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Inferno (Bantam Classics)
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I was very pleased with this edition of Inferno, Dante's controversial verse of man's sins. First, the translation was smooth and stayed true to the essence of the story, even though any translation can lose some of the quality of the words. However, there are also facing pages of the original Italian as well. With a short summary of each Canto and a few powerful pencil sketches scattered here and there, this is a very well put together edition. The notes are in the back of the book, which I prefer, so as they don't detract from the story while reading it. There's also a map of Hell and of the Universe according to Dante. Altogether, this is a very informative edition and one of my favorites.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
First, let me say that the print edition of this work is excellent, with the Italian text and English translation by Mandelbaum on facing pages, plus the illustrations by Moser. I have the hardback edition of all three volumes.

The problem with the Kindle edition is that they did not manage to keep the pagination correct. Though a Kindle book does not have facing pages, we could at least expect one page with Italian text, and the next page with the corresponding English translation, etc. Note that I checked this with the Kindle sample on the Kindle iPad app, but I presume this would also be true on actual Kindle devices.

Since this was not done, I can not recommend this edition.
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72 of 90 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
Dante Alighieri's three part epic The Divine Comedy ranks highly among the literature of the world. Written in early Italian and rhymed in terza rima, its 100 cantos display impressive allegory and use of scholastic philosophy. In INFERNO, the first volume, the narrator finds himself "half of our life's way" (around 35 years old) and lost in a forest at night. When day breaks, three savage animals bar his escape. The Roman poet Virgil (best known for his AENEID) appears and tells him that Heaven has sent him to lead Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and finally Heaven to bring him out of his spiritual malaise.

Dante's Hell differs from the traditional view of everyone together amongst flames. Here the dead receive different punishments based on their sins. Thus, the lustful are caught up eternally in a whirlwind, and astrologers and magicians have their heads reversed (so those who tried to fortell the future can only see their past). Nowhere, however, does anything seem wrong. The dead are placed into Hell not by an unjust God, but by their own decisions and actions. INFERNO is a slow beginning, most of the grace and beauty of the Comedy lies in the subsequent volumes, PURGATORIO and PARADISO. However, this first volume has a solid role in the allegorical significance of the Comedy. Dante wrote not just a simple story of quasi-science fiction, but a moving allegory of the soul moving from perdition to salvation, the act which the poet T.S. Eliot called "Mounting the saint's stair". While INFERNO may occasionally lack excitement on the first reading, the next two volumes thrill and upon reading them one can enjoy INFERNO to the fullest.

I believe that the best translation of INFERNO to get is that of Allen Mandelbaum, which is published by Bantam (ISBN: 0553213393). Mandelbaum's verse translation melds a faithful rendering of the Italian with excellent poetry, and has been praised by numerous scholars of Dante, including Irma Brandeis. Here's an example from Canto XIII, where the poet and Virgil enter a forest where the trees are the souls of suicides:

"No green leaves in that forest, only black;
no branches straight and smooth, but knotted, gnarled;
no fruits were there, but briars bearing poison"

Mandelbaum's translation also contains an interesting introduction by Mandelbaum, extensive notes (which are based on the California Lectura Dantis), and two afterwords. The first of these, "Dante in His Age" is an enlightening biography of Dante and how he came to write the Comedy while in exile. The second "Dante as Ancient and Modern" examines Dante both as a wielder of classical knowledge and as a poet working in a new and distinctly late-Medieval style (the "dolce stil nuovo") which broke poetry out of the grip of Latin and made it something for people of every class.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Professor Allen Mandelbaum, a lecturer on Italian literature, has given one of the finest and most accurate translations of Dante in the modern era. In the 19th century Longfellow was very accurate (Longfellow's mastery of ancient Italian is quite impeccable) and probably the standard-bearer, and a later notable poetic translation emerged from John Ciardi; in 1982 the mantle passed on to Mandelbaum.

One of Mandelbaum's virtue is his accuracy and excellent reading of the text, as well as his fine ear. Few modern translators of Italian or classical poetry has as good an ear as Mandelbaum: his translation rings consistently true. It is a blank verse ring, no doubt, but it rings nonetheless. He takes few liberties with the text, but there is a quality to his verse. Mandelbaum's Inferno would take the palm over many other modern versions.

Another virtue of this special Bantam edition is Barry Moser's ink/pencil drawings. Moser is a renowned illustrator; his drawings are consistently appropriate and distinguished. The notes are excellent too: not too long but very informative and adequate for the lay reader, up-to-date for its time (and probably still is), written in exemplary, scholarly but unpedantic prose. Italian scholar Gabriel Maruzzo teamed with Mandelbaum for it. Besides the introduction Mandelbaum provides two additional long illuminating essays: "Dante in His Age" and "Dante as Ancient and Modern".

Bantam gives us Dante's Italian text on the left and the Mandelbaum translation on the right. The Bantam paper quality is somewhat cheap and pulpy, but the typography is lovely. Perhaps someone might give us a durable hardback edition of this Bantam Classic someday? Everything else is exemplary. Bravo!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2012
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I don't read Italian, so I can't exactly describe how accurate the translation truly is. I can say that Mandelbaum creates a vivid, epic language that enchants and ensnares. His introduction and meditations on his translation process is almost a masterpiece in itself. His devotion to capturing the essence (tone, rhetoric, thematics, stylistics, etc) of the work while retaining both grandeur and readability is commendable. I've read about three versions of "The Inferno," and Mandelbaum's is by far the most mesmerizing. If you don't believe me, the book is endorsed by Robert Fagles (probably the greatest translator who ever lived) and Hugh Kenner (one of the finest literary critics of the 20th century). The work includes ample footnotes, which are exceedingly useful. Given the limited space that this bilingual translation offers, it is quite astounding how detailed the notes really are. While the Gustave Dore pictorial interpretations of "The Divine Comedy" are absolutely splendid, they have become fairly standard accompaniments with most Dante translations. It is very nice to see new illustrations that still inspire the awe of the Dore visuals. Barry Moser's illustrations are astonishing in that they both create vivid, original pictures of Dante's hell and reflect the thematic elements associated with the Florentine poet's imagery. They also emphasize the gruesome quality inherent in Dante's hell, something that Dore's images don't seem to communicate. I'm in a Dante class at the moment. The professor (an Italian born scholar of early Renaissance Italian literature) has relied on this translation for years. If you want to undertake the splendid journey of Dante's pilgrimage, then this is the best possible book to use for the great journey through hell.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Many writers have imagined what the underworld is like, from ancient times to our own - but no one has ever matched Dante's nightmare, written as a warning to a Renaissance Florence that would face the Great Plague only a generation later.
We begin as Dante is met by the ancient poet Virgil, his guide on this first leg of a tour of the afterlife (Purgatorio and Paradiso follow - Inferno, regarding sin, despair, and a little gossip of Dante's time, is of course the most powerful and popular of the trilogy). He meets the righteous heathens who were not exposed to Christianity but may have hope of heaven eventually, and further on those guilty of relatively minor sins like adultery and gluttony. But soon enough they reach that famous gate after which all hope is to be abandoned. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
This is a fascinating document of the ethics of the time, and it's interesting to compare Dante's morality to our own in the 21st century. For Dante premeditated intent is everything, which means that a hotheaded murderer is on a higher level of hell than, for instance, a deliberate flatterer - something I think it's safe to say most of us would violently disagree with. It's also quite interesting to watch Dante himself change, as he moves from compassion (he actually meets some departed friends, especially in the less tortuous upper levels) to occasional viciousness (as he not surprisingly meets departed enemies, especially in the unspeakable lower levels).
This is also a horror story of the first rate. If you doubt this a reading of, for instance, Ugolino's account of his starvation with his sons and grandsons near the end should change your mind in a hurry - and there are many other examples. Aside from Virgil's presence there is very little relief as the punishments become more and more horrific.
If you have a glimmer of fear for your immortal soul and a good imagination, this is potentially nightmare inducing stuff that's likely to keep you good for quite some time to come.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I paid an absolute fortune for this edition while studying in Perugia, Italy (apparently the dollar isn't doing so well these days, hence the price), but I would say it was worth it. My first time reading Dante (recreationally, to boot!), I was entraced by the beautiful language of the translation. In his story, Dante makes several obscure references to unknown historical figures of his age. This edition features the Italian text on the left side of the page, and english on the other. This was great to help me improve my Italian, or if I wasn't sure of the meaning of a word, I was able to work out another translation. The notes at the end of the book served to inform without dumbing it down. Don't be confused--these are not cliffnotes at the end, simply clarifications. As a Dante novice, I fell in love with this edition and quickly recommended it to all my friends. In fact, after I finished, I ran back to the Italian bookstore to purchase Purgatorio and Paradiso, each equally as expensive as Inferno. As far as the story goes, it is very highly praised. It is completely beautiful, and truly helps you grasp more Italian context, as well as to catch the many literary and pop culture references to Dante that exist today. It's just so amazing, it is quickly understandable why it is so unbelieveably popular.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 29, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
At the rate I'm going, I'll be in one of those circles of hell eventually, but since I'll be in such good company (all of late 13th century Florence, for starters) I don't think I can complain. In spite of Voltaire's opinion, I believe Dante is still read today, as was in Voltaire's time, because people find something of value in this, his most famous poem. The entire "Commedia" consists of two more books, the "Purgatorio" and the "Paradiso," which I have not read. I'll read them eventually, but, for the time being, I am quite happy with the "Inferno." The Florentine poet grabs Virgil as a guide that will take him out of the dark woods where Dante found himself wandering because he had lost the way of his life, and together they will go in a journey through Hell because the divine Beatrice has commanded that Dante must be led, so his eyes and heart can be opened and he can be saved. If this is true, I hope she is wrong, because I would like to talk to Dante, and if he goes to Paradise I would have no chance at all.
The "Inferno" is one of the most important poems ever written. Doomed lovers, murderers, traitors, liars, Dante's political enemies (including a Pope), righteous heathens, all of them have Hell as their final address. Dante talks to many of them, and they tell him their stories. I loved this poem. I found Odysseus where he belongs (with the liars), and Dido and Cleopatra, together in suicide. Most of all, I found an arrogant, self-centered Florentine poet who truly believed that the world revolved around him and wrote a monument of Western Literature just to prove it: I had to like Dante and his poem. The only reason I give this version four stars is because I do not think it is as good as the verse translation by Laurence Binyon. I have read both by now, and the old Binyon rendition of Florentine Italian into English is simply beautiful, where Mandelbaum's more businesslike version is clear if rather unpoetic. I wish a Binyon's version were available, but his translation of the Commedia seems to be out of print and I am the only person I know that has the "Divine Comedy" translated by Laurence Binyon. Still, I read the Mandelbaum for class and I enjoyed it almost as much as my favorite one. Whichever translation you choose (Ciardi's is in rhyme verse, too, while Musas's is not) I think you will enjoy this dark, wonderful journey that Dante took in 1300. If he is right about his poetic vision of the netherworld, most of us will be there in one circle or another, with medieval Florentines all around us. Enjoy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 28, 2010
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book is not what is advertised. The translation is not Zappulla's (which is too bad because he did a wonderful job) but rather Allen Mandelbaum (who's translation is also excellent.) I would recommend this book but it's unfortunate that Amazon has mis-identified this edition. I would very much like to have the Zappulla translation as well as the Hollander translation.

For students of Dante, this version is an excellent place to start but it would be nice to also see Musa, Hollander and Zappulla in the Kindle Store.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 8, 2013
Format: Mass Market PaperbackVerified Purchase
This past spring I took a class on Dante in which we read the entirety of The Commedia. After taking some time to think about and digest this massive poem, I think I am finally ready to write my review.

At the opening of the poem, Dante awakes to find himself lost in a dark wood. Unable to leave the valley, he is greeted by the shade of Virgil, who tells him that he has been sent by Mary and Dante's dearly departed Beatrice to guide Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and eventually to the highest parts of Heaven. Although Dante is initially reluctant to go, he eventually follows Virgil down into the mouth of Hell.

While the idea of reading such a long old poem seems daunting, the language and imagery that Dante uses makes it as compelling and fresh as if it were written yesterday. It is, first and foremost, a journey, and the sights the pilgrim sees on his journey to the bottom of Hell are described in vivid and sometimes gross detail. Hell is a very physical place, full of bodies and bodily functions, and Dante doe snot skimp on the imagery. But as often as his language is crude, it is at times stunningly beautiful. There were similes that absolutely stopped me in my tracks with their perfection and beauty. If you want to read the Inferno for the first time, read it like a novel. Jump in, enjoy the story, gawk at the imagery, and stop to relish the beautiful passages.

Just as Dante the pilgrim takes Virgil as his guide through Hell, Dante the poet uses Virgil as a poetic guide in his attempt to write an epic that encompasses religion, politics, history, and the human experience. In each circle, Dante meets a new group of sinners who are in Hell for different reasons. The first thing to note about the damned is that they seem to be mostly from Florence. Seriously, sometimes I think Dante wrote this just so he could shove everyone he didn't like into the fiery pit. But in all seriousness, Dante's goal wasn't just to describe the afterlife, he was also trying to describe life on earth. By putting people from Florence in Hell or Heaven, Dante was commenting on what was happening in Italy at the time. Most important for Dante was the corruption he saw in the church, so there are entire cantos of the Inferno devoted to religious leaders, especially Popes, and especially Boniface, who was Pope at the time Dante was writing.

The other thing to note about the damned is how relatable they are, at least in the beginning. When you meet Paolo and Francesca in Canto V and listen to Francesca's story, you can't help but be drawn in and pity her. Dante the pilgrim pitied her too, and swoons (again, seriously, he spends like the first 10 cantos swooning left and right) due to his empathy for them. Again and again the pilgrim pities the damned, but as the canticle goes on this happens less and less. By the end of the canticle he has stopped pitying the shades at all, and instead feels that their damnation is deserved. Why did Dante the poet make the pilgrim transforming such a way? Just as the description of Hell also serves as a description of Earth and of the nature of the human soul, the pilgrim's journey through the afterlife mirrors the soul's journey from the dark wood of sin and error to enlightenment and salvation. Dante is at first taken in by the sinners because he is not wise enough to see through their excuses. He is too much like them to do anything other than pity them. As he goes through Hell, he learns more and shakes off the darkness of the wood, so that by the time he gets to the bottom he no longer pities the damned. Still, even in the lowest circles, the shades are all deeply human, and their stories of how they ended up in Hell are incredibly compelling.

Dante the poet shows again and again how similar the pilgrim and the damned really are. He constantly explores sins that he could have committed or paths that he could have taken, exposing his own weaknesses and confronting what would have been his fate if Beatrice and Mary had not sent Virgil to save him. I think it speaks to his bravery as a poet that he insisted on exposing not just the weaknesses in society, but also the weaknesses in his own character.
Dante the poet is also brave, I think, for tackling some very serious theological, political, and psychological issues. When Dante the pilgrim walks through the gate of Hell, the inscription on the gate says that the gate and Hell itself were made by "the primal love" of God. Here, Dante tackles one of the greatest theological questions; how can a just and loving God permit something as awful as Hell? While the real answer doesn't come until the Paradiso, Dante was brave to put that question in such stark and paradoxical terms.

Dante's constant indictments of the political and religious leaders of his day show bravery, intelligence, and a good degree of anger on his part. Before writing the Inferno, Dante had been exiled from his home city of Florence for being on the wrong side of a political scuffle. He was never able to return home, and his anger at the partisanship that caused his exile mixed with his longing for his home make the political themes of the poem emotionally charged and interesting to the reader, even today.

Lastly, Dante shows both bravery and a great deal of literary skill in his treatment of Virgil. Virgil is Dante's guide through Hell and, later, Purgatory. He leads Dante every step of the way, teaching him like a father would, protecting him from daemons and even carrying him on his back at one point. It is clear that Dante admires Virgil, and in some ways the poem is like a love song to him. Virgil, living before Christ, was obviously not Christian, so Dante's choice of Virgil as a guide through the Christian afterlife is really quite extraordinary. It shows that wisdom can be attained from the ancient world, and that the light of human reason, which Virgil represents, is necessary for the attainment of enlightenment and salvation. Dante believed strongly that reason and faith were not opposites, but partners, and his choice of Virgil as a guide is a perfect illustration of that principle.

But, despite Dante's love of Virgil, Virgil is, to me, one of the most tragic characters in literature. Virgil, as a pagan, cannot go to Heaven. He resides in Limbo, the first circle of Hell, home of the virtuous pagans. There, he and the other shades (including Homer, Plato, and others) receive no punishment except for their constant yearning for Heaven and the knowledge that they will never see the light of God. Virgil, at the request of Mary and Beatrice, leads Dante toward a salvation that he can never have. Human reason can only lead a soul so far; to understand the mysteries of Heaven one has to rely on faith and theology. Virgil's fate is the great tragedy of this otherwise comic poem, and the knowledge of that fate haunts the first two canticles. And while it makes sense thematically and in terms of the plot, Dante makes you love Virgil so much that his departure in the Purgatorio never really feels fair. I still miss him.

The Inferno is a long and complex poem, filled with vivid imagery, vast psychological depth, scathing social commentary, and deep theological questions. It is also a journey, a real adventure in a way, and a pleasure to read. Though the real fulfillment of Dante's themes does not come until the Paradiso, the Inferno is well worth reading on its own. Even if you don't go on to read the other two canticles, reading The Inferno is time well spent.

Rating: 5 stars
Recommendations: Read it. Skip the boring parts if you want to, but just read it.
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