This one, who now will never leave my side,
Kissed my mouth, trembling. A Galeotto, that book!
Dante and Virgil now descend into the Second Circle of Hell, smaller in size than the First Circle but greater in punishment. They see the monster Minos, who stands at the front of an endless line of sinners, assigning them to their torments. The sinners confess their sins to Minos, who then wraps his great tail around himself a certain number of times, indicating the number of the circle to which the soul must go. Like Charon, Minos recognizes Dante as a living soul and warns him not to enter; it is Virgil’s word that again allows them to pass unmolested.
Dante and Virgil pass into a dark place in which torrential rains fall ceaselessly and gales of wind tear through the air. The souls of the damned in this circle swirl about in the wind, swept helplessly through the stormy air. These are the Lustful—those who committed sins of the flesh.
Dante asks Virgil to identify some of the individual souls to him; they include many of great renown, including Helen, for whose sake the Trojan War was fought, and Cleopatra. Dante immediately feels sympathy for these souls, for essentially they are damned by love. With Virgil’s permission, he calls out to the souls to see if they will speak to him and tell him their story. One woman, Francesca, recognizes Dante as a living soul and answers him. She relates to him how love was her undoing: bound in marriage to an old and deformed man, she eventually fell in love with Paolo da Rimini, her husband’s younger brother. One day, as she and Paolo sat reading an Arthurian legend about the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, each began to feel that the story spoke to their own secret love. When they came to a particularly romantic moment in the story, they could not resist kissing. Francesca’s husband quickly discovered their transgression and had the young lovers killed. Now Paolo and Francesca are doomed to spend eternity in the Second Circle of Hell. Overcome with pity, Dante faints again.
When Dante wakes, he finds that he has been moved to the Third Circle of Hell, where the rains still fall. Now, however, the drops consist of filth and excrement, and a horrific stench fills the air. A three-headed dog, Cerberus, tries to stop Virgil and Dante’s progress, but Virgil satisfies the beast by throwing it a chunk of earth. Dante and Virgil then advance into the circle of the Gluttonous, who must lie on the ground as the sewage rains down upon them.
One of the Gluttonous sits up when he sees Virgil and Dante, and asks if Dante recognizes him. When Dante replies that he does not, the shade announces himself as Ciacco, saying that he spent his earthly life in Florence. At Dante’s request, he voices his predictions for Florence’s political future, which he anticipates will be filled with strife. Dante then asks about figures from Florence’s political past, naming individuals he believes to have been well intentioned. Ciacco replies that they reside in a much deeper circle of Hell. Before lying back down, he asks Dante to remember his name when he returns to the world above.
As they leave the Third Circle, Dante asks Virgil how the punishments of the souls will change after the Last Judgment. Virgil replies that since that day will bring the perfection of all creation, their punishments will be perfected as well.