello del corpo"; ifFrancesca
is inclinedtoward gaiety,Paolo, too, is givento leisurepursuits.Gianciotto,on
theotherhand,is "dell'abitorustico";he sportsnot finemannersbut arms;he is,
finally,
"crudele."
Despitethisfinaladjective,itis notclearthatthewriteroftheOttimocommento
prefersPaolo to Gianciotto;rather,he codes thebrothersas opposites,withGianciottothe man of action and Paolo the lightweight
dandy.Boccaccio maintains
thepreviouscommentator's
systemof coded charactersbut adjuststhevalues so
thatGianciottois morerepellentand Paolo less flighty.
The result,in Boccaccio's
arrangement,
is a marriagewhich,because of the perceiveddiscrepancyof the
partners,is viewed as potentiallyexplosiveeven beforeit occurs. This manifest
instability
causes one of Guido da Polenta'sfriendsto alerthimto thescandalthat
could arisefromsuch a union,and to warn himthatifFrancescasees Gianciotto
beforethemarriageknotis tied,no one will be able to compelherto take him:
modoad alcunaparte,chein
Guardatecomevoifate,perci6 che,se voi nonprendete
questoparentadoeglive ne potraseguirescandolo.Voi dovetesaperechi e vostrafigliuola,e quantoell'6d'altiero
animo;e seellavedeGianCiottoavantiche'1matrimonio
n6 voi ne altripotramai fareche ella il vogliapermarito.(Boccaccio,
sia perfetto,
Esposizioni,
p. 315)
thiswedding
howyouproceed,
forifyoudo nottakeprecautions,
(Becareful
maybring
shecan be. IfsheseesGianscandal.You knowyourdaughter,
and howhigh-spirited
ciottobeforethemarriage
is concluded,
neither
younoranyoneelsecan makehergo
withit.[Trans.Domandi,p. 87])
through
The friendfurther
advisesthatone of Gianciotto'sbrothersbe sentto Ravennato
hisproxy,"come suo procuratore"(p. 315). Guido da Polenta
Francesca
as
marry
prefersGianciottoto his brothersas his futureson-in-law,despitehis beingugly
and crippled("sozo della personae sciancato"),because he expectsGianciottoto
becomethenextlord of Rimini:
e speravasi
Era GianCiottouomodi gransentimento
doverluidopola mortedelpadre
rimanere
sozo dellapersonae sciancatofosse,il
signore;
perla qual cosa,quantunque
14
Dante and Francescada Rimini
messerGuidopergeneropiu tostoche alcunode' suoi fratelli.
disiderava
(Boccaccio,
Esposizioni,p. 315)
thathewouldbecomeruler
(Gianciotto
was a verycapableman,andeveryone
expected
whenhisfather
died.Forthisreason,thoughhewas uglyanddeformed,
MesserGuido
thanoneofhisbrothers
wantedhimrather
as a son-in-law.
[Trans.Domandi,p. 87])
And so Paolo, whom Boccaccio describes,followingthe Ottimo commento,as
"bello e piacevole uomo e costumatomolto" ("a handsome,pleasing,verycourteous man" [p. 315, trans.p. 87]), comesto Ravenna to marryFrancesca.Paolo's
symmetrical
beautymakes Francesca,also beautiful,vulnerableto the trap that
has been set forher.When a maid pointsto Paolo througha window,indicating
himas Francesca'sfuturehusband,Francescaimmediately
fallsin love.
raised by thearrangement
Having dealt withtheissues of moral responsibility
in Francesca'sfavor,Boccaccio
of the marriageand resolvedthemresoundingly
turnsto thepart of thestorythatcan onlyrunits preordainedcourse;here,too,
he findsampleopportunity
to furnishthedetailslackingin Dante's account.Francesca learnsthatshe has been deceivedwhen she awakens themorningafterher
weddingand findsGianciottoby herside. She is angry,and continuessteadfastin
her love for Paolo: "vedendosi ingannata,isdegnasse,ne percio rimovessedell'animo suo l'amore gia postoviverso Polo" ("Whereuponshe realizedshe had
been fooled,and, as can well be believed,she became furious.Nor did the love
she had conceivedforPaolo disappear" [p. 316, trans.p. 88]). Boccaccio's Francesca is thus the initiatorof the romancewith her brother-in-law:
Boccaccio's
desireto legitimizeFrancesca'slaterbehaviorby havingher fallin love withthe
man whom she fullyexpectsto be her husband,beforethe marriagehas taken
place, causes himto reverseDante's storyon thisimportantpoint,in a movethat
securesforFrancescaboth more agencyand less culpability.(The Ottimo commentodoes not need to deviatefromDante in thisway,sinceit is less committed
to exculpatingFrancesca.)While Boccaccio is clearthatFrancescais theleaderin
thispas-de-deux,he leavesundisclosedthemannerin whichthedancefirstbegins,
distancinghimselfin thisregard,too, fromtheauthorof the Ottimotommento,
who devotesnearlyhalfof his commentary
to describingthecouple's firsterotic
encounter:
Finalmente
standol'unocon l'altrosenzanullasospecione
siccomecognati,e leggendo
nellacameradelladonnaunlibrodellaTavolaRitonda,nelqualeerascritto
comeLancilottoinnamoro
dellareinaGinevra,
e comepermezzanapersona,cioe GaleottoLoBruno,Signoredell'Isolelontane,ellisi congiunse
insiemea ragionare
di loroamore,e
comeil dettoLancilotto
di quelloragionamento
pervirtiu
conosciuto
l'amorosofuoco,
fubaciatodallareina;al qualepuntopervegnendo
la dettaFrancesca,
vinsela forzadi
si lordue,chepostogiuil librovennero
questotrattato
all'attodellalussuria....
(Finallytheyweretogether
withoutsuspicionas in-laws,readingin thelady'srooma
bookoftheRoundTable,in whichwas written
howLancelotfellin lovewithqueen
andhowthrough
an intermediary,
Guenevere,
thatis Gallehaut,
lordoftheFarIslands,
to talkoftheirlove,and howLancelotbyvirtueofthisdiscourse
theycametogether
knewtheamorousflameand was kissedbythequeen;whenFrancescareachedthis
themthatputting
pointtheforceofthatstoryso overcame
downthebooktheycame
to theactoflust..I.
Dante and Francescada Rimini
15
Fromthecrisply
transparent
"venneroall'attodellalussuria,"it is onlya short
distanceto theconclusion
oftheOttimo'stale:newsoftheindiscretion
leaks,a
servantalertsGianciotto,
Gianciottokillshiswifeand brother
together
"nella
dettacamnera"-her
room,theroominwhichtheymetto read.Boccacciogreatly
thedeathscene,describing
amplifies
at length
howGianciotto
trapstheloversin
Francesca's
room,whichis boltedfromwithin.Francescagoesto openthedoor,
thatPaolo hassuccessfully
thinking
fledthrough
a trapdoor
to a roombelow,not
realizing
thatthefoldofhisjackethascaughton a pieceofiron.Gianciotto
runs
at his brother
withhis rapier,butFrancescaliterally
intervenes,
placingherself
between
thetwomen.Gianciotto
killshiswife;hethenkillsPaolo.
unintentionally
The complexstorythatBoccaccioinvented-beginning
withitshiigh-spirited
heroineand deformed
intended,
movingthroughthe decisionto deceiveher
a proxymarriage
and herundeception
through
on beingwed,and culminating
withthedoublekilling
ofinterposed
wifeandbrother-omits
theemotional
highpointof theoriginalepisodein Inferno5: themomentwhenthelovers,while
readingfromtheLancelotromance,
cometo realizethattheyloveeachother,
the
evokeswiththegreatest
theonlymoment
moment
thatDante'sFrancesca
candor,
thatDantereallyportrays.27
butwith
Boccaccioomitsthisscenenotclandestinely,
greatfanfare,
inserting
himself
intothestoryto declarecategorically
thathecannotcomment
on thispointsincehehasneverheardanything
onthissubjectother
thanwhatDantewrote,andthatwhileDante'saccountmaybe true,hethinks
it
morelikelyto be a fiction
constructed
on thebasisofwhatmight
havehappened:
Col quale comeella poi si giugnesse,
mai nonudi' direse nonquellochel'autorene
formata
scrive;ilchepossibile6 checosifosse:maio credoquelloesserepiiutostofizione
ch6io noncredochel'autoresapesse
sopraquellocheerapossibilead essereavvenuto,
checos'ifosse.(Boccaccio,Esposizioni,p. 316)
(I haveneverheardtellhowtheythengottogether,
otherthanwhat[Dante]writes;
and
it is possiblethatit did happenthatway.ButI believethatit is probablya fiction
havehappened;
constructed
andthattheauthordidnotknow
uponwhatmight
possibly
whatreallytookplace.[Trans.Domandi,p. 88])
and selective
retiWhatis at stakeforBoccacciohere?Whatdoes his defiant
cence-since on everyotherpointhe adds detailand textureto the Ottimo's
simplecanvas-achieve?
whichworksto enhance
Boccacciosucceedsin an act of multiple
distancing,
thecredibility
ofhisversionofFrancesca's
storyoveragainstthoseofhisrivals,
as is attested
Danteincluded.He thuscreateshimself-very
successfully,
bythe
ofhisstory,
contamimmediate
andcontinuing
a story
thathasutterly
acceptance
inatedthereception
ofcanto5-as thecreatorofthecanonicalromanceofFranhimself
fromDantebyexcising
cesca.He distances
theclimaxofDante'saccount,
thesceneinscribed
mostvividly
intothecollective
hecastigates
memory;
moreover,
it and openlyimpugnsitscredibility.
Danteforincluding
He distanceshimself
VittorioRusso pointsout thatBoccaccio's suppressionof thispoint is part of his creationof a
Francescawho is not surprisedinto lovingbut chooses to love; see "Nuclei e scheminarrativinelle
Esposizioni," in "Con le Muse in Parnaso": ?T9estudisu Boccaccio (Naples, 1983), pp. 109-65, at p.
160.
27
16
Dante and Francescada Rimini
fromtheOttimoand all previous
commentators
byimplying
thathe learnedthe
and orallyandnotfroma priorwritten
source.28
He goesright
storyfirsthand
to
thethreshold
ofthecrucialscene,specifying
thatFrancescadoesnotremoveher
lovefromPaolowhensherealizesthatsheis married
to Gianciotto.
Butas tohow
Francesca
wasfirst
unitedwithPaolo,Boccacciorefuses
tocomment.
subsequently
theloversthrough
WheretheOttimofollowsDantein uniting
theirreadingtoofLancelotand Guenevere
gether
(andthenmakesexplicit
the"attodi lussuria"
thatDanteleavesunspoken),
Boccaccioputsa marker,
a redflag,andthenpicks
whenGianciotto
leavestown.
up withthemoment
The scenethatBoccaccioomitsis powerfully
a miseen abymewhere
specular,
readersreadingaboutpassion.
ourpassionsareengagedas we readofpassionate
Perhapsdeciding
thatDante'sversion
ofthatscenewouldalwaysbethestrongest,
Boccaccioharnesses
itspowerindirectly,
byrefusing
to add to theonlyscenethat
Dantehad previously
portrayed.
Boccaccioalso harnesses
thepowerofDante's
textbyopposingit;bytakinghisstandagainstall thatreadingand textualityall that"fizioneformata"-hecastshimself
as the scrupuloushistorian
who
worksfromoral sources.The others,theones who invent,are thewriters
of
he includesnothing
in hisaccountthathe cannotverify.
romances;
However,
the
salutarywordsthathe appliesto Dante'slove scene-"non credoche l'autore
sapesseche cosi fosse"-cannotbe appliedto his own account.The resultof
Boccaccio'scannyandaggressive
moveis to emerge
as theshaperofthecanonical
and definitive-and
romanticized-Francesca.
definitively
in Francesca's
Boccacciobetrays
a particular
emotionalinvestment
His
story.
useoftheword"procuratore"
forPaolo pointsto thetalismanic
significance
that
Francesca'sstorypossessedfora writerwho cotitledhis greatwork"prencipe
to thesame "princeGallehaut"who servedas Lancelot's
Galeotto,"referring
to Guinevere,
and withwhomFrancescaidentified
thebook
agent(procuratore)
thatjoinedherto Paolo: "Galeottofu'1libroe chilo scrisse."As theauthorof
"il librochiamatoDecameron
Galeotto"("thebookcalled
cognominato
prencipe
Decameronalso knownas PrinceGallehaut"),Boccacciofashions
himself
intoa
ofthewordand alludesto theliberating
procuratore
poweroflanguage-that
ultimatego-between-inthe livesof the disenfranchised,
the
synecdochically
womento whomhe addressestheDecameron,viewedas so manyFrancescas.
28 I agree completelywith Torraca's statement
that "Al raccontodel Boccaccio si e fattotroppo
onore attribuendoglivalore storico;e una novella" ("II canto V dell'Inferno,"p. 416). He argues
compellinglyboth forthe impossibility
of Boccaccio's story(forinstance,thatit was impossiblefor
Francescanot to have knownwho Paolo was, and to whom he was marriedwhen "Appuntoper la
contea di Ghiaggiolo,Paolo aveva avuto una litecon il Capitolo di Ravenna" [p. 414]), and forthe
evidentromanceprecedentsforBoccaccio's plot (e.g., Tristan,who marriesIseult as Mark's proxy,
whileIseultbelievessheis genuinelymarrying
Tristan).Quaglio nonethelessviewsBoccaccio'spersonal
intrusionintothe accountas thecautionof a scrupuloushistorian("Francesca da RiminitraDante e
Boccaccio," pp. 18-19), thisdespitethefactthatBoccaccio'sfictionsare repletewithsimilarrhetorical
techniques.BothVittorioRusso and JonathanUsherspeak to thenovella-likestrategies
thatBoccaccio
carriesoverfrompreviousfictionsto his treatment
of Francesca;Russo concentrateson parallelswith
the Decameron (see "Nuclei e scheminarrativinelle Esposizioni,"pp. 154-65), whileUsherdemonstrateslinksto the Filocolo (see "Paolo and Francescain the Filocolo and theEsposizioni," Lectura
Dantis: A ForumforDante Researchand Interpretation
10 [1992], 22-33).
Dante and Francescada Rimini
17
The implicitstrengthof Dante's Francesca,who speaks and does not weep, in
markedcontrastto her man, who weeps and does not speak, is unpacked by
Boccaccio, who bestowson Francescaan "altieroanimo" thatmakes her capable-like his own Ghismonda-of liberatingbut fatal choices.29The appeal of
such a characterforBoccaccio,who createdso manywomencapable of standing
theirgroundin a male world,is evident.His additionto the Ottimo'sdescription
of Francesca is telling,since it underscoresFrancesca'sidentity,
her selfhood"Voi dovete sapere chi e vostrafigliuola,e quanto ell'e d'altieroanimo"-and
lets us know that the strengthof this selfis such as to withstandany formof
coercion:"e se ella vede Gian Ciotto avantiche '1 matrimoniosia perfetto,
ne voi
-nealtripotra mai fareche ella il voglia per marito" (Esposizioni,p. 315; italics
mine).Moreover,Francesca'sappeal is now universalized,
so thatforthefirsttime
in thestory'stransmission
we learnthatGianciotto,too, adoredhiswife:"avvenne
quello che eglinon arebbevoluto" ("And thushappenedwhathe would not have
wanted"), writesBoccaccio of themomentwhen he accidentallykillsher,adding
thatGianciottois "turbato. . . si come colui che piiuche se medesimoamava la
donna" ("distressed,as one who loved thewoman morethanhis veryself" [Esposizioni,p. 317]).
WiththisFrancesca'sapotheosisas a fullyromanticizediconis complete,leaving
heronlyto be accordedthe burialin one tombwithPaolo thatawaits theDecameron's star-crossed
lovers.At thesame time,however,thatBoccaccio heightens
the romanticelementof the story,he does not neglectits quotientof realpolitik.
He takes care to remindus that Gianciottoleaves Riminiforpoliticalreasons,
writingthat he went to a nearbytown "per podesta" ("as mayor"). And, as I
noted earlier,Boccaccio raisesthe politicalstakesof thisstoryby specifying
that
Francesca'sfatherchose theson-in-lawwhomhe expectedto becomethenextlord
ofRimini.In otherwords,thecommentators
who mostcapitalizedon theromance
elementsof Inferno5, Boccaccio and the Ottimo,did not do so at theexpenseof
the historicaland politicalrealitiesthatundergirdFrancesca'sstory.As theirversions show,theyunderstoodherstoryas situatedat thejunctureof two opposed
stresses:dynasticrealpolitikon the one hand and the desireforromanceon the
and withouther consent,into a
other.A woman who was bartered,deceitfully
marriagethat was a politicaltransaction,and that she consideredincapable of
or happiness,desiredmore;the desireformoregivingherpersonalfulfillment
the desireforlove-killed her.The factthat her reasons forbelievingthat she
could not love Gianciotto,like her reasons for fallingin love with Paolo-the
the beautyof the latter-are superficialby today'sstanuglinessof the former,
dardsis not thepoint;thesewereculturallysanctionedreasons,coded normsthat
in themselvesreflecta suspectview of women as externalizedbeingswithoutinteriority.
Suspect as these normsare, however,theyallow the commentatorsa
code in which to expressFrancesca'slegitimatesense of outrage. By the same
token,farfromdownplayingthepoliticalaspect of thisnarrative,Boccaccio underscoresit in a bid forsympathyforhis heroine,accentuatingthe brutalityof
29 Russo makes the connectionto Ghismonda,notingsimilarities
in
of characterthatare reflected
identicaldescriptions:"[Francesca] e 'd'altiero animo' cosi come Ghismondae d"animo altiero' "
("Nuclei e scheminarrativinelleEsposizioni,"p. 163).
18
Dante and Francescada Rimini
Guido da Polenta'spoliticalschemingand hisconnivingindifference
to hisdaughter'swelfare.Her romanticinclinationsare viewedin a moresympathetic
and less
self-indulgent
lightagainstthe backdropof herfather'sunvarnishedcruelty.
Let us turnnow to the latentpresenceof the historicalFrancescain the Commedia. Inferno5 revealsits suregripof politicalrealitiesthroughitscast of characters:thegroupof souls to whichFrancescabelongsincludesthreerulingqueens.
What Semiramis,empressof Assyria,Dido, founderaridqueen of Carthage,and
Cleopatra,queen of Egypt,have in commonis thateach sooneror laterruledin
herown right;each was a wielderof power.Theyare all, in thissense,masculine
women;thename "Dido" was glossedbyServiusas meaning" 'virago,'a woman
who has done somethingmasculine."30Dante calls Semiramis"empressof many
tongues"and underlinesthatshe was firstNirius'swifeand thenbecamehis successor,in which capacityshe "held the land that the Sultan now commands":
"succedettea Nino e fu sua sposa: / tennela terrache '1 Soldan corregge"(Inf.
5.59-60). Semiramisis thus doublymanlike,firstin beingsuccessorto herhusband and second in holdingthe land now held by the sultan. Semiramisand
Francescaare textuallylinkedthroughtheword terra,whichrecursin thiscanto
to describethe land of Francesca'sbirth,the citywhose politicalfortunesdeterminedherdestiny,
not because she took poweroverit butsimplybecauseshewas
born there:"Siede la terradove nata fui...." These are Francesca'sfirstwords,
wordsin whichsheidentifies
herselfnot byname,as so manycharactersin Dante's
poem do, butbytheplace thatdefinesher.The different
statusofthesetwowomen
is fullyexpressedin theirrelationto the word terra:on the one hand "tennela
terra"speaks of agency,power,and possession;on theotherFrancesca'ssenseof
selfis mediatedthroughher positionin a familydynastythatrendersher powerless,possessed,and controlled.
Dante was astutein takingthe measureof the lords of Romagna, who,were
known throughoutEurope for their murderousand treacherousquarrels.31
Amongthe lowesttraitorsin hell is Alberigode' Manfrediof Faenza, the "frate
Alberigo"whom Dante calls the "worstspiritof Romagna" ("[il] peggiorespirto
30 MarilynnDesmond,Reading
Dido: Gender,Textuality,
and theMedieval "Aeneid"(Minneapolis,
1994), p. 83. In hertreatment
of Dido in Inferno5, Desmond claimsthatDante allows Dido agency:
"But Inferno5 categorizesthe sinnersin the second circleforthe factthattheyallowed theirreason
to be overcomeby desire,a contextthat assignsDido the positionof subjectratherthan object of
desire" (p. 96). The "intenseengagementwithVirgil'stextand Dido as itsfemaleprotagonist"(p. 97)
thatDesmond discernsin canto 5 is a key factorin dictatinga femaleprotagonistforthe canto. In
manyrespectsFrancesca,who comes to Dante from"la schieraov'e Dido" (Inf. 5.85), is a modern
correlativeof Dido, "che s'ancise amorosa" (Inf.5.61): bothfigurethelinkbetweendesireand death.
The two differmostmarkedlyin theirrelationto power;in thiscontextDido comes intoplay as what
Francescawas not.
31 See John Larner,The Lords of Romagna: Romagnol Societyand the Origins of the Signorie
(Ithaca,N.Y., 1965), pp. 71-72, who writes:"A Frenchlegateofthefourteenth
centurydid notscruple
to comparethem[theRomagnols]to theEnglish:'so treacherousand extravagant,are they,'he wrote,
'that in feastingand falsehoodtheyare littledifferent
fromEnglishmen.But theyare much more
cunning,and withno shadow of doubt more intelligent
than the English,so thatin reputationand
performance,
theyhold themonarchyofperfidy
amongotherItalians.''An old proverb,'wroteMatteo
Villani,'says thatthe Romagnol bears his faithin his breast.One should not be surprisedthatthe
tyrantsof Romagna lack faith,sincetheyare bothtyrantsand Romagnols.' "
Dante and Francescada Rimini
19
di Romagna"[Inf.33.154]);heheldtheinfamous
dinner
partyat whichthefruit
coursewas thesignalto killhiscousinand otherguests.(As we shallsee,dinner
Another
Romagnoloamongthe
partiesofthissortwerea Romagnoltrademark.)
is Tebaldellode' Zambrasi,also ofFaenza,who openedthegatesofhis
traitors
townto Guelfenemyforces"whileitslept"("ch'apriFaenzaquandosi dormia"
[Inf.32.123]).In TheLordsofRomagnaJohnLarnerpointsoutthatTebaldello
one
Zanbrasina[sic],toTanodiUgolinodiFantolino,
"hadmarried
hisdaughter
of theGuelfleaderswho enteredthetown,and hisfellowcitizensshouldhave
to
werehardlylikelyto be subordinated
realisedthathis new familyinterests
interests
arerelevant
to our
idealsofloyalty"(p. 46). Tebaldello's
family
abstract
after
Zambrasina,
sincetheyeventually
coincided
withMalatestainterests:
-story,
therecent
widowerGianciotto
Malatesta,andborehim
beingwidowed,married
fivechildren,
thusachievingtheuniquestatusof beingwifeof one traitorin
ofanother.32
Dante'shelland daughter
andtreachmostconsistently
linkedbyDantetocruelty
TheRomagnoldynasty
In Inferno
27's catalogueofRomagnoltyrants
Malaeryis theMalatestaclan.33
thefirst
and secondlordsof
testada Verucchio
and hiseldestson Malatestino,
in
who "makean augeroftheirteeth,"whousetheirteeth,
Rimini,aremastiffs
bore
otherwords,to piercetheirsubjects'fleshas a toolwitha screwpointmight
wood. And,whilein canto27 theMalatestaareone ofa groupofcasthrough
in canto 28 Dantesinglesthemout,describing
at lengthone of
tigatedtiranni,
Pier
thetypical
means:betrayal.
achievedthrough
Malatestino's
politicalmurders
da Medicina34
tellsthepilgrim
to warnthe"twobestmenofFano" thattheyare
d'untito be killed"through
thetreachery
of an eviltyrant"("pertradimento
is further
described
as "thattraitor
whosees
rannofello"[Inf.28.81]); thetyrant
withbutoneeye"("Quel traditor
chevedepurconl'uno" [line85])-a reference
to Malatestino,
who had onlyone eyeand was therefore
knownas Malatestino
to a
dall'Occhio.The menwillbe drowned,saysPiero,afterbeingsummoned
a parlamento
seco" [line88]); theparconference
witlh
Malatestino
("faravenirli
inin traitorous
leyis a particularly
tellingdetailsincetheMalatestaspecialized
is therhetoric
thatDanteemploysforthiscrime.He
Alsonoteworthy
vitations.
as heinousfromoneendoftheMediterinvokesNeptune,whohas seennothing
raneanto theother:"Tral'isoladi Ciprie di Maiolica/nonvidemaisi granfallo
theislandsofCyprus
/nonda pirate,nonda genteargolica"("Between
Nettuno,
32
Zambrasina'sfirsthusbandwas Tano (Ottaviano) dei Fantolini,son of theUgolinode' Fantolini
whom Guido del Duca apostrophizesin Purgatorio14, callinghim securein his good name because
Tebaldello,in 1282, in thebattle
of the deathsof his male heirs.He died,along withhis father-in-law
of Forli to which Dante refersin Inferno27.43-44. Thus Tebaldello was no longerpursuingany
interestswhen his daughtermarriedGianciottocirca 1286. See Torraca,"Le rimembranzedi Guido
del Duca," in Studidanteschi,pp. 137-71, esp. p. 168.
33 Ignazio Baldellicomments
sui Malatesta (e su chi era
that"Dante, per altro,insistespietatamente
traditori";see "Dante, i Guidi e i Malatesta," in Annalidella
con loro connesso) come naturalmente
Scuola Normale Superioredi Pisa, Classe di Letteree Filosofia,series3, 18/3(1988), 1067-70; and
Dante e Francesca(Florence,1999).
34 Pierda Medicina has not been clearlyidentified;
it is interesting
to notethatBenvenutoindirectly
who used negotiationsbetween
linkshimto Francesca.DepictingPiero as a Romagnoltroublemaker
the powerfulas an opportunityto sow discord,Benvenutooffersan extendednarrativeof Piero's
warningMalatesta da VerucchioagainstGuido da Polentaand vice versa.
20
Dante and Francescada Rimini
and MajorcaNeptuneneversaw so greata crime,notbypiratesnorbyArgolic
hereis a kindofinfernal
pendanttohis
horror
folk"[Inf.28.82-84]). Neptune's
amazement
at theendoftheParadiso,in a passagewheretheearlier"genteartheship,theArgo:"la 'mpresa/ che f6Nettuno
golica" are recalledthrough
thatmadeNeptunewonderat the
ammirarl'ombrad'Argo"("the enterprise
betweenthesepassages
shadowof theArgo"[Par.33.95-96]). The similarities
ofMalatestino,
whichbecomesa
on thetreachery
confera striking
importance
retrospective
emblemforhell.
is mostcompreof Romagnaas thecradleof Italiantyranny
The indictment
27's catalogueoftheregion's
principal
preciseinInferno
hensiveand historically
as response
toGuidoda Montefeltro's
query"dimmi
towns,offered
bythepilgrim
havepeaceor war"
hanpace o guerra"("TellmeifRomagnoles
se Romagnuoli
war
in theheartsofits
is
free
of
[Inf.27.28]). Romagna notand has neverbeen
Dante says-"Romagna tua non e, e non fumai, /sanza guerrane' cuor
tyrants,
de' suoi tiranni"(lines37-38)-alluding withtheword "tiranni"to theprocess
Larnerdescribesas "the breakdownof thecommunesthroughfactions,and the
governments."35
firststagesin theslow emergenceofthesignorie,or single-person
P. J.Jones,in TheMalatestaofRiminiand thePapal State,callsRomagna"the
provincemostearlyaddictedto despots" and says that"its chronicwar [Dante]
rightlysees as the feudingof tiranni."36 The Inferno'scatalogue of Romagnol
towns,or despotisms,beginswith Francesca'snatal Ravenna and thenliststhe
others,not as theyfollowthe Via Emilia runningalong the Apenninefoothills,
butratherin theorderForli,Rimini,Faenza, Imola, and Cesena;37thelast'sfragile
communeallows Dante to circle back fromindividualtyrantsto tyrannyas a
genericcursewiththe verse "tra tiranniasi vive e stato franco"("[Cesena] lives
betweentyrannyand freedom"[line54]). He conjuresthetownsthrougha comthesignorial
binationofgeographical,historical,dynastic,and heraldicreferences;
with
of arms.
animals
associated
their
coats
familiesare figuredby predatory
The Polenta are representedby an eagle thatbroods over Ravenna and covers
nearbyCervia,too, withitswings:"l'aguglia da Polentala si cova, /si che Cervia
ricuopreco' suoi vanni" (Inf. 27.41-42). Benvenutoda Imola, who writeswith
particularauthorityabout his home province,considerstheeagle a symbolof the
Polenta family'sbeneficent
rule and a complimentto Guido Novello da Polenta
(Dante's host duringhis finalyears),and it is truethatthe eagle's wingsare less
35 Larner,The Lords of Romagna,pp. 1-2. As LarnerdescribesRomagna: "The collapse ofimperial
power,which had neverbeen strong,the failureof Bologna (1248-78), and thenof the papacy,to
dominatethe province,meantthattherewas no centralauthorityto bringorderin place of anarchy.
By the end of the thirteenth
century,
leadersof the factionshad obtainedfullcontrolof theirtowns,
and had begunto dominatethemthroughtheircommunalmachinery.
These men can be called 'tyrants"' (p. 77).
36 P. J. Jones,The Malatesta of Riminiand the Papal State: A PoliticalHistory(Cambridge,Eng.,
1974), p. 11.
37 Ravenna is the only major town of Romagna not on the Via Emilia,the Roman road thatruns
fromRiminion the Adriaticalong the line of the Apenninefoothillstoward Bologna. Dante's geographicalprecisionleads himto includethreeof the fiveriversof whichLarnerwrites:"To meetthe
townsupon theroad, fiveriversflowedfromthemountains:theMarecchia,Savio, Montone,Lamone,
and Santerno"(p. 2).
Dante and Francescada Rimini
21
ferocious-if no less restrictive-thanthe "greenclaws" of theOrdelaffiof Forli
or the "younglion" who representsthe lord of Faenza. It is also true,however,
thatthePolentanibehavedmuchas theotherdespotsin theregion.Thus,Jones's
accountof theirriseto power: "Politicallytheyrose firstas clientsof theTraverof
sari,sharinga place by 1215 in thecouncilof thecommunewithmembership
the episcopal curia; and with the 'pars Traversariorum'theycontinuedto long
collaborate afterits fall in 1240, in oppositionto the Ghibellinecounts of Bagnacavallo. But eventually,
in theway of all Italian faction,the partydivided.In
1274 theTraversariwereexpelled;and thefollowingyearthePolenta,armedwith
in Ravenna,
outsidehelp (fromtheMalatesta), seizedpower (dominium)forcibly
at the same timetakingComacchio" (p. 18). This bit of historyis particularly
relevantto our story,for the year in which the Polenta, with the help of the
Malatesta,seizedpowerin Ravennawas 1275, thesameyearin whichthealliance
of the two ambitiousdynastieswas furtherreinforcedthroughthe marriageof
Francescada Polentato GianciottoMalatesta.38
However we read Dante's image of the Polenta eagle, therecan be no doubt
thathe reserveshis mostsanguinaryand menacingdescriptionfortheMalatesta:
"E '1 mastin'vecchio e '1 nuovo da Verrucchio,/ che fecerdi Montagna il mal
governo,/ la dove soglion fan d'i dentisucchio" (Inf. 27.46-48).39 And, while
Ravenna is describedas politicallystable("Ravenna sta come statae molt'anni";
thatlends
"Ravenna is as ithas beenformanyyears"[line40]), a characterization
authorityto Polenta rule,the terceton Riminifixeson the foundationalact of
treacherythroughwhich,in 1295, Malatesta da Verucchioconsolidatedhis family'spower overthecity.Essentially,
theMalatesta seized dominionby becoming
theParcitadi,an old
Guelfand defeatingthefamilyalignedwiththeGhibellines,40
and powerfulimperialist
clan thatMalatestada Verucchiodidnothesitateto crush
despitehis connectionto it throughhis firstwife.41The leader of the Parcitadi
treatso evilly.In
factionwas theMontagna de' Parcitadiwhom Dante's mastiffs
38 "It was probablyat thistime[1275], as a seal to thealliance of theda Polentaand theMalatesti,
thatFrancesca,daughterof Guido da Polenta,marriedGiovanniScianciotto,'theLame,' son ofMalatesta da Verucchio"(Larner,The Lords of Romagna, p. 37). For a more detailedaccount of Guido
Minore's riseto power,see AugustoTorre,I Polentanifinoal tempodi Dante (Florence,1966), pp.
73-76.
39 "And the old mastiff
and the new of Verucchio,who dealt withMontagna so evilly,make their
alone among theanimalsin thecatalogueseem
teethinto augerswheretheyare wont." The mastiffs
not to be connectedto the family'scoat of arms,makingthe choice on the partof the poet themore
noteworthy.
40 One should bear in mindthat,in the contextof Romagna, "theTuscan terms'Guelf' and 'Ghibelline,' with theirideological undertones,[were] later and adventitious"(Jones,The Malatesta of
Riminiand the Papal State,pp. 14-15); " 'Ghibelline'and 'Guelf' were names withoutpoliticalor
social significance"(Jones,p. 19).
41 Malatesta da Verucchio'sfirstwife (and motherof fiveof his children,includingMalatestino,
daughteroftheimperialvicecomesofRomagna.
Gianciotto,and Paolo) was Concordia di Enrichetto,
On hermother'sside she was a Parcitade.See Massera, "Note malatestiane,"esp. pp. 3-20, "Le mogli
di Malatesta da Verucchio."Joneswritesthat,although"[Concordia's] marriagewithMalatesta da
Verucchio[was designed]in orderto preventthe defectionof Malatesta to the Guelfs,"it was not
successfulin that regardand that "Concordia's death about 1265 was soon to removewhat frail
restraintupon hostilityshe may have been" (The Malatesta of Riminiand thePapal State,p. 30).
22
Dante and Francescada Rimini
theirquarrelwiththeMalatesta theParcitadiappealed forhelpto thegreatGhibellinewarlordand leader in Romagna, Guido da Montefeltro,who "had longpersonaland public,"withtheMalatesta.42Accordingto the
standingdifferences,
Cronaca malatestiana,the followersof both facanonymousfourteenth-century
tions were barricadedin the streetsof Rimini,while the Parcitadiawaited the
arrivalof Guido. Takingadvantageof a disturbancecaused bytheattemptoftwo
asses to mate,Malatesta made a falsepeace withhis opponents,so that "miser
Parcitadowroteto theConte Guido thankinghimand explainingthatpeace had
been made so thatforthepresenthe need not come" ("miserParcitadorescrisse
al conteGuido rengraziandoloe dicendocomo aveva factopaxe, si che al presente
la sua venutanon era de bisogno").43Malatesta thenhid a portionof his troops
in his house and lefttown with the remainder,but he went only threemiles,
returnedthatnight,and killedhis rivalsas theysoughtto flee.
The hybridnatureof what we call historyis beautifullyexemplifiedby the
presenceof Benvenuto'scommentaryto Inferno27 in historicalreconstructions
of the Malatesta takeoverof Rimini:thusJones'saccount of the imprisonment
and deathof Montagna de' Parcitadirelieson Benvenuto'sgloss to Dante's verse
"che fecerdi Montagna il mal governo."44 And,at thesame timethatthecontaminatednatureof historycomes into focus,we also see theremarkableand unexploitedhistoricaldensityof Dante's poetry;thedrama of Guido da Montefeltro's
falseconversionin the latterpartof canto 27, forinstance,is ripefora reexaminationthatreadshis storyagainstthecanto'searlierprobingofRomagnolhistory.
thattakes
Thereis, to myknowledge,no readingofDante's Guido da Montefeltro
intoaccounthiscrucialrolein a historicalprocessthatDante deplored:ofGuido's
of local intoregional
impacton Romagna,Joneswritesthatthe "transformation
signoriawas mainlythe work of one man."45By the same token,thereis no
thefactthatwhenthepilgrim,speakingto Guido da
readingthatreallyconfronts
Montefeltro,refersto the "lunga prova" enduredby Forli beforeit reducedthe
to eventsin whichhistorians
Frenchto a "sanguinosomucchio,"he is referring
thecentral-indeed epic-role.46 Butthat
assignthatsame Guido da Montefeltro
Jones,The Malatesta of Riminiand thePapal State,p. 38.
A translationof thechronicle'saccountof 13 December1295 is inJones,The MalatestaofRimini
and thePapal State,p. 39; theoriginalis in Cronaca malatestiana,ed. Aldo FrancescoMassera,Rerum
ItalicorumScriptores,15/2(Bologna, 1922), pp. 5-7 (thequoted sentenceis on p. 6).
44 See Jones,The Malatesta of Riminiand the Papal State, p. 40; see also Larner,The Lords of
Romagna,p. 53, n. 53.
45 Jones,The Malatesta of Riminiand the Papal State,p. 17. For the "long conflictbetweentk&
untilthe end of the cenMalatesta and Guido da Montefeltro,
whichwas to continueintermittently
tury,"see Jones,pp. 33-34. Even the imageryof canto 27 can be contextualizedwith respectto
contemporary
politics:forinstance,Jonesmentionsa Ghibellinepoem that "sets out to contrastthe
two captains,Guido 'leone' and Malatesta da Verucchio'veltro"' (p. 34); in Inferno27 Malatesta is
ratherthan a veltro,while Guido famouslysays thathis deeds "non furonleonine,ma di
a mastiff,
volpe" (p. 75).
46 Forli is "the citythatalreadystood long trialand made of the Frencha bloodyheap" ("La terra
che fegia la lungaprova /e di Franceschisanguinosomucchio" [Inf.27.43-44]). I am notsuggesting
thatDante views Guido da Montefeltro'sleadershipat Forlinegatively;rather,the historicalcontext
revealsto what degreeGuido is a complexly"epic" figure,more like Ulysses,his companionin the
bolgia of fraudulentcounselors,thanwe realize.The mosthistoricallyastutereadingof canto 27 to
42
43
Dante and Francescada Rimini
23
is a different
storyfromthe one thatI am tracing,albeitconnectedto it because
of theconnectionsbetweenall thetyrantsof Romagna: theywereeitherallied,as
weretheGuelfPolentaniwiththeGuelfMalatesta,or theywereenemies,as were
Malatesta da Verucchioand Guido da Montefeltro.
This is theculturalbackdropagainstwhichFrancescada Polentaplayeda historicallyinsignificant
role. On thisbrutalstage,shewas thesmallestofbitplayers.
Of the familyfromwhichshe emergedLarnerwrites,"[T]he treacheriesamong
the da Polenta familyassume at timesthe scale and improbability
of Victorian
melodrama";of thefamilyintowhichshe marriedhe continues,"The same murIf we followthefortunesof
derousquarrelswere to splittheMalatestifamily."47
theMalatesta in theyearsfollowingMalatesta da Verucchio'sdeathin 1312, we
finda clan rivenby rivalriesand addictedto the use of treacheryforresolving
problemsof succession.Malatesta da Verucchio'seldest son, Malatestino dall'Occhio, was secondlord of Rimini,followedbyhis halfbrotherPandolfo(a son
ofMalatesta da Verucchio'ssecondmarriage),who was thirdlordofRimini.After
contestedamongMaMalatestinoand Pandolfo,sole ruleof Riminiwas fiercely
latestada Verucchio'sgrandsons,the cousinsFerrantino(son of Malatestinodall'Occhio), Ramberto(son of Gianciotto),and Malatesta (son of Pandolfo).Following the sinisterfamilyetiquetteof issuing invitationsand then killingthe
relativeswho showed up, ascendancywas ultimatelywrestedby Pandolfo'sson
Malatesta,who was giventhename "Guastafamiglia"forhis labors.48
Historycould notprovidea moreappropriateglossto Francesca'sverse"Caina
lord
fifth
attendechi a vitaci spense" thanthenameofMalatesta Guastafamiglia,
of Rimini,whose ruthlesswillingnessto destroyhis family-guastare la famiglia-established the supremacyof his line. If Gianciottois destinedforCaina,
named forthe firstfratricide,
it is because his was a crimenot of passion but of
betrayal,not hot but cold. Francesca'sindictmentof her husband has troubled
readers,who have oftentakenit as an anomalous expressionof deplorablevindictivenesson thepartof an otherwiserefinedand "feminine"nature;some have
claimedthatDante was undulyharshtowardGianciotto,notingthatthecontemto wrongedhusbandsand punishesuxporaryItalian penal code is sympathetic
oricidemuchmoremildlythanDante.49However,ratherthanindicatingFrancemyknowledgeis FrancescoTorraca's;see "II canto XXVII dell'Inferno,"in Studidanteschi,pp. 30546, and also "II sanguinosomucchio,"in Studidanteschi,pp. 109-21. It is not coincidentalthatthe
two cantosto whichTorraca,a studentof Romagna,devotesin-depthreadingsare Inferno5 and 27;
theseare, withPurgatorio14 (see n. 32 above), thecantos of Romagna.
47 Larner describesthe quarrelsfor successionamong the PolentaniafterDante's death,first
the
amongOstasio's
oustingofDante's patron,Guido Novello,byhiscousinOstasio,and thenthefighting
sons; see The Lords of Roinagna,pp. 68-69.
48 AftertellingMalatesta Guastafamiglia's
story,Massera notes of his moniker:"Cosi era meritamentesoprannominato'communiter'Malatesta" (see "Note malatestiane,"p. 48, n. 2).
49 Corrado Ricci, writing
in 1891, wonderswhy Gianciottois not pitiedratherthan condemned,
and notes that he would be absolved by "today's tribunals": "Perche tanta pieta per la coppia
d'Ariminoe nemmenouna scusa per la giusta vendettadi Gianciotto?Perchecondannarequesto
disgraziato,che i tribunalid'oggi assolverebbero,con una frasecruda e spietataad esserfittonel duro
gelo della Caina, mentreal fratelloche l'oltraggi6nell'onoresi concede anche oltretombadi stare
insiemea Francesca?" (L'ultimorifugiodi Dante, p. 119). As recentlyas 1965 Nevio Matteiniclaims
Italianpenal code, which,he says,
indulgenceforbetrayedhusbandsand commendsthecontemporary
24
Dante and Francescada Rimini
thestatement"Caina attendechi a vitaci spense" can be seen
sca's vindictiveness,
Malatesta pracappraisal of entrenched
a lucid and clear-sighted
as constituting
tice: thisis a familyin whichfamilymemberskilledeach otherwithharrowing
and thehistory
Again,Inferno5 is tellingus somethingabout history,
regularity.
of Malatesta da Verucchio'sgrandsonsprovidesthe most compellinggloss to
Dante's words,fornot onlydid GianciottokillPaolo, but Gianciotto'sson killed
Paolo's son. The struggleforpoweramongthecousinswas so fierce,and betrayal
thatGianciotto'sson Rambertowould eventuallyinvitePaolo's son
so customary,
Uberto to dinnerand there,in concertwith other familymembers,have him
killed.50
In thisculturalcontextthe murderof Francescada Polenta in Malatesta was
not a seriousmatter.As we have alreadyseen,it did not preventGianciottofrom
and producingheirs.Francesca'sone child,her daughterConcordia,
remarrying
In fact,Francesca'sdeathincurredfewerpolitical
was ofno politicalimportance.51
consequencesfortheMalatesta thanPaolo's murder:Paolo's heirs,thecountsof
Ghiaggiolo,remainedpoliticallyhostileto the Malatesta of Rimini,52while the
withthe Malatesta.s3In Francesca's
Polentanicontinuedto ally and intermarry
"La coscienza umana e le stesseleggiscritte
would sentenceGianciottoto fouryears'imprisonment:
riconosconouna certaindulgenzaai maritiquando, nel cospettoe nell'ira,lavano col sanguela gravisa Gianciottola pena della reclusionea quattro
sima ingiuria.I1 codice italiano di oggi irrogherebbe
anni circa (art. 587 e art. 62 bis)" (Francescada Rimini:Storia,mito,arte,p. 87). Matteinigoes on
to explainthatthechurch,too, was less severetowarduxoricidethanDante.
50 Larner describesthe event: "Uberto, Count of Giaggiolo, son of Paolo Malatesta, came into
conflictwithMalatestinodell' Occhio overthepossessionof Cesena. In 1324, he was treatingsecretly
with his cousin Ramberto,the son of GiancottoMalatesta, on means by whichtheymightdeprive
Pandolfoof his rulein Rimini.ButUbertowas foolishto trusttheson oftheman who had murdered
his own father.On 21 January,Rambertoinvitedhim to his castle at Ciolaradi, near Roncofreddo,
and had himmurderedas he dined,bythreebastardsof thefamily"(The Lords of Romagna,pp. 6970).
51 Toninidisputesthe existenceof a son named Francesco(included,however,
byVasina in theED
will;.see Della storia
entryforGianciotto),and in factonly Concordia is named in hergrandfather's
civilee sacra riminese,3:256. Toninialso suggeststhatConcordia'sname is in honorofMalatesta da
Verucchio'sfirstwife(3:259).
52 In 1269 Paolo marriedOrabile,the daughter
and heirof thelast countof Ghiaggiolo.As a result
Paolo's heirswere the counts of Ghiaggiolo,and, as Joneswrites:"His prematuredeath, and the
and hostility
mannerof it,wereto makehis principallegacyto theMalatesta ofRiminitheresentment
oftheneighbouring
countsofGhiaggiolo"(The MalatestaofRiminiand thePapal State,p. 37). During
the Malatesta battlesforsuccession,Paolo's son Uberto,countof Ghiaggiolo,allied himselfwiththe
Ghibellines.As we have seen (n. 50 above), he was killedby the Malatesta in the standardfashion;
Jonesnotesthat"he lefta son, Ramberto,to carryon thefeud" (p. 56).
53 Historianspay lip serviceto the idea of a rupture
betweenthe Polentaniand theMalatesta over
Francesca'sdeathbut offerno proof;one has theimpressionthattheyare projectingwhattheybelieve
historianof Ravenna Girolamo
should have happened.Thus Torre,followingthe sixteenth-century
Rossi (who adhered,as was common,to the 1289 date of deathforFrancescathatwe now know to
be impossible),writes:"All'anno 1289 e precisamente
alla secondameta. .. il Rossi assegnal'uccisione
di Francescada Riminie quindi la rotturadell'amiciziafrai Polentanie i Malatesti,rotturache non
potevaprotrarsimolto,data la coincidenzadegliinteressipolitici"(I Polentanifinoal tempodi Dante,
p. 106). Larner,too, assumes the ruptureand writes,providingno explanation,"In March 1290
Malatesta made peace withthe da Polenta,on the issue of Francesca'smurder"(The Lords of Romagna,p. 53).
Dante and Francescada Rimini
25
own generationtherewas a double intermarriage
betweenthePolentaniand the
Malatesta: her brotherBernardinoda Polenta was marriedto Maddalena Malatesta,a daughterofMalatesta da Verucchio,and was a usefulallyto theMalatesta,
helpingthemto subdue the castle of Sogliano in 1312, long afterFrancesca's
death.54Bernardino'sson, Ostasio, who took controlof Ravenna fromhis cousin
Guido Novello byforce(bothmenwerenephewsof Francesca),was a strongally
of Malatesta Guastafamiglia;it was with the help of Ostasio da Polenta that
Guastafamigliawas able to completehis work againstthe descendantsof Malatestinodall'Occhio, imprisoningFerrantinoand murderinghis son and grandson.55
-My pointabout theinsignificance
of Francescain thishistoryis made indirectly
but decisivelyby the chronicles.The "firstand most authoritative
chroniclerof
Rimini"is, as we have seen,thefourteenth-century
historianMarco Battagli,who
composed "On the Originsof theMalatesta" ("De originedominorumde Malatestis")in 1352.56Battaglialludes to the eventin whichFrancescadied without
namingher,indeed withoutacknowledgingher existence,except as an implicit
cause of Paolo's death,whichoccurred"causa luxurie": "Paulus autemfuitmortuus per fratremsuum JohannemZottum causa luxurie" ("Paolo was killedby
his brotherGiovannithe Lame, on account of lust"). Paolo's death is registered
because it affectsthe succession,and the sentencereferring
to it is sandwiched
betweenothereventsof Malatesta dynasticsuccession:
DominusautemMalatestavixitannisC et plus;cui successerunt
Malatestinus
et Pandolfus.Paulusautemfuitmortuus
suumlohannem
Zottumcausa luxurie.
perfratrem
indominiopostea
Qui Paulushabuitindotemcomitatum
Glazoli.MortuoMalatestino
successit
Pandulfus.
(LordMalatestalivedonehundred
yearsand more;to himsucceeded
Malatestino
and
Pandolfo.Paolo was killedbyhisbrother
GiovannitheLame,on accountoflust.The
samePaolo received
in dowrythecountyof Ghiaggiolo.
On thedeathofMalatestino
Pandolfosucceeded
as lord.... )57
54Jones, The Malatesta of Rimnini
and the Papal State, p. 48. The grandson of Malatestino
dall'Occhio was marriedto the daughterof Guido Novello. See Massera, "Note malatestiane,"p. 30;
Jones,p. 56 n; and Larner;The Lords of Romagna,p. 70.
55 "At the beginningof June1334 Malatesta Guastafamiglia,
in concertwithOstasio da Polenta,
suddenlyseized Ferrantino,his son Malatestinoand his grandsonGuido, and confinedthemto the
castle of Gradara. Ferrantinowas later released in January1336, but the otherswere removedto
Fossombroneand thereput to death" (Jones,The Malatestaof Rimnini
and thePapal State,p. 60). For
a fulland movingdescriptionof theseeventsand theongoingstruggleofFerrantino's
surviving
grandson, FerrantinoNovello, see Massera, "Note malatestiane,"esp. pp. 32-48, "La guerramalatestiana
nel contado di Riminideglianni 1334-1343."
56 Massera calls Battagli's"la prima e piiuautorevolecronaca riminese"in "Note malatestiane,"
p. 3.
57 Marcha, p. 31. BenjaminKohl's assessment,
as expressedto me in a letter,thatBattaglihereis
"clearlyreportingpoliticalanecdotesfromtheRomagna" seemsfullyjustified.At thesame time,one
wonderswhetherBattagli'schoice ofwords,especiallythetechnicalreference
to luxuria,mightnotbe
influencedby Dante's placementof Paolo and Francescain his Inferno.This is thepassage thatelicits
Massera's note: "E' questa la notiziapiuiantica della tragediache ci rimanga,eccezionfattadei commentatoridell'Inferno,in fontistoriche"(p. 31).
26
Dante and Francescada Rimini
Like Battagli,theauthorof the Cronaca malatestianarefersto thekillingofPaolo
and Francescain passing;while at least accordingFrancescaa role in thedrama,
to hermerelyas wife,"la donna sua":
he, too, dispenseswithhername,referring
et era tantoamato,chenonse poria
signored'Arimino,
Fo factoel dittoMalatestino
trovoPauloso
contare.Acaddecaso cos'ifacto,ch'eldittoZannesancadosuo fratello
fratello
conla donnasua etabelomortosubito,luie la donnasua.
Malatestino
wasmadelordofRimini,
andhewasmorelovedthan
(Theaforementioned
Giannithelame,
It happenedthathisbrother,
theaforementioned
one couldrecount.
killedhim,himandhislady.)58
withhisladyandimmediately
foundPaolo hisbrother
Francesca,then,was preservedby Dante, who recordshername and saves her
fromconsignmentto historicaloblivion.She became a culturaltouchstoneand
of the fifthcanto of the Inferno,a text
referencepointthroughthe intervention
thatboth conjuresthe historythatwe have been tracingand invertsit,givingto
Francescaa dignityand a prominence-a celebrity-thatin real lifeshe did not
possess. In real lifeherdeathwas less importantthanthatof Paolo, who was yet
the least importantof Malatesta da Verucchio'ssons, promptingJonesto note,
"He was less activethantheothermembersof his family,"and to commentthus
and the
on the difference
betweenPaolo and his brothers:"The mostresourceful
mostconsistentallies of Malatesta da Verucchiowerehis othersons,Malatestino
dall'Occhio (the One-eyed)and Gianciotto,both of whom were warriors,ambitious,able and ruthless,as portrayedin the pages of Dante, and one or otherof
themwas always presentwithhim at the criticalmomentsin his riseto power"
(p. 37). Dante capturesthe lesserpoliticalprofileof thehistoricalPaolo in canto
5's muteand ineffectual
weeper;moreover,hisstoryof loversambushedand murderedin a privateand presumablysafe place-"soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto" ("alone we were and withoutsuspicion" [Inf.5.129])-is a chillingevocation of the Malatesta habit of familialexecution.But the energyand forceof
Dante's Francescaare whollyincompatiblewiththelow dynasticstatusand faint
politicalresonanceof the historicalFrancesca,who is named in familyand contemporarydocumentsonlyonce, withrespectto herdowry.The dynasty'sfounding patriarchMalatesta da Verucchio,who died in 1312 at age one hundred,
mentionsFrancesca'sdowryin his will of 1311, wherehe enjoinsConcordiaand
herfivehalfsiblings(thechildrenof Gianciottoand Zambrasina) to resolveamicablyany issuesrelatingto theinheritanceof Francesca'sdowry.59This reference
to Francesca,in which she existsonly in functionof her dowry-"pro dotibus
olim dominaeFrancischae"("regardingthedowryof thelate ladyFrancesca")
is theonlyhistoricaldocumentto recordhername.
58 The quotation is frompage 8. It is worthnotingthat the author of the Cronaca malatestiana
of Montagna he approvinglyciteson page 7.
certainlyknewDante, whose verseson thetreatment
59AugustoVasina citesfromMalatesta's will in the entry"Concordia Malatesta" (ED 3:783). The
sectionthat names Francesca reads: "pro dotibus olim dominae Francischaeab eo receptis,uxoris
olim lohannis dictisui filiiet matrisdictae dominae Concordiae" ("regardingthe dowryof the late
lady Francesca,wifeof the late aforementioned
Johnhis son and motherof the aforementioned
lady
Concordia,thattheyhave receivedfromhim"). The entirewill may be foundin Tonini,Della storia
civilee sacra riminese,4 (Rimini,1880), appendixpp. 21-35; discussionof the will is on pp. 27779.
Dante and Francescada Rimini
27
Francesca'sname thus becomes the hallmarkof Dante's achievement,forthe
name thatis missingfromthe local chroniclesand contemporary
historiesis the
onlyname connectedto thisstorythatInferno
5 sees fitto registerand preserve,
inscribedforall time-all history-intothegreatpoem: "Francesca,i tuoimartirn
I is thisdisparitybetweenreal lifeand Dante's poem-between absence in
. ."Jt
the formerand presencein thelatter-that allows a genderedview of canto 5 to
come into focus,not the spuriouslygenderedreadingwherebyFrancesca'ssex
takes her offthe moral hook, but a truegenderedreadingbased on her:herhistoricalexistence,heridentity,
hername. Again,letme make perfectly
clearthatI
am notarguingagainstthenongenderedreadingoftheepisode.Francescasignifies
thienexus of desireand death forany reader,male or female.She raisesissuesof
moralagencyand responsibility
forany reader,male or female.The male pilgrim
faintsat thecanto'send because he is likeFrancesca,not because he is unlikeher.
Textually,this identityis reinforcedby Francesca'suse of language taken from
love poetrythatwas read by-and even writtenby-Dante. As a representation
of the Cavalcantianlove thatleads to death,as a figurewhose "Amor condusse
noi ad una morte" echoes Cavalcanti's "Di sua potenza segue spesso morte,"
Francescais not gendered.Rather,she is the avatar of a persona thathad been
Dante's own.60
And yetFrancescais not casually female;her story,as Dante delineatesit, is
profoundlygendered.The storyis thatof a woman trappedbetweenthepatriarchal cohstraintsof an arrangeddynasticmarriagein whichpersonalfulfillment
is
utterlyirrelevantand her desiresforromanticlove, that is, fora love thatshe
perceivesas takingaccount of and respondingto her unique personhood.The
factsthatDante chose to tell Francesca'sstoryat all and thathe chose to giveit
those particularcontoursare extraordinarily
significant,
since he therebyraises
all the genderedand ideological issues connectedto romance.AlthoughJanice
Radway,writingabout contemporary
romancenovels,maintainsthat"all popular
romanticfictionoriginatesin thefailureof patriarchalcultureto satisfyitsfemale
in ascertaining
whether"theromance
members,"she is candidabout thedifficulty
should be consideredfundamentally
conservativeon the one hand or incipiently
oppositionalon the other."61 The Francesca storyoffersa versionof the same
dilemma.On theone hand,themedievalromanceis moretrulyoppositionalthan
contemporarypopular romancesbecause the femaleheroineis engagingin an
optionnot sanctionedbysociety;Francesca'slove affairwithPaolo is notscripted
of
and so readingabout it cannotbe viewedas a reinforcement
by thepatriarchy,
patriarchalideology.On theotherhand,thetragicendingensuresthatFrancesca
is punished;in thatshe pays forherbid forfreedomwithherlife,and in Dante's
textwith damnationas well, the storycan also be seen as ideologicallyconservative.
Dante himselfseemsto be conflicted,
and to presentus withyetanotherversion
of thesame dilemma,foron theone hand he givesFrancesca(historical)life,and
on theotherhe condemnsherto (eternal)death.But damnationand punishment
60
61
On the Cavalcantianissuesembeddedin Inferno5, see Barolini,"Dante and Cavalcanti."
ReadingtheRomance,citationsfrompp. 151 and 209.
28
Dante and Francescada Rimini
mustalso be historicizedand contextualized,and it is importantto bear in mind
of lustis in facthighlyunusual: he emphaticallydoes not
thatDante's treatment
thatare commonin
treatFrancescato thedegradingand sexualizedpunishments
of lust is exquisitelypsychological,
vision literature.62
Rather,Dante's treatment
and is centeredon a story,the storyof one woman and her desireforlove. This
is the storythatattractsthecommentatorsand to whichtheyrespondwithvoyeuristicfascination,enhancingboth featuresof Dante's Francesca,both hervulis inherentin her job description,
nerabilityand her agency.Her vulnerability
while her agencytranspiresfromher appropriationof language: she reads, she
speaks. It matterslittlefromthisperspectiveif she reads poorly,as criticshave
held;63what is importantis the agencyof those activeverbs:"Noi leggiavamo,"
"leggemmo,""leggemmo."She reads,and by readingshe imaginesa lifeforherfromthe one her familyassigned her.Nor is she confinedto the
self different
vicariouspleasureof manyfemalereadersof romances,sinceshe acts on whatshe
reads.Whateverhisown conflicts
mayhave been,theculturalforceofwhatDante
For in Francesca,in hercombustiblemixofvulnerability
createdwas electrifying.
and agency,Dante establishesa paradigmwith a tenacious and enduringhold
over our collectiveimagination:the femalefigurewho is both powerlessand
deadly-to
strong,and who attractsour attentionwithherattempts-ultimately
negotiatethatcombination.
Dante's treatment
oflustis relatively
desexualizedin comparison,say,withTundale'sVision(Irish,
takestheformof an obscenepreg1149), wherethepunishmentof bothmale and femalefornicators
nancy,or Thurkill'sVision(English,1206), wheretheadulterersmustfornicatepubliclyin an infernal
see my "Dante and Cavalcanti" fora fullerdiscussionof thisissue.
amphitheater;
63 This commonplaceof dantistihas been embracedby feminist
scholarsin otherdisciplines.Thus
Mary-KayGamel writes:"ObviouslyFrancescais not a well-trained
studentof literature.
She doesn't
finishthework,she misremembers
an importantdetail(GuineverekissesLancelot,notviceversa),she
is entirely
too mimetic"("'This Day We Read
is guiltyoftheintentionalfallacy,and herinterpretation
No Further':FeministInterpretation
and the Studyof Literature,"PacificCoast Philology22 [1987],
7-14). Similarly,
Helen Soltererargues: "Women are commonlytypedas literalists-unableto pass
beyondtheletterofa text.Fromthescoresofinscribedfemalereadersinromanceto Dante'sFrancesca,
theyare presentedas readingpoorly,proneto misunderstanding"
(The Masterand Minerva:Disputing
Womenin FrenchMedieval Culture[Berkeleyand Los Angeles,1995],p. 4).
62
Teodolinda Barolini is Lorenzo Da Ponte Professorof Italian at Columbia University
(e-mail:[email protected]).
Download