Francesca: Circle 2, Inferno 5
Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta are punished together in hell for their adultery: Francesca was married to Paolo's brother, Gianciotto ("Crippled John"). Francesca's shade tells Dante that her husband is destined for punishment in Caina--the infernal realm of familial betrayal named after Cain, who killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8)--for murdering her and Paolo. Francesca was the aunt of Guido Novello da Polenta, Dante's host in Ravenna during the last years of the poet's life (1318-21). She was married (c. 1275) for political reasons to Gianciotto of the powerful Malatesta family, rulers of Rimini. Dante may have actually met Paolo in Florence (where Paolo was capitano del popolo--a political role assigned to citizens of other cities--in 1282), not long before he and Francesca were killed by Gianciotto.
Although no version of Francesca's story is known to exist before Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio--a generation or two after Dante--provides a "historical" account of the events behind Francesca's presentation that would not be out of place among the sensational novellas of his prose masterpiece, The Decameron. Even if there is more fiction than fact in Boccaccio's account, it certainly helps explain Dante-character's emotional response to Francesca's story by presenting her in a sympathetic light. Francesca, according to Boccaccio, was blatantly tricked into marrying Gianciotto, who was disfigured and uncouth, when the handsome and elegant Paolo was sent in his brother's place to settle the nuptial contract. Angered at finding herself wed the following day to Gianciotto, Francesca made no attempt to restrain her affections for Paolo and the two in fact soon became lovers. Informed of this liaison, Gianciotto one day caught them together in Francesca's bedroom (unaware that Paolo got stuck in his attempt to escape down a ladder, she let Gianciotto in the room); when Gianciotto lunged at Paolo with a sword, Francesca stepped between the two men and was killed instead, much to the dismay of her husband, who then promptly finished off Paolo as well. Francesca and Paolo, Boccaccio concludes, were buried--accompanied by many tears--in a single tomb.
Francesca's eloquent description of the power of love (Inf. 5.100-7), emphasized through the use of anaphora, bears much the same meaning and style as the love poetry once admired by Dante and of which he himself produced many fine examples.