Francesca and Frederick


Francesca da Rimini, by William Dyce

Francesca da Rimini (1255–85) appears in Canto V of The Divine Comedy, as she tells Dante her tragic story. She and her lover Paolo Malatesta are condemned to the Second Circle of Hell, for carnal sinners.

Francesca was the daughter of Guido I da Polenta of Ravenna, who forced her to marry Giovanni Malatesta for political reasons. Their families had been at war, and Guido felt this marriage would solidify the peace which had recently been negotiated. After Francesca moved to Rimini upon marriage, she fell in love with Giovanni’s younger brother Paolo, who was also married.

Francesca and Paolo carried on a love affair for ten years, until Giovanni discovered what was going on somewhere between 1283–86, though probably about 1285. Giovanni surprised the couple in Francesca’s bedroom and murdered them both. Over the years, many legends about them sprung up. In Dante’s imagining of Hell, they’re trapped in an eternal whirlwind, symbolic of the passion they were swept away by. Dante is so moved by their story, he faints.

Francesca is the Italian and Catalan feminine form of the Late Latin name Franciscus (Francis), which means “Frenchman.”

Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (26 December 1194–13 December 1250)

Three Emperor Fredericks feature in The Divine Comedy—Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor (Frederick Barbarossa) (1122–10 June 1190); Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor; and King Frederick III of Sicily (13 December 1272–25 June 1337).

Frederick is the English version of a Germanic name meaning “peaceful ruler,” from the elements frid (peace) and ric (ruler; power). I’ve always absolutely loved this name, and all the foreign versions—Friedrich, Frederik, Frédéric, Fredrik, Federigo, Frigyes, Fredrikh, Fryderyk, Friderik. I’m particularly fond of the nicknames Fritz and Freddie, though the nickname Fred feels kind of dated.

There have been so many awesome Fredericks through history (with the name’s various forms), from all sort of fields—politics, philosophy, music, kings, emperors, science. As a classic rock lover, there’s also the association with Freddie Mercury, who still sang like a god as he was dying. (And yes, I know his real name was Farrokh, not Frederick!)

4 thoughts on “Francesca and Frederick

  1. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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