Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Divine Comedy

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, translated by Clive James, 526 pages

Cover image for The divine comedy / Dante ; a new verse translation by Clive James.The Divine Comedy is undoubtedly one of the literary masterworks of Western Civilization.  It has been translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and by Dorothy Sayers, illustrated by Gustave Dore and William Blake.  It has been adapted into blank verse, prose, a video game, and the origin for the X-Men villain Belasco.  So why do we need yet another version?

James' intent in this translation is to do something different - to produce a Divine Comedy which is not an object for study, but a poem to be read.  For this reason, the book contains no footnotes.  Some of the material that would normally be included in footnotes is incorporated into the text, while other information is simply left out, on the quite sensible grounds that the reader of Dante's time wouldn't have caught every allusion, either.  While the intent is surely sound, it does diminish the appreciation of the depth of Dante's work.  The translation likewise paves over Dante's archaisms, without being distractingly anachronistic.  The rhyme and meter are adapted from terza rima to schemes more natural to the English language. 

A good introduction to Dante for anyone intimidated by page after page of commentary, but also an interesting refresher for those already familiar with the poem.

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