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Inferno (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – December 9, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Professor Esolen’s translation of Dante’s Inferno is the best one I have seen. . . . And his endnotes and other additions provoke answers to almost any question that could arise about the work.” —A. Kent Hieatt, translator of The Canterbury Tales

“Crisp and clear, Esolen’s version avoids two modern temptations: a slavish literalness to the Italian or a taking of liberties in the attempt to make this greatest of medieval poems esthetically modern. . . . In addition to his scholarly tact, Esolen is simply one of the most vigorous English translators of Dante ever.”—Crisis magazine

“Esolen’s new translation follows Dante through all his spectacular range, commanding where he is commanding, wrestling, as he does, with the density and darkness in language and in the soul. This Inferno gives us Dante’s vivid drama and his verbal inventiveness. It is living writing.” —James Richardson, professor of creative writing in the Lewis Center for the Arts, Princeton University

“Opening the book we stand face to face with the poet, and when his voice ceases we may marvel if he has not sung to us in his own Tuscan."—William Dean Howells, The Nation

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Italian --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (December 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970067
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

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Anthony Esolen's [relatively] new translation of Dante's Divine Comedy is my personal favorite for leisure reading. Here he captures the high drama, rage, fear, and pathos of Dante's poem better than any other translator I've read (and I've read many). I had already read Inferno umpteen times when I bought Esolen's translation, and it was like reading it for the first time again. I was almost brought to tears by Ugolino and his story, a story, like I said, that I had already read what seemed like a million times. A good translator makes the familiar seem new again, and Esolen's version of Dante accomplishes just that.

One nice thing, poetically, about this translation is that Esolen avoids most of the flaws of other translations. His poetry is neither ridiculously ornate nor boringly literal, as many have the tendency to be. He walks the tightrope gracefully, sticking to an iambic pentameter line. He doesn't attempt to force rhyme on the translation (the fatal flaw of the otherwise excellent translation by Dorothy Sayers), but does use a rhyme when it presents itself naturally.

This translation is highly recommended for anyone interested in The Divine Comedy. The notes section is scanty, especially compared to the Ciardi and Musa translations, but should be quite enough for even beginning readers.
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Format: Paperback
Choosing which translation of Dante's Divine Comedy to read is a very subjective and personal question. Any translation involves balancing the meaning, feel, and artistry of the work, normally at the expense of at least one of these qualities. A major consideration is the topic of rhyme. The Divine Comedy has a complex rhyme scheme that suits itself well to the rhyme-rich language of Italian (where, unlike English, many words end in vowels). Translations that attempt to maintain any type of rhyme scheme often sound forced and usually compromise the meaning of the text.

At the other end of the spectrum are straight prose (spoken word) translations. Prose translations are great for communicating the story and it's nuances, however any poetical structure is lost. A third choice is a translation written in blank verse (iambic pentameter). This format allows freedom to communicate the work without rhyme, yet maintains a metrical structure. In addition, it's well suited for English (Shakespeare wrote much of his work in blank verse).

So, which version should you read? I have no vested interested in selling a particular author's work, my recommendations are just my personal opinion. My favorite version is by Mark Musa (written in blank verse). I also enjoy Anthony Esolen's translation (blank verse with some rhyme). They also both have good notes (a necessity). Ultimately, it's great to read a few and decide which version you like best, each has strengths and weaknesses.
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Format: Paperback
Dante's Divine Comedy is one of the great works of world literature. T. S. Eliot famously asserted that Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world: "there is no third". Hence "Commedia", christened "divina" by Boccaccio, earns five stars - there isn't any debate.

Professor Esolen's 2002 version, published by Modern Library, doesn't attempt the intricacies of Commedia's musical terza rima, which is virtually impossible to achieve in English without semantical distortions. Prof Esolen employs blank verse with irregular rhymes, which ought to bring about a virtue of faithfulness to the original text. Looking at Prof Esolen's first Canto, however, might bring some problems to some preferring a more literal approach. Prof Esolen can be too free in his rendition, at least to me, resulting in some semantic shifts which aren't found in the original.

In the opening Canto, Dante finds himself in a "selva oscura", which means "dark/obscure woods/forest". "Selva", according to the Italian dictionary, means "forest" or "woods". This is the wording employed by the vast majority of Inferno translations. Prof Eolen opts for "wilderness", which may mean "forest", "desert" or "a tract of wasteland". The American Heritage Dictionary defines "wilderness" as "a large wild tract of land covered with dense vegetation or forests", or, "an extensive area, such as a desert or ocean, that is barren or empty; a waste". There is dual meaning: the semantics for wilderness in most parts of the world still means "a desolate uncultivated tract" eg. in the 2011 NIV John the Baptist still preached "in the wilderness".

Under the Ptolemaic system during Dante's time the sun was a "planet" (Italian: pianeta). Prof Esolen translates this as "wandering light of Heaven".
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Format: Hardcover
On page 167 of his translation of the Inferno, Anthony Esolen gives the following definition: "A comedy is a song written in the humble style wherein the main character begins in grief and trouble and ends in happiness."

Wonderful, isn't it? Who wouldn't wish to be scooped up in such a Commedia?

But this Esolen, though he aims to be helpful, can be both pushy and pious. I had a boyfriend once just like him. This boyfriend used to get me in the car and start playing cassettes of motivational speakers. At certain points, he'd pause the tape and say, "See? See? That's what YOU are doing WRONG."

This is exactly how Esolen uses his commentaries on Dante. Everything Dante says Esolen uses for some heavy-handed moral point he wants to make.

On the other hand, it seems very appropriate to argue over Dante, who was, after all, the world's most artful picker of fights. Not once in the one hundred cantos of his Commedia does he say "Why can't we just get along?"

There's a lot to be said for an argumentative version. So I read Mandelbaum for beauty, Hollander for the notes, and Esolen for arguments.
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