Today I want to talk about the female figures that are present in one of the most extraordinary works of art in Italian literature: the “Divina Commedia” by Dante.
In his masterpiece Dante describes the imaginary travel from Hell, dark and full of suffering, where the sinners’ souls are in an eternal state of pain, to Purgatory, where the souls wait for the expiation of their guilt and the access to Paradise, where they will be in perfect harmony with God.
The first woman who Dante meets in Hell is Francesca da Rimini. In her life she was forced to marry Gianciotto Malatesta, but she fell in love with her husband’s brother, Paolo. The lovers are together in Hell in the circle of the lustful.
She tells Dante their sad story, while Paolo is crying near her, with the sweetest tercets of “Inferno”:
Amor, ch’al cor gentil ratto s’apprende
prese costui de la bella persona
che mi fu tolta; e ‘l modo ancor m’offende.
Amor, ch’a nullo amato amar perdona,
mi prese del costui piacer sì forte,
che, come vedi, ancor non m’abbandona.
Amor condusse noi ad una morte:
Caina attende chi a vita ci spense».
Queste parole da lor ci fuor porte.”
Paolo and Francesca are damned to eternal pain, but they will suffer together and, in a certain sense, there is a sort of realisation of their dream of love and union.
In “Purgatorio” Dante meets another woman, Pia de’ Tolomei, killed by her jealous husband. She says only a few words to the poet, asking to be remembered when he returns among mortal people.
« “Deh, quando tu sarai tornato al mondo,
e riposato de la lunga via”,
seguitò ‘l terzo spirito al secondo,
“Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
Siena mi fé, disfecemi Maremma:
salsi colui che ‘nnanellata pria
disposando m’avea con la sua gemma”.
In “Paradiso”, among the spirits who didn’t fulfil their promises to God because of other people, there is the third and last woman of “Divina Commedia”: Piccarda Donati, whose family forced her to renounce to monastic life and marry the rich man Rossellino della Tosa.
” I’ fui nel mondo vergine sorella;
e se la mente tua ben sé riguarda,
non mi ti celerà l’esser più bella,
ma riconoscerai ch’i’ son Piccarda,
che, posta qui con questi altri beati,
beata sono in la spera più tarda.”
Even if Dante is a medieval poet, he gave particular attention to the conditions in which the women of his time lived, made of violences, impositions and repression. With the three strong and extraordinary women of the three parts of the “Commedia” he tries to underline the suffering of women, who are forced to renounce their love (Francesca), their life (Pia) or their ideas about the future (Piccarda).
So from this point of view we can say that Dante is really a modern writer, because in his masterpiece he deals with themes that we could refer to our time. A time in which a woman is abused, subjected to violence, wounded in body and spirit by men who believe they are right in imposing their will through petty actions but who don’t understand that in this way they are behaving like beasts. And beasts don’t know what the words “respect” and “love” mean.