November 11 2012
Lisa Saffer, soprano; Philip Lima, baritone; Joseph Holmes, tenor
Glens Falls Symphony
Charles Peltz, conductor
Glens Falls, NY
Dante was celebrated as a love poet before he wrote his Comedy. He assigns lovers to the upper, least severe regions of hell.
Throughout the Inferno, Dante dramatizes sin as a self-wounding: the punishment does not simply fit the crime, it is the crime, enacting the particular soul’s self-destructive defect: traitors, who have made themselves hard and cold to their loyalties, are eternally frozen in ice; murderers boil in blood. And the souls who have wounded themselves with misguided erotic energy are eternally thrown about, as by a tornado.
The descriptions of the noise, of the souls in flocks buffeted through dark air like birds in a storm, of the populated hurricane a turmoil stilled a bit for Dante’s eloquent dialogue with Francesca make this one of the most vivid scenes in the Comedy.
The voice of Virgil mediates an encounter between life and death, with a tone of impassive knowledge, beyond both.
The voice of Francesca expresses her yearning for her story to be known: the passion to enter again, even for a moment, even if only through the living mind of Dante, our world of life and light.
And the voice of Dante expresses a strange desire intellectual and moral and erotic to hear Francesca tell her story.
Here with a sympathy in contrast to his coolness or disdain or hostility toward sinners lower down in hell Dante is moved by the presence of Francesca da Rimini: eager and even excited to hear her narrative. When she has finished speaking, with the weeping silent shade of her lover Paolo at her side, Dante actually faints.
Francesca’s story was well-known: she betrayed her husband Giancotto da Rimini by having an affair with his brother Paolo. In the Inferno, her narration does not include those relationships. She does not even name Paolo, nor Giancotto, who killed the lovers the moment he discovered their secret.
Instead, Francesca narrates the immediate, physical details of a couple whose sexual imaginations are inflamed partly by one another and partly by a literary imagining of adulterous love: they are reading together the story of Lancelot and Guinevere. Art, with its power not only to express passion but to inspire it, is at the center of Canto V.