Francesca and Paolo, The Archetypes

Ary Scheffer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Les Ombres de Francesca da Rimini et de Paolo Malatesta apparaissent à Dante et à Virgile

by Charlotte Dovey

Dante treads across the carpet with his usual ease, in front of the roaring fire, in Virgil’s sitting room.  He languidly smokes his pipe.

After some consideration, he suggests to Virgil, who reclines in his chair, “Romeo and Juliet are disappointing archetypes because they are simply entitled and naive adolescent children without depth or knowledge.”

Virgil nods in agreement.  He responds, smiling, “There is also something very pathetic, even annoying, about the way in which these adolescents, or their more aged, full-grown counterparts, for one can hardly call such mentality adult, regard their desperate need for another person as true love.  It is more accurately described as just that – desperation.  It is rooted in emotional insecurity, lust, and often blindness.”

Dante laughs.  He sees the truth in this. 

Virgil sits up suddenly, his eyes bright.  He suggests, “We should make a pair of lovers who are older, more experienced.”

Dante is clearly delighted by the idea.  He adds, “Indeed, we could actually give them more depth and intellectual acuity.”  After considering this more, he proposes, “My dear Virgil, no one can touch you for creating beautiful form, or for that matter, the basis of a good story.  Why not create the form and I shall, for my part, bring them to life and make them sentient, capable of rationality and moral reasoning.”

Virgil greatly appreciates beauty in its many forms.  He ponders what would be the final casting for the pair.  He recommends to Dante, “I shall consider further.  I shall invite you back again when I have completed my part.”

Dante agrees, and departs into the evening.

Virgil spends the next two weeks looking over sketches.  He takes some features from one figure, then juxtaposes them with features from another.  Often he scraps ideas, only to start over again afresh.  Finally, he decides that he will form his lovers very similarly to a depiction of Romeo and Juliet that illustrates one of his books.  He would impart a wiser natural expression on each, more intelligence in the eyes, and add several years, yet maintain the pliant freshness of relative youth.  He casts their forms as a patched pair, a female and male version of the same essential being, almost identical, the differences subtle.  The nude forms please him.

Next, he sets about casting their circumstances.  He writes for them a plot, what is to be their story. 

When he finishes his task, he sends word to Dante, who arrives that same evening, as he is very eager to get on with his part of this spell.

Dante is entranced with the exquisite models.  He admires them and comments approvingly on the details.  Then he clasps Virgil’s hands into his in appreciation.

Dante affirms that it is now time for his own spell.  Dante, as indeed was also the case with Virgil, usually worked in secrecy, as is the way with sorcerers.  Virgil retires from the room.  After many incantations, potions, and rituals, Dante is finally, after hours, able to breathe life into them.

Virgil, too, is inordinately pleased with the results of Dante’s work.  The pair radiate intelligence, depth of spirit, dignity, and natural grace.

The two sorcerers, together, cast a final spell that transports the lovers to the life that Virgil fates them.

Unbeknownst to Dante, had Virgil wished to make a point about love and marriage in his story of the archetypal lovers.  He made the beautiful Francesca the daughter of a wealthy nobleman, the lord of Ravenna.  After years of conflict with the lord of Rimini, the lord of Ravenna had finally come to a tenuous peace with Rimini.  He had decided to help cement with a political wedding, that of Francesca to the lord of Rimini’s son, Giovanni.  But Giovanni was lame, and not beautiful.  Virgil had fashioned the male counterpart to Francesca in the form of Giovanni’s beautiful brother, Paolo, who was also married to another in a separate, politically advantageous marriage arrangement.  When Francesca and Paolo met, they instantly recognized each other as their own other half.

It is true that Dante had given the pair rationality and moral reasoning, as well as intelligence.  However, Virgil, for his part, scripted that they should not use this rational capacity in keeping with established social conventions; rather, they used it much in the way that certain moral philosophers uses their intelligence and knowledge not only to question and challenge conventional thought, but to justify their own unconventional, harmful, and even intuitively immoral behavior.  Each of these lovers justify to themselves that their illicit, hidden love is of no harm if no one knows (and they draw upon arguments from epistemologists and metaphysicians to bolster these).  They also surmise that their own spouses do not love them, that their own love is greater than any slight or wrong done.  They also think it unjust that they should be enslaved to a life trapped in a loveless marriage without recompense.

The lovers meet secretly for ten years. 

During this time, Dante proceedes to carry out many other such projects. One day, though, he decides that he would ascertain the progress that this particular creation had made.  He quickly discovers Virgil’s maverick methods and decides that he would match what he took to be his friend’s shrewd mendacity.  One night, whilst Francesca and Paolo secretly meet, Dante appeares to Giovanni and tells him of his wife’s infidelity, then awakes the wrethced husband violently.  Giovanni, upon awakening, instantly beholds that Francesca is not where she ought to be.  He searches the palace and comes upon the lovers in each other’s arms.  He withdraws his dagger from its sheath and stabs his brother through the heart.  He then turns his attention to his wife, killing her as well.

Neither Dante nor Virgil are heartless, so they take pity on all and cast spells to soothe them.  They bestow upon Francesca and Paolo eternity together, and to Giovanni they grant another woman, one who loves him. 

Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Paolo and Francesca da Rimini”

© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica

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