Purgatory (Modern Library Classics)
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2010
I want to explore what makes for a good edition of a classic work such as this. First, of course, is the value of the translation itself. Dr. Esolen's is a superior translation to the others readily available, including that by John Ciardi. I have tried numerous times to read Ciardi's rendering, wanting very much to like it, but in the end I found his rhythm forced and his efforts even at approximate rhyme unsatisfying. Simply put, his lines do not flow. By contrast, Esolen's lines not only flow, but propel the reader onward through the narrative, which is no small feat given the many places throughout the rings of Hell and along the ascent of Mount Purgatory where that attention could stall.

This would be enough to commend the translation, but there is more that makes this Modern Library a superlative edition. His introduction does an extraordinary job of explaining what Purgatory is and is not. In so doing, he has provided an invaluable aid not only to the non-Catholic reader, but likely to the Catholic reader as well, who may not have the best understanding of this wonderful aspect of life after death. Yes, I say it is wonderful based on Esolen's introduction, but I shall leave the reasons for that until another post. For the moment I will conclude by saying that based on his introduction alone, one could not help but marvel at the love of God, desire that love ever more ardently, and see in the gift of Purgatory one more expression of that love.

For such a reasonably priced and slender book, Dr. Esolen manages to include the most helpful appendices and notes. Two appendices contain selections from Aquinas that give insight into Dante's theology. One includes samples of Medieval poetry by poets whom Dante encounters. A fourth appendix includes relevant selections from the Church Fathers on Purgatory, and a fifth presents the full text of various Latin songs and prayers in translation that are sung and prayed by the souls that Dante meets.

Finally, the notes for each canto are all, but only, what a reader needs. To annotate sufficiently the vast number of contemporary references that Dante makes, to say nothing of his ancient allusions, would be a daunting task. Dr. Esolen, however, has provided the reader with just what he needs to make sense of the poem without burdening him with superfluous facts.

As with his Inferno, Dr. Esolen has produced an outstanding edition of Purgatory. In many ways it is like having a university course in Dante in the pages of a book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
"My little ship of ingenuity/now hoists her sails to speed through better waters..."

Having finished his tour of hell and its residents, Dante Alighieri turns his attention to a more cheerful (if less juicy) supernatural realm. "Purgatory" is less famous than its predecessor, but it's still a beautiful piece of work that explores the mindset not of the damned, but of sinners who are undergoing a divine cleansing -- beautiful, hopeful and a little sad.

Outside of Hell, Dante and Virgil encounter a small boat piloted by an angel and filled with human souls -- and unlike the damned, they're eager to find "the mountain." And as Hell had circles of damnation, Purgatory has terraces that the redeemable souls climb on their way towards Heaven, and none of the people there will leave their terrace until they are cleansed.

And the sins that are cleansed here are the seven deadly ones: the proud, the envious, the wrathful, the greedy, the lazy, the gluttonous, and the lustful. But as Dante moves slowly through the terraces, he finds himself gaining a new tour guide as he approaches Heaven...

I'll say this openly: the second part of the "Divine Comedy" is simply not as deliciously entertaining as "Inferno" -- it was kind of fun to see Dante skewering the corrupt people of his time, and describing the sort of grotesque punishments they merited. But while not as fun, "Purgatory" is a more transcendent, hopeful kind of story since all the souls there will eventually be cleansed and make their way to Heaven.

As a result, "Purgatorio" is filled with a kind of eager anticipation -- there's flowers, stars, dancing, angelic ferrymen, mythic Grecian rivers and an army of souls who are all-too-eager to get to Purgatory so their purification can start. Alighieri's timeless poetry has a silken quality, from beginning to end ("Here rise again to life, oh poetry! Let it o holy Muses...") and it's crammed with classical references and Christian symbolism (the Sun's part in advancing the soiled souls).

And the trip through Purgatory seems to have a strong effect on Dante's self-insert, who appears less repulsed and more fascinated by what he sees there. It's hard not to feel sorry for him when the paternal Virgil exits the Comedy, but at least he has someone else appears to guide him.

The middle part of the Divine Comedy isn't as juicy as "Inferno," but the beauty of Dante Alighieri's writing makes up for it. "Purgatory" is a must read... and then on to Paradise.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2013
Many readers enjoy the Inferno but proceed no farther. Late in the Inferno (canto xxx), Virgil admonishes Dante to stop watching and enjoying the brawling damned. Rather than fixate on the entertainment of hell, readers also should lift their attention and go with the poets to Purgatory.

The Purgatorio "is arguably the product of Dante's most brilliant poetic conception," Esolen says, because although "there were visions of Hell before Dante's, however far they fall short of his[, t]here were no visions of Purgatory." Dante captures well the meaning of the doctrine of Purgatory, the efficacy or prayers for the dead, and joyful suffering, portraying them with great understanding, artistry, and depth. Esolen's notes are respectful and explanatory, complementing and complimenting Dante. Purgatory is an easier read than is the Inferno, and it should be as we move from the heavy darkness of hell into the light. While Esolen's translation of the Inferno would have benefited from a schematic of hell, the ascent of Mount Purgatorio is more easily visualized and needs no such aid.

I found The Dore Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy (136 Plates by Gustave Dore) (a few small examples from Dore are in Esolen's volume) a valuable aid in reading the Inferno, but the illustrations added less benefit to Purgatory; the black and white illustrations that helped capture the sense of the darkness in hell were even a bit of a handicap when considering the symbolism of the colors in Purgatory. I wouldn't however go as far as Ciardi did in his translation, where he cautions readers "to visualize Dante's scenes in terms of Dante's own details rather than in terms of Dore's romantic misconceptions." (Ciardi note to Canto xiii, l. 61-66.)

Permit me a quibble. In his note to canto xxiv, l. 124-125, Esolen says that when Gideon separated his troops at God's instruction before routing the Midians, those who cupped their hands to drink were sent away and that those who lapped like dogs were selected. But Judges 7:4-7 says that those who cupped their hands were the same ones who lapped like dogs and were the ones selected; those who were sent away were those who knelt or laid down to drink.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2014
This book was touted as being translated by Anthony Esolen and then when I clicked and opened my kindle version it was translated by Flynn. It may be a wonderful translation but I especially wanted Esolen's. If it is not available in kindle, say so and be done with it. I'll wait.
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on March 28, 2014
This was an excellent version of Purgatory. It was very readable, and I found the extensive notes on each canto to be very helpful. My questions were frequently answered there, like how Cato got into purgatory while Virgil was excluded. I liked that the translator didn't force everything into an awkward rhyme, although there were many rhyming lines. He decided to do rhymes when they worked but not to force it and instead stick with the original meter. That choice worked very well. Purgatory isn't exactly a quick read, but this translation was comparatively quick. I was able to move through it at a good pace because it was so readable.
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on January 27, 2015
Stunning cover and interior design. I'm very peeved they didn't release Paradiso to match the first two, as now I have an incomplete set.
Esolen's translation is excellent, and it's side by side with the Italian for more serious scholars. Esolen's notes are fantastic and show a deep understanding of the text that makes me trust him with the translation. And the story, of course, is as enduring as Dante is. Highly recommended.
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on October 8, 2014
Esolen does an excellent job through his translation and in the notes to make Dante's Purgatory accessible to the modern reader who lacks an education in the classic or in Latin. His notes help place this great poem in context. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a modern translation of Purgatory.
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on June 9, 2014
I am still loving it. The performer is so outstanding. I have always been interested the Divine Comedy, but this is the first time I have delved into Purgatory. This is a really perfect, clear, sonorous, and well paced reading.
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on June 28, 2015
Weird.

I ordered this Kindle book because I wanted the Esolen translation of Purgatory.

Instead, I got the Naxos edition of Benedict Flynn's translation.

Something is screwed up here.
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on August 25, 2014
I have not gotten to Purgatory yet, but if it is like Inferno I sure It will be just as good. The book is pretty clear and the notes are useful.
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