The contrapasso

After a moment an arm was raised up front, the director handed the person a microphone, and it was asked whether the professoressa could put such images of hell in a more general context. . . .

Next Paolo himself put up his hand.

Grazie. Uno discorso meraviglioso, he began. My question is about the idea of sin in all of this. It is a long time ago, so I remember only one of Dante’s damned, the adulteress.

Francesca, the professoressa named her.

I’m sure that’s right. Her torment is to be forever blown in a terrible tempest.

Si. Francesca da Rimini. 

There was something disturbing about her fate, Paolo went on. It seemed she felt deeply for her lover. But there she is in hell suffering eternal punishment.

Yes, she answered. I understand. But for Dante, whose idea of sin is something like Aquinas’, the sin lies not in love per se, nor even the illicit love of the adulterer, but in the excess, just as the sin of gluttony consists of an excess of an otherwise natural human drive, namely to eat. It is always some excess that damns Dante’s sinners.

The Italian Novel


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