on August 20, 2005
I always felt it a crime that I made it through high school and college without reading this. I recently read The Dante Club which re-ignited my interest in finally reading The Divine Comedy. I looked at all the versions out there and decided on this one. I am so glad I did.
There is an introduction on "How to read Dante" which was indispensible for my first time foray.
There is a note from the translator that explains how his translation might differ from others and why.
There is an introduction from a collegue of the translator that puts the Divine Comedy in a historical context.
So easy to read!
Each Canto begins with a synopsis. If all you wanted to know was the plot of the Divine Comedy you could just read all of these half page summaries (but you'd really miss out.)
Then the canto in beautiful verse.
Then copious notes that explain the minute details about whom you meet in the Canto and relevant events in history. The notes are as interesting as the Cantos themselves.
I am so glad I picked this copy up. I have now read and ENJOYED Dante's Divine Comedy. I highly recommend this as a starting point. It is extremely accessible.
on November 19, 1999
Those of us not fortunate enough to be able to read Italian and thus savor Dante's masterpiece in its original language have the next best thing--the comprehensively noted translation by another great poet, the late John Ciardi. This superb and handsome hardbound edition of Ciardi's translation of Dante's Divine Comedy is not simply the collected, earlier translations of The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso, which in past years appeared in separate paperback editions: This edition is the final Ciardi translation from earlier forms which were "a work in progress." In this magnificent final translation, the non-Italian-speaking reader can savor Dante's extrodinary fusion of morality with the metaphorical architecture of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, explored with pathos and sympathy for the human condition which, in the mind of Dante, constantly yearns for The All in All. A volume that should be required reading for anyone who aspires to understand man's place in the universe.
To be well read means that you have read the Comedy (at least once). At once haunting, dark and yet grotesquely beautiful, Dante has written for us the definitive Catholic epic poem of hell, purgatory and heaven. Mark Musa is one of the foremost Dante scholars in the world & teaches at the university of Indiana. His footnotes & commentaries are exceptional, a trademark that is not only a luxury but is, in fact, a necessity when it comes to Dante. I would recommend everyone read not just the Inferno, but all three canticles of the Comedy as a whole. One cannot truly understand everything in Inferno without reading thru the entire poem (including Purgatory and Paradise). Would also admonish that anyone interested in this work begin with Virgil's Aeneid and also read some Homer, Plato & Aristotle as well as some Roman history for a rough background of the work. Be advised that the bard expects you to have read everything he has so that you will catch all of his allusions. Once again, this is where Musa's footnotes come in handy, but there is still no substitute for actually reading thru the primary texts that serve as the foundation of this work. Also, would advise that one read the short work, La Vita Nuova (The New Life) before reading the Comedy, as it is basically a prologue to his epic. It will also help make more sense re: the pilgrim's near-obsessive love that he has for Beatrice. This is truly one of the great epic poems ever written and it positions Dante right up there with Homer, Goethe & Virgil.
on July 11, 2001
About twenty years ago I read Dorothy Sayers's translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" with great pleasure, finding an awesome grandeur in Dante's progression from Hell through Purgatory to Heaven. When I decided to re-read the work, I found the poetry tortured and the references obscure. So I went comparison shopping, settling on Mark Musa's version. He created an excellent, free-flowing, poetic, and easily understandable translation of the three canticles of Dante's "Divine Comedy" for Penguin Classics.
In addition to the direct translation, Musa provides an introductory summary to each canto, detailed notes following each canto, a glossary of names in the back of each volume, and an introductory essay for each volume. The introduction to "Volume 1: Inferno" gives a thorough introduction to Dante and to his other works as well as to the Inferno. Following the introduction is a translator's note. The introductions to "Purgatory" and "Paradise" do not go over the extra information presented in "Inferno". It is useful to read all three of Dante's canticles in the Musa translation to get a complete, consistent presentation of the work. Musa does make reference in his notes to one volume to ideas or people presented in the others.
The notes are vital for almost everyone. The references to Biblical, classical, and medieval personalities, myths, time systems, theology, and events come frequently. Few people are up on the ins and outs of Guelf vs. Ghibelline in medieval Italian politics. Musa makes it all as clear as it needs to be.
Musa's version of "Inferno" italicizes the introductory summary before each canticle and retains the detailed, interesting mappings of Hell used in the Sayers edition.
Dante's poem is central to Western civilization. Allowing for some poetic necessities, it pulls classical and medieval history into the framework of Christian theology to show how God's love powers the universe, how people can exercise free will, and how God can help and reward those who trust in Him. It is very easy for the reader to ask how he or she would fare in the afterlife and how to go about finding a better outcome. Some sins are punished severely [like traitors frozen near Lucifer in the ice of the Cocytus lake], and some sins have varying outcomes [E.g., there are some sodomites running on the burning sand of Lower Hell forever and some having their sins burned way in the last stage of Purgatory before going to Paradise.]. Some loves are more blessed than others too. There is much to reflect on. Dante the Pilgrim, drawn by his love for Beatrice gets the full experience.
Reading "The Divine Comedy" is valuable in any translation; Musa's flies along, bringing his audience along with understanding.
This review for "Inferno" applies to "Purgatory" and "Paradise" as well, since the productions are so comparable.
on August 25, 2003
I was introduced to Ciardi's translation of "The Divine Comedy" in an anthology of continental literature I read in college. At that time, after experiencing fragments of Fagles' horrible "verse" translation of Homer's works, I had low expectations for the translations in that anthology.
However, the instant I started reading John Ciardi's verse translation of "The Inferno", my hardened heart once again began to beat with the vibrancy it had when I read poems of Wordsworth or Browning.
John Ciardi, with a poetic talent that seems to be unmatched -- except for what I?ve read of W.S. Merwin's "Paradiso XXXIII," -- creates a poetic flow that feels, tastes, and even smells Italian. A poetic flow that delightfully contrasts Fagles', whose poetic flow is limited by popular styles and even phrases of the 20th century.
Instead of trying to lift Dante to the 20th century, Ciardi gracefully carries us to the early 14th century.
Instead of assuming that Dante is arcane, old fashioned, and in need of John's own poetic help, he believes that the original Italian is fresh, exciting, and poetically graceful.
The translation of Dante would have been diluted if Ciardi were to try and bring the 14th century to us through the modernization of the language, symbolism, and even the geography of Dante's world. (Fagles even geographically modified his "Odyssey" at one point to rename a Greek river the Nile because readers may get 'confused'.)
I?m glad that Ciardi tries to bring us back in time when the universe was cosmically full of life, where even the stars were more than the mere byproducts of abstract forces, chance, that can only be systematically analyzed and dissected.
The medieval worldview is far richer than the purely logical and scientific mindset that?s now common. By bringing Dante to us unfiltered by that mindset, Ciardi helps move us towards the bright and vibrant medieval world.
I strongly recommend John Ciardi's poetic translation of "The Divine Comedy," a lot is missed when reading only "The Inferno." The whole work is amazingly balanced.
on October 12, 2005
Ciardi, a noted poet and educator in the post-World War II era --and an Italian American -- remains after many years the most accessible Dante translator to the modern American ear. Of the generation of great American writers who reshaped our language, he was a lively fully engaged fellow and not prisoner of any ivory tower, despite his peerless credentials. Line by line, stanza by stanza, it shows. The Comedy requires many talents and understanding life and people is not the least of them.
"Dante was a drummer," Ciardi aptly notes in his introduction, and Ciardi's meter and rhyme scheme give a good English facsimile of Dante's incessant, intoxicating drum beat -- his famous 11 beat terza rima. You simply cannot do it in English, where most words end in hard consonants, not open vowels as in Italian. Yeah some people have tried -- always a noble aim -- but unless you're Superman don't climb Everest without oxygen. Purism will never get most of us through a first reading of this poem or for that matter through a few readings after. Music is what you need and Ciardi expertly lays it down.
About the poem? I've read it 7 times through, in different translations (Ciardi thrice) over 40 years and am just getting started. I do Ciardi between the others because I love my good modern Yankee language, soon drown without it. Ciardi really understands it -- from the jive of the street punk to the most austere scholar or saint -- its all here -- Dante's whole world talking to you like everybody you ever met.
on April 20, 2001
Mark Musa's translation of the Divine Comedy is the smoothest, most enjoyable version I have read. (I've read a few.) Mr. Musa provides a brief summation at the beginning of each Canto of Dante's Inferno. He then follows the summation with the actual poem (his translation), and then, after each Canto, he gives in-depth notes on all the references Dante has made -- which may often be obscure to the modern reader. This version is perfect for high-school and college students as well as the leisure time reader who simply wants to become acquainted with this foundation of Western poetry.
The Inferno is the first volume of the Divine Comedy and tells the story of how Dante is taken by the spirit of Virgil through the depths of Hell. The scenes and characters that they encounter cover many different human emotions; mostly sorrowful ones while Dante and Virgil are in Hell. This first volume is the most famous of the three, but Mark Musa's translation makes it so quick and entertaining to read, that I think most will find themselves wanting to continue on into the final two volumes, which I would highly recommend in order for one to obtain the entire perspective of this brilliant poem.
on October 2, 2004
Which in Italian means, roughly, "To translate is to betray." This review speaks entirely to translations, not to Dante, who is for God to review.
John Ciardi's translation is wonderful. To my taste it is the best verse translation we have. Its notes are just adequate. The Italian text is not supplied.
Now, Dante translations come in various schools: original metre, English metre, prose divided as verse, straight prose. Dante's original metre (terza rima) is not at home in English, though Chaucer's (somewhat approximate) first English translation uses it, as does Dorothy Sayers (whose Dantean scholarship is superb when she is not being Lord Peter Whimsy). Her heroic attempt is to my mind a waste of time. Nor, to me, does pure prose (such as the magnificent Singleton, work). The Divine Comedy is a poem, and prose does not follow the climaxes, hesitations, and rythms faithfully enough. So we are left with English metre, and with prose structured as verses (cantos). For readers who know some Italian, or Latin, or even French or Spanish, the latter would be my choice, so long as the Italian is supplied on the facing page--you can then hear Dante's own voice while understanding it. For this I would recommend the Durling translation (Oxford). It is wonderfully done and superbly annotated (though Singleton's notes are even more majestic)--which will deal with the common Dante complaint, "Who are all these people?". If you want to read directly in English verse, Ciardi is your man. Additional reading would be Dorothy Sayers' "Further Readings on Dante" (Harper). Or, buy Ciardi for his verse and Singleton for his notes and Italian text. AND, PLEASE don't read JUST the Inferno. Read Purgatorio and Paradiso too. You must! Inferno is just a part. If you dedicate your life's leisure to this poem you will have made a perfectly sound choice.
A note about Dante's Italian. In the Comedy it is extremely challenging. This is not at all because it is old, nor because it is poetry. Though my own Italian is by no means exemplary, I quite easily read Dante's approximate contemporaries, Ariosto, Tasso (a lovely poet) or even older poets such as the charming lady La Compiuta Donzella. With Dante in the Italian I must have a crib (I use Durling's edition, as above), though I can read it straight from the Italian after I have been through it with English across the page. However, it would be more correct to say that Dante's language is difficult than that his Italian is. The other poets are writing primarily about chivalry, war, and love (Dante, elsewhere, most definitely writes above love--far too much, Beatrice will comment in Heaven). In The Comedy, Dante presents his reader with very knotty thoughts and very unexpected images, out on the far frontiers of language. At one point in the Inferno, among the thieves, he presents souls being eaten by serpents, in effect excreted as serpents, then returning to their own form to be again eaten by serpents. (Hackers beware! God's identity theft is more comprehensive than yours.) The image is exceedingly dense. I have great respect for translators such as Ciardi or Durling who can grasp it in Italian and then present it in English. With all respect for Love, this is just more complex. You really do not quite read Dante unless you read the Italian, but to read the The Comedy in Italian without aid is, undeniably, a test.
on April 9, 2011
The links all go to the first book. If you click on Cantos 1 in Inferno it will go to Cantos 1 in paradise. In addition to that the INferno book is missing a ton of sections. It says it has them until you get to them and realize the pages are missing. Inferno is very chopped up. This kindle version is not readable.
Also, when flipping through the book it is very slow and often acts like it is frozen.
on February 25, 2000
Well of course the work is incredible... it is one of the top works of epic poetry ever, with vivid imagery, deft technique, deep symbolism, and some scenes both harrowing and uplifting. In addition, it is one of the absolutely crucial works in the historical development of serious writing in colloquial language (italian in this case of course), the important mixing of pagan and Christian doctrines, and just plain fun to read. However, the point here is also to judge the translation. In short, there is none better than John Ciardi's! Ciardi manages to keep the terza rima, the meter, and best yet.. the actual power of the words in his brilliant translation. There are other good ones, like the old Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed translation, but with "thees" and "thous" everywhere, it doesn't quite capture the feel of modern day colloquial rendering, one of the points of the work, but worth checking out nevertheless. Want to compare, just read the first page of several translations and you will see how great Ciardi's is!