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This has been on my to-read list for a while. I read Carlyle's 1849 translation of Inferno many years ago, but this is the 1814 blank verse version by H.F. Cary, in a bargain edition which also includes Doré's famous engravings of five decades later. Unfortunately it has no footnotes at all, and I think I will need to get another version with more explanatory matter; too much of the text simply sailed over my head.

It is none the less a tremendous literary achievement - to merge Judeo-Christian and classical mythologies, and recent (for 1300) European history, into a fairly seamless world; to construct mappable spaces of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven; and to come out of all this with a reasoned but impassioned emphasis on Love as the driving force behind God and the universe - all these are remarkable things.

I can see why Inferno is the most popular of the three - evil is always more interesting than good or repentance. Oddly enough, though, the one moment when the narrative really grabbed me was towards the end of Purgatorio, when Virgil hands over the role of guide to Beatrice. I don't know if this is a general finding, or something to do with the translation, or just the mood I was in at the time.

Anyway, I now have a good sense of the overall shape of the story, and will look out for an edition which gives me more explanation of the details.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 30th, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
I enjoyed the Inferno, put up with the Purgatorio, and was completely unable to read the Paradiso, even though it jeopardised getting my MA (in the end, there were no questions on the Paradiso on the exam).

That might, in part, be due to the fact that the DL Sayers translation of the Inferno is quite readable but I couldn't find one that I got on with for the other two parts.
Jul. 30th, 2009 07:54 am (UTC)
It is a long while since I read my Dante but I always found myself most moved by Paolo and Francesca in Inferno because in spite of the attempt to make their Hell sound unpleasant Francesca is emphatic that she is not in Hell because she is with Paolo.
Jul. 30th, 2009 08:22 am (UTC)
Funnily enough, I've always enjoyed Purgatorio the most.

I find Inferno a bit of a shilling shocker; and where Dante has an axe to grind with someone (e.g. his conversation with Pope Nicholas III concerning Boniface), it's sometimes to the detriment of the story.

Purgatorio, on the other hand, is essentially positive; it may not be a fun place, but the narrative moves towards cleansing and redemption; there is hope in Purgatory that there can never be in Hell. The Mount of Purgatory is an austere place - but it has light, air, and the possibility of something better.

Paradiso is interesting to me insofar as it deals with medieval cosmology and natural philosophy; no doubts about it being the most difficult text to get into.

I've always enjoyed the Sayers translation; I was less gripped by Mark Musa's.
Jul. 30th, 2009 04:10 pm (UTC)
I first read Alan Mandelbaum's translation, which isn't necessarily the most poetic (one of my professors complained that Mandelbaum made Dante sound like a New York cab driver), but which had a fairly good set of notes. And a quick search reveals that it is online, complete with a whole set of hyperlinked notes.
Jul. 30th, 2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
I've been wanting to read this (will do so in Dutch I think), but haven't even bought the book yet. If translations really are this important, maybe I should first check which book I'd like to get, before just getting the first nice copy I see in the bookstore.
Jul. 30th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
In the original, there is also a very noticeable (and entirely intentional) language difference between the three books, going from the "comedic" language of Inferno (about "low" matters, and in close-to-everyday language) to the "tragicomic" of Purgatorio and the "tragic" (meaning, "high matters, hi-falutin' expression") of Paradise.

It skews the balance even more, making Inferno a *much* more lively read (and one which I can't help but read in a fake Florentine accent, but that's a different story...) And yes, Dante could really handle the "high" language of Paradiso as well, but it's still less fun than the "low" and much more genuine language of Inferno...
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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