Dante’s Inferno Canto V: AP Analysis


Read the following poem carefully. Then, in a well-organized essay, analyze how the speaker uses the varied imagery of the poem to reveal his attitude toward the nature of love. (1995)






Dante’s Inferno explores the sin of lust as a sin stemming from human incontinence: the refusal to choose what is right over what is immoral. Lust is a sin that Dante must contend with, and not in the sense of him having committed it, but in the sense of his need to understand it, which is imperative to his survival of the Inferno.Throughout Canto V, the extent to which Dante’s perception of the sin is warped and manipulated is expressed visually by the metaphor of a hurricane. Initially, Virgil attempts to impart the severity of the sin to Dante, displaying to him the punishment the sinners must face: doomed to contend with a passionate and violent hurricane that is irresistible, just as lust was apparently irresistible for the sinners. However, Dante’s naivety prevents him from seeing reality, and he becomes skeptical as to whether or not the sinners deserve the severity of their punishments. This uncertainty is demonstrated through the hurricane’s apparent shift–decrease– in intensity. This uncertainty allows Dante to become misguided and mistaken regarding the deservedness of the sinners punishment, leaving him with a need to speak to the sinners, making him vulnerable to manipulation Finally, through allowing Francesca, a soul who in life committed the sin of adultery, to convince him that her actions were motivated by love rather than lust, Dante’s perception of the hurricane shifts from an intense destructive wind, to a light breeze carrying the lightest of expressions. Dante no longer sees lust as a malicious choice, but as an innocent force that one cannot resist, hence cannot be faulted for. This failure to properly perceive lust is the ultimate failure of Canto V, and one that Dante must rectify if he is ever to make it through the Inferno.


Virgil tells Dante of the dangers of love and lust, giving him direct examples (Cleopatra, Achilles). Virgil is attempting to teach Dante a key lesson by delineating between love and lust. The primary imagery Virgil impresses on Dante is of the unstoppable hurricane chasing the sinners, forcing them to contend with in death what they chose not to resist in life. “The hellish hurricane, which never rests, drives on the spirits with its violence: wheeling and pounding, it harasses them.” The violence and relentlessness represents Dante’s initial perception of the severity of the sin, and sinners inability to resist the not-unstoppable force that is lust. Virgil explains that lust is an unstoppable force of nature — unstoppable to all but humans — and that love is unable to control someone’s actions unless they allow it– at which point it is their own actions regardless. This means that anyone who claims to be innocent and claims to be have been under the influence of love is being deceitful, as love cannot control your actions. Dante for a moment takes onto Virgil’s word and heeds cautious against the violent and irresistible hurricane. For now, Virgil has secured Dante’s understanding of lust.  


However, the Dante the Pilgrim, becomes skeptical, being naive and inexperienced. He allows this skepticism to confound within him an insatiable deisre to speak with the tormented souls, not wanting to bear their suffering without consolation. “Poet, I should willingly speak with those two who go together there and seem so lightly carried by the wind.” At the same moment that his skepticism gets the best of him, the hurricane becomes softer wind, representative of his compromised understanding of the severity of lust. As Francesca speaks, further luring Dante into a state of empathy and pity, she twists her story to make her look like the victim. Dante’s imagery of the harsh winds and hurricane, an irresistible temptation, shifts, becoming a soft, light carrier of the poor forsaken souls. This internal downplaying of the sin is what allows him to be so weak and vulnerable to deceit and manipulation. At first Dante was told of the severity of the sin of lust, and he saw the great winds and hurricane, representing the sin of lust, that tormented the sinners likewise. However, when he begins to doubt the divine judgement cast upon the the sinners, and allows pity to corrupt his heart, he sees the hurricane as a mere soft wind that “seems” to carry the souls of the damned so lightly, making the sin of lust seem almost forgivable, and not at all worthy of such cruel  punishment, setting the stage for Dante’s final failure that the whole of the Canto has built up to.




And fail he does. Dante allows himself to be fooled by the charming but deceitful Francesca, and ultimately faints outright of pity. This pity is important to Francesca, as coming from a mortal, to pity a sin is an affront to God. In Dante’s mind, the soft wind, that was once the hurricane of lust, becomes representative of love, something far more forgivable and far less punishable, something that Francesca recognizes and doubles down on. The imagery here of the hurricane shifts further from the soft wind, and becomes more of an entity of itself, a swift, graceful, and hopelessly powerful force that is impossible to resist: “Love, that can quickly seize the gentle heart, took hold of him because of the fair body, taken from me-how that was done still wounds me, Love, that releases no beloved from loving, took hold of me so strongly through his beauty, that, as you see, it has not left me yet, Love led the two of us unto one death. Caina waits for him who took our life. These words were borne across from them to us.”  Love is being personified here as a being capable of influencing human actions of its own accord, which is a total subversion of Virgil’s depiction of love being a powerless influence which operates under the dominion of man. Francesca not only paints her sin in the coat of love, of a soft wind that carries innocent connotations, but she further defines it in tones much less harsh and more euphemistic. All of which serves to forward Francesca’s rhetoric, placing the responsibility of her sin away from herself, and on the false pretense of this  “love” that tricks Dante into becoming pitiful. This illustration that Francesca gives of love as a gentle undeniable influencer is slowly adopted by Dante himself, and that is what causes him to become pitiful. Dante, in this false epiphany, allows himself to be overwhelmed with pity, and falls to his knees and faints, falling “as a dead body falls.” completing Dante’s most crucial failure in The Divine Comedy.




Despite Virgil’s best attempts at guiding Dante away from deception, Dante fails for the first time, allowing himself to fall pity to the souls who know no repentance for their actions. Dante does not understand that love and lust have no control over people’s actions, and that sin is a choice. Dante’s perception of what Francesca is being punished for goes from Virgil’s imagery of horridly powerful hurricane, representing lust, to a soft wind, which Dante’s inexperience makes to be love. This incorrect shift in perception allows Francesca to make her actions seem as if they were not only reasonable, but beyond her control entirely, both of which are untrue. Soon Francesca shifts the blame for her actions away from her, from the imagery of a violent hurricane that she brought onto herself, then into the imagery of a soft wind, and finally, into something entirely different, into a graceful, powerful, and unfair force to which she had no power in resisting.

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