In Andre Aciman's Call Me by Your Name, while Elio describes the events of the summer, he refers to a quote by Francesca he remembers from Inferno.

"Love, which exempts no one who's loved from loving".

What does Andre Aciman mean by this line?

1 Answer 1


I found a longer version of this quote on Goodreads (emphasis mine):

There is a law somewhere that says that when one person is thoroughly smitten with the other, the other must unavoidably be smitten as well. Amor ch'a null'amato amar perdona. Love, which exempts no one who's loved from loving, Francesca's words in the Inferno. Just wait and be hopeful. I was hopeful, though perhaps this was what I had wanted all along. To wait forever.

The line you quote is simply a shorter, pithy repetition of the bolded line, with a double negative for funsies. To break it down:

Love, which [exempts no one [who's loved] from loving]

Meaning of individual sections

"Love" is here taking an action; it is the one doing the exempting (or lack thereof). The bolded sentence speaks of a "law", some rule handed down from on high. The concept "Love" is being treated as a force of nature, one that sets up laws of nature.

"Love" is exempting "no one" in a specific group: those who have loved. ("who's loved" = "who has loved"). Of this group, "no one" is exempted "from loving". Here "exempt" is used as a verb meaning "free from an obligation". Saying that "no one" in the group is free from the obligation of loving is equivalent to saying that all in the group are required to love. All who have been loved are required to love.

How the sentence structure works

A tricky bit of English here is that "Love, which exempts no one who's loved from loving" is not a complete sentence. However, here it is idiomatic because "Love" is an echo of a previously introduced concept.

A similar, simpler structure is "Mom played baseball. Baseball, which is the best sport". "Baseball" is an echo of the previous sentence, and in spoken English there would be a pause afterwards (represented by the comma in written English). Then, "which" introduces a clause describing baseball: "is the best sport". The same meaning would be communicated by saying "Mom played baseball. Baseball is the best sport". However, this de-emphasizes the echo of "Baseball".

In a similar fashion, the same meaning of your sentence could be communicated by "Love exempts no one who's loved from loving". But, the way it is originally written emphasizes how "love", the subject which has been talked about for the past few lines, is the subject of this sentence.

Putting it all together/rewording

The meaning (explicit and implicit) I get from this sentence is:

The force of nature called love, which I have just been discussing, requires everyone who has been loved to love others.

Or, stealing the phrasing of the bolded sentence a bit:

There is a law somewhere (enforced by the force of Love) that says (requires) that when one person is thoroughly smitten with the other (when someone has loved), the other must unavoidably be (isn't exempt from being) smitten as well (loving the other).

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