The storm, of course, represents irresistible passion. Among those being blown about are mythic and historical queens such as Helen of Troy and Cleopatra of Egypt. Dante, however, chooses to speak to Paolo and Francesca, famous lovers from Rimini.
Francesca had been married to the brave, but physically deformed Gianciotto. She was reading an Arthurian romance with his better-looking brother, Paolo, when passion got the better of them. Gianciotto, enraged, murdered them both, for which he was consigned to the deepest circle of Hell (where Dante shall later meet him).
Dante is so moved by this romantic tale that he faints, hence his position flat on his back. Notice that above Virgil’s head a sun-like disc contains a sketch of a couple embracing, while the wind-blown lovers themselves seem to be flying up and out of the picture to freedom. Blake disapproved of Dante for depicting God as a vengeful judge, whose role was to inflict ingenious punishment (similar to his own Urizen), and these details are his subtle protest. As we can see in poems such as ‘The Garden Of Love’, Blake himself believed that suppressing desire was a far worse crime than yielding to it.