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Dante’s Inferno Canto V Analysis

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Essay title: Dante’s Inferno Canto V Analysis

Barbara Leon

Humanities 2

Canto V Analysis


Canto V Analysis


Dante and Virgil have just left limbo, the first circle of hell, and are now on their way into the second circle of hell, where hell really begins. It is here that Dante first witnesses the punishment brought upon the sinners. They encounter Minos, the beast-judge who blocks the way into the second circle. He examines each soul as they pass through and determines which circle of hell they must go to by winding his tail around himself. Minos warns Dante of passing through but Virgil silences him. Dante encounters a dark place completely sucked of any light and filled with noises more horrible than a tempest and sees the souls being whirled around in a windy storm as they moan and shriek. Virgil explains to him that these are the souls of the humans who committed the sin of carnal lust and adultery. Dante is curious of the names of some of the souls and Virgil names off Semiramis, the adulterous queen of Babylon, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Paris, and Tristan, to name a few.

Afterwards, Dante wonders of two pitiful souls who are being battered in the winds, and asks Virgil if he may speak with these two sinners. Virgil advises him to watch them until the winds whirl them back again towards him to inquire of their story in the name of love. When the two sinners pass by, Dante asks them if they may speak to him. The sinners are Francesca and Paolo, two love-bound souls who were murdered in the act of adultery. Francesca describes to Dante how the love which once was their heaven is now their hell and misery. Their punishment is to be clung to each other as the winds batter them in the storm for eternity. Dante, feeling sympathy for Francesca, asks how they fell in love, and she describes how she and her lover, Paolo were reading the book of Lancelot and his love for Guenevere. As they read of their love, it reminded them more and more of their own real love for one another, and when Lancelot and Guenevere kiss in the story, they are driven with passion and Paolo kisses Francesca. This proves very emotional for Dante, and he faints.


This Canto describes the first real level of hell. The canto is very poetic and makes use of many similes, metaphors, and adjectives. There is also no shortage of hyperboles. The canto begins by describing the qualities of the second circle by describing the “voice of the damned rose in a bestial moan,” (v 3) referring to the damned rose as those lovers driven by passion who were condemned for their acts of adultery.

In verse 25, Dante describes the choir of anguish to be “like a wound” with a simile.

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