This is the second circle of Hell, where the love-obsessed are consigned. ‘These hapless shades are caught in an infernal storm. A relentless wind tosses them up and down, around and about. They loved in life, only it was blind love. It swept them along then, it sweeps them along now”. (Mark Vernon, ‘Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Guide for the Spiritual Journey’) The hapless shades shown here are Francesca and Paolo. They fell ardently in love while reading about Lancelot and Guinevere, another story of overpowering love. Their sin wasn’t that they were in love with each other, but “in love with love”. (Born too soon for ‘Sex Addicts Anonymous’.)
The interesting thing about Dante’s Inferno, according to Mark Vernon, is the the denizens of the various circles are self-consigned, not sent there by a punishing God. Their torments are a symbolic replication of their negative patterns in life. That’s deeply insightful, both on Dante’s part (for seeing life and the afterlife in psychological term, and Vernon’s (for pointing it out). I have one major quibble: nobody is all one thing. We all have our shit and our sunshine in turn. Who is it to say what is the most important single thing about a person, the thing that damns them to an eternity of torture? I suppose this is why “The Divine Comedy” should be treated as poetic metaphor, not as a rigid statement of fact.