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by Dante Alighieri

Book Description
An invaluable source of pleasure to those English readers who wish to read this great medieval classic with true understanding, Sinclair's three-volume prose translation of Dante's Divine Comedy provides both the original Italian text and the Sinclair translation, arranged on facing pages, and commentaries, appearing after each canto, which serve as brilliant examples of genuine literary criticism.

A prose translation of the Divine Comedy appears in a user-friendly, rigorously accurate format, complemented by sixteen short essays that consider thirteenth-century Italy, Dante's viewpoints, and previously disputed passages. UP. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From: Dean Denis Date: Wednesday, October 01, 2003 07:34 PM In "The Inferno" we see a mix of religion, myth, and politics. Not surprising given the literature of the day and the struggle for power which affected Dante directly. Although the poem opens with Dante faced with the personal plight of having lost the true path in his life, in the course of the journey we are introduced to many who are Dante's political enemies. Besides, those who had a hand in Dante's political defeat and exile, he has no sympathy for those whom he sees as corrupt. Here also Dante may be taking exception with past by choosing to hold government officials to higher standards of ethics and morals. Incidentally, I was surprised to learn in the accompanying material to my edition that Dante promoted the separation of Church and State as a way of getting Florence out of its cycles of war. Dante also moves away from the past by writing his poem in Italian, but he does not want to reject the past. He pays tribute and acknowledges his debt to the writers who came before him. Most admired of these is Virgil, who becomes Dante's guide for the first part of the journey known as "The Divine Comedy." Virgil, sometimes strong, sometimes nurturing, acts like a parent to Dante during the course of the journey. For all the political references, "The Inferno" remains a very personal document. The way Dante describes his experiences are vivid and evocative. Also, because it was his dear Beatrice who sent Virgil to him, I see in this the constant undertone of a love story similar to "The Odyssey." A funny thing, as they make their way through the inferno, Dante says that they must keep turning left to get out, yet on two occasions, Virgil takes Dante to the right. I have a thought about this inconsistency. Dante may be applying a well known principle for getting out of a maze, simply stated as "always turn toward the same side and you will eventually get out." The fact that this doesn't apply in the inferno, indicates the other worldliness of the place. It does not function under the same laws as our world and so Virgil is needed as a guide. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:20 PM From: "Beej Connor" I'm soooo looking forward to reading this. I've had this book sitting by my bedside for months, and now that it's time to read and discuss, I've found myself seriously behind on my reading! (I got a bit waylaid by real life/The Little Friend.) But I should get into The Inferno within the next couple days. Beej
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:21 PM From: "Ann Davey" I had good intentions, but I picked up a lousy translation. I'll see if I can get a better one. Actually, I read The Inferno a lifetime ago in college and I remember being fascinated by it. Ann
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:22 PM From: "Jonathan Metts" I read this poem/book a couple of years ago for a college class. As I have remarked about other classics, it is more interesting in premise and reputation than in the actual reading. However, there are at least interesting parts, especially the descriptions of the various torments. I was very disappointed that I couldn't apply any serious religious analysis to The Inferno, since I believe most of the condemnations are rooted in Dante's political and social beliefs and not in any doctrine or purely religious stance. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:22 PM From: "Jonathan Metts" Also, probably the most interesting thing for me were the references to Jesus's post-crucifixion, pre-resurrection visit to Hell and the destruction left in his wake. "Wow, that bridge is so badly damaged, we'll have to cross elsewhere. Hey, what's that written on the side?" "JESUS WUZ HERE." Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:22 PM From: "Ann Davey" Hmm. What happened to the people who voted for this selection? Ann
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:22 PM From: "Dean Denis" I think that, like Goethe's Faust, there is much which is lost in translation. In both cases I felt that I was attending an opera but was completely tone deaf. The music of the language and its emotional undertones are lost despite courageous efforts by translators to render the poems into English verse. I felt this much more strongly for "Faust" than for the other classic poems which I have read in translation (The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Inferno) I read a verse translation by Allen Mandelbaum. Personally, I prefer a prose translation rather than a verse translation. Nevertheless, Mandelbaum did keep my interest. Given all the references to Dante's political background, I found Mandelbaum's copious notes indispensible. Thanks for posting, Jonathan. I liked your imagined graffito at the ruined bridge. I, too, was expecting something different. I was a bit shocked to see to what extent this book is concerned with politics but I think that Dante in traveling a path out of hell was metaphorically showing a path toward better government. Perhaps, he was saying that Hell is bad government and that many evils could be avoided if principles and ethics were applied. I also wonder that this book might not have had a bigger impact on people who actually believed in Hell as an actual place. To have read about Hell in Italian rather than Latin must have made it a more personal experience. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Tonya Presley Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 02:23 PM From: "Martin Porter" Ann, I wondered the same thing, and was looking forward to reading the comments of the diligent readers. I have not had time to read L'Inferno again, but I have attempted some passages in the Italian, so I can pick up a bit on Dean's point about "loss in translation". I must say I find it ferociously hard. It is not just the archaic language and the abbreviation of endings, but the immense compression of thought, and variation in mood: popular proverbs, quotes in Latin, metaphors and similes, either of one word or sustained over many lines, classical allusions, descriptions of nature and descriptions of men, philosophical speculation and ideas from the everyday world. But with effort, although I can't appreciate it as poetry, I begin to understand how a native speaker might. Each line is a pentameter, like English blank verse, but always with an extra open vowel at the end. Adjacent vowels usually run together, and there are numerous vowel omissions. The lines are grouped in threes, which usually form a phrase or sentence. Is this meant to symbolise the three-fold form of the Divine Comedy? But the famous feature is of course the rhyme scheme (terza rima) which goes aba,bcb,cdc,ded,efe ... so as you read the bcb triple the outer lines rhyme with the middle line of the previous triple, and the middle line with the outer lines of the next triple. The triples link together like an immense chain, but the chain of each canto is complete, and doesn't link on into the next canto. But the rhymes seem less pronounced than in English poetry - perhaps because of the vowel endings, or because it's easier to find rhymes in Italian. In traversing the chain you are gently urged on to the next link by this rhyming connection. Dante uses plain words that get poeticised in the translation. Example: Ecco la fiera con la coda aguzza che passa i monti, e rompe i muri e l'armi; ecco colei che tutto 'l mondo appuzza translated, Lo the beast with the pointed tail that passes mountains and breaks through walls and arms! Lo he that infects all the world. but Dante's words say, There is the wild animal with the pointed tail Who goes over mountains and breaks walls and armour, There's the one who infects all the world (and appuzza really means "gives a bad smell to")
From: Dean Denis Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 03:33 PM Great post, Martin. I admire that you read some of this in the original. In addition to the intricate rhyme scheme which you mentioned, Mandelbaum gives further indication of the complexity of this work. I quote Allen Mandelbaum: ... ABA exists not only on the level of interword relations but on two other levels: 1) The hendecasyllable [11 syllables] line itself is often accented on its sixth and central syllable. And even when that syllable is unaccented, it may serve as a kind of center for accents on the fourth and eighth syllables, symmetrically placed to its right and left. ... when the obligatory stress on the tenth syllable is complemented by an initial iamb and consequent stress on the second syllable, we can generate not only homeopodic (or superimposed) symmetry but antipodic (mirror) symmetry - reinforcing ABA on the level of the line. 2) ... a reinforcement of ABA in terms of the constituents of the single rhyme word... For the most frequent word termini in Italian are vowel-consonant-vowel termini; and the vcv echoes, on still another level, the ABA of the first two levels. English, with its even-numbered metrical positions in each line (even Milton, the most sensitive to Italian of our major poets, has little taste for feminine endings in his major work) and its paucity of [VCV] termini can can never mine the depth of that prosodic intuition. End quote All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Martin Porter Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 05:33 PM Yes, I think that's right. You can see the central stress in the most famous line of all, Lasciate ogni sperAnza, voi ch'entrate while in the line quoted above, Ecco la fiera con la coda aguzza the central stress on 'con' disappears, and falls on the matching 4th and 8th syllables, fier- and cod-. You can see the vowels running together in che passa i monti, e rompe i muri e l'armi; the 11 syllables are che/ pass/a+i/ mont/i,+e/ romp/e+i/ mur/i+e/ l'arm/i;/ You get the same thing in italian opera: non piu andrai is sung as three notes - non/ piu+an/ drai - the pom-ti-pom of Mozart's most famous aria. Mandelbaum is very learned, but I wonder if his notes overstress the political dimension of Dante, which you seem to be very conscious of? I read the JD Sinclair translation, full of informative notes, and he stresses rather the religious and cosmological structure. I think, for Sinclair, the familiar contemporaries are put in Hell and Purgatory better to illustrate the punishments, rather than Dante inventing the punishments to take an imaginative revenge on political enemies. Certainly there is an elaborate "algebra of casuistry" (if that's the right term) which Sinclair explains, and which you can't nowadays understand without an explanation. Why it is appropriate to have the sodomites and usurers punished in the same Circle for example. Jonathan's impression that the punishments don't follow a religious scheme is certainly wrong here. But Dante's scheme is not like our scheme. I found the cosmology more interesting, with hell as a vast underground cone, its apex at the antipodes of Jerusalem, which leads out to the mountain of purgatory, another cone whose summit leads up into heaven. And I was fascinated by the three-day time scale of the entire work (that number three again), going from Good Friday to Easter Sunday in the year 1300, which can be worked out from the recondite astrological clues that Dante scatters through the poem. But looking at it again I think Sinclair is a bit like a tour guide who spreads out the architect's plans of a Mediaeval cathedral, when all the sightseer wants to do, at least on the first visit, is to look at the wall paintings. I think I would like to read L'Inferno again, avoiding the exegesis.
From: Jonathan Metts Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 06:08 PM Interesting note: according to the teacher under whom I read The Inferno, the ancient meaning of "usury" is to charge ANY interest on a loan, not just aggregious interest. He said this was likely the meaning Dante was using too. Jonathan Published daily at Currently reading: The Picture of Dorian Gray
From: Dean Denis Date: Tuesday, October 14, 2003 07:03 PM It's wonderful that you can see that, Martin. Thanks for reminding me of the religious and cosmological structure. Mandelbaum does mention these but it was the politics which made the biggest impression on me. The underground cone was interesting, Dante even mentions the maneuver whereby they turn around in order to be upright when they exit at the bottom. When it comes to the classics, I find that I need to read them at least twice. The first time serves to dispel the simplistic impression which I have absorbed from popular media. The second time, I can see the work more clearly in its own right. All roads lead to roam. Dean
From: Martin Porter Date: Friday, October 17, 2003 07:21 PM Dale, are we the only readers? I have got interested in Dante again, and am reading the blank verse translation of Henry Francis Cary, a worthy clergyman born in the 18th century. Comparing the notes in my two editions shows some extraordinary variations in interpretation ... for example: the three beasts of Canto 1, the leopard, lion and wolf, stand for lust, pride and covetousness according to one editor, for Florence, France and the Papacy according to another. I like to imagine they are three animals escaped from Florence Zoo in 1299. Here are some puzzlers: why does Dante faint twice in the opening Canti, once at the end of Canto 3 and again at the end of Canto 5. What does this mean? Does Virgil suffer in Limbo? Beatrice says to him that his misery does not touch her, "nor the flames of this fire assail me" (ne fiamma d'esto incendio non m'assale). So do the flames assail Virgil? If so, why is he shown existing contentedly with the other pagan poets a couple of Canti later? If he is suffering, how can the reader possibly accept it as just? If he is not, why is Limbo inside Hell at all? The difference between Milton and Dante seems to be that Milton struggles to explain God's injustice, while Dante accepts it without question.
From: Beej Connor Date: Friday, October 17, 2003 08:07 PM I'm in for this one, too. Just running a little behind is all. Limbo is not an inferno, so there are no flames of hell. It's a place of regret and hopelessness.. To quote lines 25 through 42, Canto IV: 'Down there, to judge by what I heard, there were no wails but just the sounds of sighs rising and trembling through the timeless air, the sounds of sighs of untormented grief burdening these groups, diverse and teeming, made up of men and women and infants. Then the good master said, "You do not ask what sort of souls are these you see around you. Now you should know before we go on farther, they have not sinned. But their great worth alone was not enough, for they did not know Baptism which is the gateway to the faith you follow, And if they came before the birth of Christ, they did not worship God the way one should; I myself am a member of this group. For this defect, and for no other guilt, we here are lost. In this alone we suffer: cut off from hope, we live on in desire.' I think limbo is not as much a part of hell as it is a level of hellish sorrow and hopelessness. Where the hell of Dante's Inferno is a tangible place, the hell of limbo is an eternal state of mind. Btw, I really liked how you differentiate Dante from Milton. At first I automatically questioned whether on not Milton struggled to explain God's injustice, but now I do see what you're saying and agree with you except that I'm not sure Milton saw it as an injustice rather than what simply was. Beej
From: Ann Davey Date: Saturday, October 18, 2003 10:47 AM Dean, I listened to the Teaching Company's audio tapes on Dante and the lecturers (one a literary expert and the other an historical one) both emphasized the political dimensions of The Inferno. Dante, after all, did write it during his long political exile from his beloved Florence, and often used his poem to settle old political scores. I was also taught that "usury" in this time period meant the charging of any kind of interest. Yet Dante's father was a moneylender. Does that mean he was condemned to hell? Martin, I admire you for tackling this in Italian. I don't think an English translation can hope to capture the beauty of the original, whose poetic form is based on features of the Italian language that can't be duplicated in English. I imagine reading an English translation is analogous to reading a rough prose translation of Shakespeare in contemporary English - the beauty of the language itself is sacrificed. This poem was written in the early 14th century. Do you suppose its language is as difficult for modern Italians to understand as 14th century English is for us? Beej, The whole concept of limbo in Catholic theology was always kind of hazy for me. Does the church ever talk about it nowadays? Are those people who died before Christ always going to be excluded from heaven? Ann
From: Beej Connor Date: Saturday, October 18, 2003 02:18 PM Ann, contrary to popular belief, papal statements have never professed that limbo exists but only said it was permissible for theologians to speculate that it did exist. Within the last few years, the Church has begun to take a different stand, however, on the existence of limbo. Tho it is still permissible for theologians to speculate on its existence, it should be coupled with the knowledge that Christ's suffering and crucifixion reconciled for sin, including non-baptized persons, and all those who died prior to the birth, and more importantly, the death of Christ. This opens up an abundance of questions, which probably accounts for the fact that most priests do not like to get into this issue..The most obvious question is, if Christ died for all our sins, is there even a hell? According to Catholic doctrine, there are three definite stages of afterlife; heaven, purgatory and hell, but no mention of limbo.. which might explain why Dante included it in 'The Inferno' section of his 'Divine Comedy.' Beej
From: Ann Davey Date: Saturday, October 18, 2003 03:52 PM Thanks, Beej. I do distinctly remember being told that unbaptized babies would go to Limbo, but I was never sure if that was supposed to be permanent. It seemed so unfair. Ann
From: Martin Porter Date: Saturday, October 18, 2003 06:43 PM Anne, Italian has changed much less than English in 700 years - I have no idea why. Dante is read in schools in Italy, but early 14th century English is hard University stuff. If you doubt that look at the opening of Gawain at Reading Dante now, I would not claim to have any answers, and have become very sceptical of the standard interpretations. For example, I am not at all convinced that he uses the poem to settle political scores. His guides, Virgil and Beatrice, are chosen, one from the historic and one from the contemporary world. What unites them is the love Dante had for the writings of one, the person of the other. And this prepares us for his use of both types of person, historical and contemporary, in the poem as a whole. But I think he is choosing people his readers would have recognised: the contemporaries because the readers lived through the same political events, the historical because the readers shared the background of classical and biblical knowledge. There is good case for saying that the choice of sinners is made primarily to illustrate the sins. I like to think how a modern L'Inferno could make good use of Nixon, Kissinger and the rest. The journey seems to stand for the poem itself. Dante's hesitations about setting off are also hesitations about being able to write. Virgil is both poet-guide and tour-guide. And the journey is so like a dream. Each event gives Dante a strong emotion, yet he is somehow detached. You often feel that in a dream.
From: Ernest Belden Date: Sunday, October 19, 2003 12:27 AM I have been reading the Lawrence Grant White edition of the Divine Comedy. Having no chance for comparison I hate to say that I am not impressed. Frankely this book has less appeal to me than most others I have read. Part of course is due to the basic religious assumption that God is portrayed as cruel and unforgiving. Of course the basis for this is "Free Will" i.e. mankind can choose a life style and sin as they please. But where is God's compassion when a hungry person steals money for feeding his family? I can't ignore contemporary wisdom to the effect that early experiences, the influence of parents and last but not least a sick brain (by birth or accident) are strong determinent factor in a person's action. Well I see god as both understanding and forgiving and that may be the basis of my negative feelings for this book. One should take into account prevalent views of life at the time Dante wrote The Divine comedy. I don't entirely understand my negative reaction to the writing. I can't identify myself nor do I get carried away with feelings. This is unrelated to the content and philosophy of the book. Perhaps its the Lawrence Grant White translation (1948) which served as a college text for my wife Pat. As I went on with my reading I questioned my own impression and decided to look up some writings on the subject. I had a look at W. John Campbell Ph.D. The Book of Great writers and read the chapter on the Divine Comedy, Inferno. I will also consult Harold Bloom's Western Canon, since the writer devotes a good many pages to Dante. At this point I looking forward to reading Dickens, one of my favorite authors. Ernie
From: Ernest Belden Date: Monday, October 20, 2003 01:39 AM I thought some more about my negative set to the Inferno and Goethe's Faust came to my mind. Faust can be accused of the most serious sins imaginable and caused the death of an innocent girl. But at the end of the second part Faust's negative attitude is changed by observing people working, helping each other and feels for once happy with life. His bargain with Mephisto is thereby broken and by contract his soul should descend to hell. But god intervenes: A truly good man may slip from the right path but will always return. So Faust's soul is rescued by angels and ascends into heaven. I agree with the ending. Ernie
From: Ann Davey Date: Monday, October 20, 2003 11:20 AM Ernie, I read the Inferno in college, but it is only part of The Divine Comedy. I have never read the other two parts, the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. I don't think most people do, so we probably get an unbalanced view of Dante's overall outlook. Ann


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