Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance, Gender

Speculum 75 (1):1-28 (2000)

While we are accustomed to Dante's appropriations and revisions of history, the case of Francesca da Rimini is rather different from the norm, since in her case no trace remains of the historical record that the poet could have appropriated. There is no completely independent documentation of Francesca's story; we are indebted for what we know to Dante and to his commentators. A fourteenth-century chronicler of Rimini, Marco Battagli, alludes in passing to the event, but his history was written in 1352, thus postdating by three decades Dante's death in 1321. Two factors come into play when we assess Battagli's chronicle as an independent verification of Francesca's story: on the one hand, he an indisputable authority regarding Rimini and the Malatesta; on the other, he knew Dante's poem. Therefore, Battagli's passing and indirect reference serves at best as plausibly independent confirmation of an occurrence about which the contemporary historical record is silent. That silence is broken by Dante. By reintegrating history—including the silence of history—into our reading of canto 5, we restore a context in which to remember that in the case of Francesca da Rimini Dante is the historian of record: in effect he saved Francesca from oblivion, giving her a voice and a name
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DOI 10.2307/2887423
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