Amor, ch'a nullo amato amar perdona ["Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving"] is one of the most famous verses of Dante's "Divine Comedy", thanks to its formal elegance but mostly to the fact that it's associated with the tragic and passionate love affair involving Paolo and Francesca. The story of the two adulterous in-laws, condemned to pay eternally for their sin by remaining embraced in an infernal storm, is part of history, literature, and our sentimental heritage. Adopting a learned but ironic tone, Lorenzo Renzi interprets Dante's poem, highlighting the character of Francesca and the ups and downs she has encountered among early commentators and modern critics. The author also examines the many ways in which the episode has been reworked in literature, theatre, and the figurative arts. In ancient times it was thought the moral of the story was "it is best not to leave men and women alone together"; for the Romantics, Francesca was a heroic agent of passionate love. Today she is seen mostly as a guilty woman: not because she betrayed her husband, but because, like Madame Bovary, she just read too many novels.
Lorenzo Renzi teaches Romance Philology at the University of Padua.