Longfellow as Translator

Luigi Calamatta, Fran├žoise de Rimini. Engraving after a painting by the Dutch artist Ary Scheffer (1795-1858).


Courtesy National Park Service, Longfellow National Historic Site LONG 4674.

On 15 March 1847-in an amusing instance of "show and tell"-Longfellow took Calamatta's print to college to show it to his undergraduates when he was teaching Inferno V: "Henry has gone to college to lecture on Dante, carrying with him my Francesca by Scheffer, to charm the young eyes of his hearers," wrote Fanny.

Francesca's pose is so suggestive that the viewer forgets why exactly she is pressing herself so closely against Paolo's body (relentless winds are whirling both of them around). On the right, Dante and Virgil contemplate the scene. Scheffer's overt aim was to illustrate the nature of the lovers' sin (carnal lust) and thus the reason they have been placed in hell, but his representation appears to stimulate the very kind of desire in the viewer that their tragic story had been intended to discourage.