Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Immortal Francesca da Rimini

The da Polenta and the da Rimini were two warring families with substantial lands on the Adriatic coast of Italy, and on the cessation of further unnecessary violence between them, it was agreed that a marriage would take place between Francesca, the very beautiful daughter of Guido da Polenta of Ravenna, and Gianciotto Malatesta (the lame), son of the ruler of Rimini. Along with her dowry, the union would both greatly increase and further protect the territory already controlled by the Malatestas.
Gianciotta, as well as being lame, was markedly ugly, and rather than expose himself to outright rejection in pursuit of his bethrothred, he sent his more presentable and handsome brother Paolo to Ravenna to complete the final arrangements by proxy, so confusing matters, and to return with her to Rimini as her escort. But Francesca had fallen instantly in love with Paolo. The die was now cast, a mark of eternal love, close to the Rubicon, the river crossed by Caesar on his way to seize Rome declaring, “Iacta alea est”.
On the morning after her arrival at Rimini, Francesca awoke, horrified to find Gianciotto beside her, and fled for safety within the castle. Time passed, and while the two lovers could only meet infrequently, these assignations, while tender and intimate, were restrained only for want of circumstance. Some time later, when Francesca and Paolo were together reading the dreamy tales of The Knights of The Round Table, the precious moment came. Those stories of courtly love, new to the world, written so skillfully by Chrietienne de Troyes for Marie De Champagne, told of chivalry, of acts of gallantry and especially of the affair between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot. Enchanted by a relationship so affined to their own, heightened by infatuation and ignited to ecstasy, Francesca and Paolo’s eyes met, spellbound, and in swirling emotions, she surrendered to a kiss. ** Photo ‘The Kiss’ and caption to go here**
Unknown to them, they were seen by one of Gianciotto’s servants who relayed the drama to his master. Without delay Gianciotto came upon them, and with sword drawn lunged at Paolo with mortal intent. Francesca came between the two brothers attempting to calm the terrible scene just as Gianciotto swung his sword, fatally wounding her, and in that same madness he thrust it forward, killing Paolo.
In canto five of Il Inferno, Dante met with Francesca and Paolo, still embraced together but ever tossed about by the black winds of Hell. Dante enquired; “…Francesca, your afflictions/move me to tears of sorrow and of pity……in what way did love allow you/To recognize your still uncertain longings.”
Francesca replied; “…..time and time again that reading led/our eyes to meet, and made our faces pale,/and yet one point alone defeated us.
“When we had read how the desired smile/was kissed by one who was so true a lover,/this one, this one who never shall be parted from me,/while all his body trembled, kissed my mouth…..that day we read no more”

Dante was a friend of Francesca’s uncle, Guido Novello (the younger) of Ravenna, with whom he stayed as a guest in the latter years, until his death in 1321 Why then, should he consign Francesca to Hell, even if to a more temperate region, when he found it so convenient to allow others known to him to be very vile persons indeed, to reside in Purgatory? Even if Francesca was guilty of sin, it was surely more venial than mortal, since theirs was an actual demonstration of truth in reality, a mutual love, shared equally, bearing truth which is in itself passion, not merely lust, and since by her nature and past life she would have been penitent, but that death was so suddenly visited upon her. It was harsh judgement, and perhaps is why painters emphasize his inquisitive nose while exonerating Francesca.
The story of this dramatic scene by one of the six greatest figures in world literature, raised Francesco da Rimini to immortality, celebrated in symphony by Tchaikovsky, commemorated in two operas by Rachmaninoff and Zandonai, magnificiently memorialized in marble by Rodin, in painting and drawing by Sandro Botticelli, Dore, Blake, Watts, Scheffer, Ingres and a host of others including poets (Seamus Heaney) and playwrights, each and every one of them an act in defence of her reputation, sullied by a cruel hoax. Francesca died aged 30, in 1285. At that time, Dante was 20 years old.

Dante’s Hell: (Il Inferno) is a most doleful place from where no escape is possible, ever. Imprisoned here are those who die without repenting before death. It is divided into nine concentric circles of absolute doom, where punishments successively outdo one another in depravities. To simplify matters, Hell has four regions;
Upper Hell: where those who commit Sins of The Leopard are kept, and include ones guilty of
Incontinence (lack of self restraint), Lust, Gluttony, Waste Hoarders, The Wrathful.
Nether Hell 1: Sins of the Lion, include Violence and Heresy.
Nether Hell 11: Sins of The Wolf – Fraudsters of every sort and may include for instance, some
of those before the Mahon Tribunal
Nether Hell 111: Giants, and Traitors, all…to kith, kin and country; and the Emperor of Hell,
Satan, waist deep in ice so cold that no Hell fire can melt even a tear drop.

Dante’s Purgatory: is based on the seven deadly sins and is more benign in that it is a state of purification, which although fierce, is never as bad as Hell itself. The worst suffering is the length of time spent there, so depriving them of the presence of God. It is the residence of souls who while on earth repented their sins before death. Cantos 28-33 bring the soul ethereally from (if one might consider the thought imaginatively) the wonderfully scenic Glen of Imaal to the cleansing waters of the Liffey at Ballymore Eustace, the Earthly Paradise, known to us from The Book of Genesis as the Garden of Eden! Those six cantos are among the most beautiful passages of literature ever written, and from which Botticelli captured a pattern for La Primevera.

In 1965, the Italian Cultural Institute sponsored an exhibition in Dublin, celebrating the 700th anniversary of the birth of Dante Alighieri by inviting members of the Royal Hibernian Academy to participate and submit three artistic impressions, drawn from each of the three books of The Divine Comedy – Il Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso. Twenty two artists including six ladies took part, submitting a total of forty two works. Interestingly, of the 42 works, 34 were based on the Sins of The Lion in Nether Hell 1, including four female works. On the other hand, seven participants used Purgatory as their theme, including one male (envy), and six female (one for envy, one for gluttony, with the four others happy, between cantos 28-33, resting in the Garden of Earthly Paradise. Hallelujah!
It was really a pity that Jack Yeats was unavailable (in Paradise at the time, died 1957), for he would have added powerful influence and much imaginative thought to the project. Nevertheless, it was a very interesting exercise, and revealed as much about the artists as it did about the subject matters chosen.

In similar mode, Jackie O’Neill, who teaches art classes in Ballymore for beginners, and is joined by other experienced artists of like mind, held an exhibition of members and non-members works at The Ballymore Inn, during November of last year. Few people realized that so many accomplished artists were within our midst, and it proved to be a hugely impressive show of local talent – the variations of theme brought a montage of scenery, of images and impressionisms with some brilliant colour co-ordination. The structural layout of the compositions was very impressive, along with the all-important detail which gives life and expression, and one could not but be aware of the potential that exists here. Thankfully that is already being fostered.
Mention of this is no idle thought, for it gives cause and reason to wonder if at Jackie’s next exhibition here, such a project as that proposed and sponsored by the Italian Institute (or by an alternative sponsor), could be considered suitable as a special theme within the broader programme. If for no other reason than that it would tend to concentrate on a specific subject and having seen the capabilities already displayed, utilizing Dante should not pose insurmountable challenges; for although many of the Dantean scenes are clouded in darkness or are of ghostly visage (shades), imagination can lift veils from those shadows and produce a more enlightening form of imagery than that offered in 1965. It could prove to be a well-suited intellectual adventure into the infinities of the nether world and interpretive art with a grand objective. However, the cost may be prohibitive, but if anyone could arrange it, she could. Just a thought!

Is Hell Exothermic or Endothermic?
That question arose in the Irish Times recently under The Magpie column and seems related in a certain fashion to canto V, above. It asks if hell is over-heating or about to freeze altogether.
A professor at an American university posed the question to a class of chemical engineering students, asking that they support their answer with proof. Most of them quoted Boyle’s Law to resolve the question, but one very smart student responded with an unusual, if personable theory.
‘First we need to know how the mass of hell is changing with time, and at what rate souls are moving into or out of hell,’ but allowed that there was no escape, ever, so to find out the rate of new entrants, it was necessary to look at different religions.
Most religions agree that if you are not one of their members, you go to hell. ‘Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in hell to increase exponentially. Now, if we look at the rate of change of the volume in hell, because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in hell to stay the same, the volume of hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added. This gives two possibilities: A. If hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter hell, then the temperature and pressure in hell will increase until all hell breaks loose. B. If hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until hell freezes over.
‘So which is it? If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my freshman year that, ‘It will be a cold day in hell before I sleep with you,’ and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that hell is exothermic and has already frozen over.
‘ The corollary of this theory is that since hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct….leaving only heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting, ‘Oh my God!’.’
Happy Christmas. Michael Ward .

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