81 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2005
"The Portable Dante" provides readers with the complete "Divine Comedy" (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise), an excellent biography on the author, historical background, a great translation by one of the the best translators of the genre, and Dante's often forgotten work "La Vita Nuova". What more could you ask for? Essentially, this volume has it all. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wishes to read the entire "Divine Comedy" from Hell to Heaven. It's better than having to buy each book separately. And nothing is lost from putting it all into one place. Each Canto is complete and excellently translated into verse form (as it should be). This edition makes the often difficult work easier to read by providing a summary at the beginning of each Canto (though I often skip over these because I don't want to spoil the surprise, but they're there if you need them) and notes at the bottom of each page (instead of in the back of the book like another edition I read), making them easy to refer to while reading.
There are a lot of editions of this timeless work out there, but this is the one to get. Great translation and excellent organization.
72 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2006
First, a word about Mark Musa's translation of Dante's works. His interpretations of the Divine Comedy and La Vita Nuova are very beautiful, extremely readable, and as true to Dante as you can be in English. Musa's scholarship is excellent, and his introductory essays on Dante and his works are a pleasure to read, offering a broad understanding of what Dante is all about.
However, it is important that you keep in mind that a number of concessions had to be made for this book. Collecting the massive poems of the Divine Comedy, along with La Vita Nuova, is no mean task - I'm astounded Penguin Classics pulled it off in such a compact and readable volume. But this collection comes at the expense of some features that range from minor to outright baffling.
First, the minor stuff. This edition lacks the informative diagrams and illustrations of the standalone Divine Comedy volumes from Penguin Classics (Inferno, et al). Given the complexity of Dante's creation, it is very helpful to have maps to show you where the various parts of the afterlife are, and who inhabits them. Puzzlingly, /The Portable Dante/ includes a detailed map of Purgatory, but only a very vague and un-labeled map of Inferno, and NO map of Paradiso and the celestial spheres. Very strange and disappointing.
More unfortunate is the lack of a glossary. The Penguin Classics /Inferno/ has an excellent glossary of people and places that appear in the poem. This is a phenomenal resource for figuring out who is where in Hell, what they represent, and what Dante is doing with them.
However, the most (potentially) major issue with this volume is the sparse commentary. The individual books of The Divine Comedy have extensive endnotes, detailing broad sections and individual passages in great detail. The notes offer a better understanding of what Dante is doing, because virtually every line of poetry includes multi-faceted references to classical mythology, Christian scripture, and contemporary or historical Italian culture. For the majority of the Divine Comedy, well over 50% of the notes (as compared with the individual Penguin Classics books) have been removed.
The endnotes have been converted to non-intrusive footnotes, which is a welcome shift. But I can't help but feel that also including a detailed endnotes section would have added much, so that at the very least the reader could explore the more obscure references (passages from the Aeneid, the Bible, and so on) if they so desire. I also noticed some notes rather crucial to understanding have been removed completely, which is very unfortunate.
So how come, after all this whining and moaning, I still give /The Portable Dante/ a full five stars? Because Mark Musa's translation is so fluid and vital, and having such a beautiful collection in a compact volume is extremely valuable. There is enough supplementary material that casual readers can enjoy Dante's mastery and creativity, and they will perhaps be tantalized to explore the deeper meanings he plants throughout.
Here's the bottom line: /The Portable Dante/ is what I use when I wish to read Dante to others, or to simply read through for my own enjoyment. If you need extensive scholarly information, I recommend also buying the Penguin Classics editions of the individual parts of The Divine Comedy. But as a smooth and very readable base camp for your exploration of Dante, I can think of no better book than this.
Highly recommended, whatever your level of interest in this fascinating poet and his works.
59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2003
Dante's Divine Comedy is one of the greatest works of an individual author in the history of literature. I did my undergraduate thesis on a topic in it, so I guess I could be a little biased. I'm not reviewing the Commedia, but the Musa edition.
My director, an expert in Medieval Studies (Toronto Ph.D., Notre Dame professor), preferred this edition because it attempts to capture Dante's meaning, and is best equipped of the English translations to do that. It doesn't attempt to replicate his meter or rhyme, which we wouldn't be able to do without significant damage to the text. It's also not a translation based on other translations for the most fluid reading (Pinsky). Musa is specifically a scholar of medieval Italian. While I consulted Mandelbaum, he is foremost a poet/translator. His work is impressive as such, but a lot of the philosophical or theological finesse is lost when reading his translation. Not being contrived, I find Musa still compelling to read. He lets Dante speak for himself, mostly, and that's a tremendous attribute in a translator. If you want the full impact of the beauty, you had better start learning Italian. But if you seek to grasp the plot and basic meaning of Dante, this book is what you're looking for.
The book design is very good. I got tons of used out of this paperback, but it never fell apart and didn't show much wear and tear. The pages are soft on the eyes and are of good enough quality to write on (which I did a lot!). As others have mentioned, having footnotes at the bottom is much better than having to flip to the back (Mandelbaum) or use another book (Singleton). Don't be afraid to consult these notes or read the canto introductions, you will find that these will help your reading, not serve as crutches. One reviewer insinuated that Musa pared down the version to make it so comparably short. That is an unbelievably stupid assertion; unlike other translations, he uses prose (less spacing, more words per line) and doesn't have the facing Italian text. Nothing cut here.
In one portable volume you get works of near-peerless literature at a great value price.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2013
This review refers only to the Kindle edition of this book.
The Kindle version is almost unreadable. No separation of any kind is made between the verses and the footnotes, and it is thus almost impossible to read. Every other paragraph is a footnote. It is as though you are sitting in a room listening to two people simultaneously reading aloud from different books.
I'm thoroughly disappointed in Amazon for selling this mess.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2002
Take it from somebody who has three translations of the Divine Comedy. This translation is the best.
With every translation, something is lost (as Dante himself states in his Convivio, book 1), but very little seems to be lost in this one. Mark Musa has preserved the form, the vivid imagery, and the beautiful truths of the Divine Comedy in this translation to English. However, I can't say for certain, because I can't read Italian, much less medieval Tuscan-Italian.
I choose to focus on the translation instead of the work itself since the Divine Comedy is one of the unquesitoned great works of world literature.
In addition to that great work, Dante's other well-known work is his La Vita Nuova (The New Life). Want to have some chills? Finish "Paradise," then dive straight in to La Vita Nuova, and read it as fast as possible. You'll see what I mean.
Also included is a nice biography on Dante and a nice treatment and explanation of Dante's writing. This book is a must own for anybody.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 16, 2000
Not only do you get all of the Divine Comedy, La Vita Nouva, and a good translation, it contains the best feature for any student trying to read Dante: Footnotes on the bottoms of the pages! No other version that I have seen has this feature and believe me, it's really nice not to have to flip to the back and look up a number every time a new name or concept comes up (and believe me, it is a lot). This feature alone (plus that fact that it contains all the Dante you'll ever need) makes it THE edition to buy.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 21, 2013
Penguin needs to withdraw the Kindle edition of The Portable Dante until all of its formatting issues are addressed: They have done nothing but export the text of the original without any further reworking of the text for e-book readers. Footnotes that would appear naturally at the ends of pages in the print edition show up in odd places in the Kindle edition. Nothing is linked. This is all very puzzling in that the Kirkpatrick translation -- also published by Penguin -- is wonderfully formatted for Kindle, and supplemented with user-friendly links to footnotes. Although I prefer the Musa, the Kirkpatrick is also very good. Fortunately, given Amazon's easy return process, I was able to make the return and get the Kirkpatrick in seconds.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2002
Dante's "Divine Comedy" has been something I wanted to read for a very long time, but never quite got around to until recently. I haven't yet compiled anything like a Top Ten list of favorite books, but if I did, the Comedy would surely find a place on the list. Dante's vision of the ethereal, and his vivid descriptions of the travels he supposedly undertook were stunning and tremendously descriptive. I've read that many of Dante's contemporaries fully believed, after reading his accounts, that he did indeed travel to Hell, Purgatory and Paradise (indeed, some of Dante's contemporaries swear that he had singe marks on his face as a result of his travels in Hell). I'm not surprised--the story is told with such a painstaking attention to detail that it is hard to believe it could have been imagined.
The overarching message of the Comedy appealed to me--in order to overcome sin and evil, man must first encounter and understand it fully. This Dante does, traveling through Hell and Purgatory to intellectually comprehend the various and manifold degrees of sin and fault. Through the patience and teaching of his guides: Virgil, Beatrice and finally St. Bernard, Dante is exposed to sin and accounts of human frailty, without actually succumbing to that frailty himself. It is, in many ways, the best of both worlds. And with each lesson--and the corresponding conquest of sinful desire associated with the lesson--Dante further prepares himself for his ascent to Paradise, and for his glimpse into the Mind of God, whom Dante, in the last canto of "Il Paradiso," unforgettably portrays as an Unmoved Mover of the sun and the stars. Dante's exploration of the ethereal--and his corresponding self-exploration--is profoundly intellectual in nature, and yet, it captures very effectively the full range of emotions a pilgrim would feel if he undertook the extraordinary journey that Dante purports to have taken--emotions which include shock, horror, terror, pity, sadness, and ultimately ecstatic joy.
Of course, there are a large number of political motivations behind the writing of "The Divine Comedy." It seems that just about every canto has at least one character condemning--often in violent terms--the state of the Catholic Church in Dante's time. As an opponent of the Church at the time of the writing of the Comedy, Dante likely benefited from employing this argument in his work. Dante also has an interesting habit of placing the souls of friends, comrades and family members in Paradise, or at least Purgatory where they have a chance for redemption--while Dante's enemies find themselves in Hell. Additionally, Dante ensures that characters in the Comedy make very self-serving statements about the conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines--a conflict which caused Dante, as a White Guelph, to be exiled from his beloved city of Florence. I was amused at the fact that many of the characters--indeed, a vast majority of them--were of Italian origin (at times, one cannot help but wonder whether Hell, Purgatory or Paradise are in any way multicultural melting pots). And while individual Jewish figures of great import--such as the prophets--are treated well in the Comedy, at times, Dante makes disturbing statements about how Jews were supposedly responsible for the death of Jesus (though to be fair, this was not an uncommon sentiment in the early 14th century).
However, the self-serving aspects of the Comedy aside, it is a wonderful and fascinating read--one that engenders a large number of emotions. At times, one cannot help but laugh out loud at some of the more hilarious descriptions in the story (whether those descriptions involve a sinner in Hell literally giving the finger to God in the Italian fashion by placing his thumb in between his forefinger and middle finger, or whether they involve the . . . um . . . gaseous emissions of a demon from an orifice that is not his mouth). Others are quite horrifying and disgusting in their gruesome nature--causing me either to turn away momentarily in slight disgust, or to worry about my own fate in some vague and uncertain way. And then, of course, there are images of surpassing beauty described in the Comedy; the radiant beauty of Beatrice, the awesome nature of Paradise, its many spheres, and the characters found there, the complex intellectual design of Hell, Purgatory and Paradise, and the carefully constructed explanations for various physical and spiritual phenomena. "The Divine Comedy" succeeds not only as an epic tale, it succeeds as well as a lucid and serious philosophical text. Indeed, it is one of the best works of literature I have come across in its ability to combine philosophical pedagogy with the clever and compelling relation of an epic tale.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I imagine that I will return to the Comedy for re-readings many a time in the future. And I hope and expect to delight in the story just as much, if not more than I did the first time I read it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2014
I bought the kindle version. The formatting is extremely bad and differs from canto to canto. There are no gaps between verses.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
I ordered this to use with the Teaching Company's Great Course on Dante. The electronic version is poorly laid out, in that the footnotes for each page are two or three screens down from the texts to which they refer. There are no indications in the text (electronic or print versions) that there are footnotes, but in the print version ALL footnotes appear at the bottom of the page to which they apply.