Noi leggiavamo un giorno per diletto di Lancialotto come amor lo strinse; soli eravamo e sanza alcun sospetto. Per più fïate li occhi ci sospinse quella lettura, e scolorocci il viso; ma solo un punto fu quel che ci vinse. Quando leggemmo il disïato riso esser basciato da cotanto amante, questi, che mai da me non fia diviso, la bocca mi basciò tutto tremante. Galeotto fu 'l libro e chi lo scrisse: quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante. Dante Alighieri – La Divina Commedia – Inferno, canto V
We read one day for pastime, seated nigh,
Of Lancilot, how Love enchained him too.
We were alone, quite unsuspiciously.
But oft our eyes met, and our Cheeks in hue
All o’er discoloured by that reading were;
But one point only wholly us o’erthrew;
When we read the long-sighed-for smile of her,
To be thus kissed by such devoted lover,
He, who from me can be divided ne’er,
Kissed my mouth, trembling in the act all over:
Accurséd was the book and he who wrote!
That day no further leaf we did uncover.
Translation by Lord Byron (1820)
In the first section (Cantica) of The Divine Comedy, Inferno (Hell),Dante and Virgil arrive in the second Circle, the Circle of carnal lust, in the night between the first and second day of their journey.
The sinners are whirled and swept by the terrible winds of a violent storm, without rest, just as in life they allowed themselves to be swept away by their passions.
Here they meet Francesca and Paolo and Dante calls out to the lovers, who are compelled briefly to pause before him, and he speaks to Francesca. He asks her what led to her and Paolo’s damnation, and Francesca’s story, while her lover weeps bitterly, moves Dante so much that he also weeps and faints out of pity.
Francesca da Rimini was the wife of Giovanni Malatesta, ruler of the city of Pesaro, whose lameness had earned him the nickname of “Gianciotto” (Johannes Zoctus). Theirs was a marriage of political alliance.
Paolo was his younger brother, and he was a beautiful youth.
Francesca explains how she and her lover were lured into sin: it was a book of the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere that caused their downfall. They were alone, reading it aloud, and when they came to the passage which tells of how Lancelot kissed the queen, they were both overcome. They kissed, and the book was forgotten. “We read no more that day.”
Having detected his wife, Francesca in adultery with his brother Paolo, Gianciotto murdered them both with his own hands, for which he is confined in the lowest circle of Hell.
“Galeotto fu ‘l libro” says Francesca, and Byron translates it into: “Accurséd was the book”. However, the literary translation is “a Galehault was that book” , which refers to Galehaut, a knight in the Arthurian legend. He was Lancelot’s inseparable friend and gave way before Guinevere, yielding Lancelot to her.
Therefore the book Paolo and Francesca had been reading, is defined Galehaut because both it deals with that knight who was the intermediary between Lancelot and the Queen, and it is the amorous intermediary thanks to which they yield to their love.