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Inferno (The Divine Comedy) Mass Market Paperback – October 25, 2005
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“Dante’s conversations with his mentor Virgil and the doomed shades are by turns assertive and abashed, irritated and pitying and inquisitive, and Anthony Esolen’s new translation renders them so sensitively that they seem to take place in the same room with us. It 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, Princeton University
“Professor Esolen’s translation of Dante’s Inferno is the best one I have seen, for two reasons. His decision to use unrhymed blank verse allows him to come nearly as close to the meaning of the original as any prose reading could do, and allows him also to avoid the harrowing sacrifices that the demand for rhyme imposes on any translator. And his endnotes and other additions provoke answers to almost any question that could arise about the work.” —A. Kent Hieatt, professor emeritus, University of Western Ontario
“Esolen’s brilliant translation captures the power and the spirit of a poem that does not easily give up its secrets. The notes and appendices provide exactly the kind of help that most readers will need.” —Robert Royal, president, Faith and Reason Institute
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foundation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with affordable hardbound editions of important works of literature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring as its emblem the running torch-bearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inaugurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.
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Acting as both author and narrator, Dante shares with us his vision of the afterlife, as he descends its depths and witnesses the varying degrees of torment that await the incontinent, the violent and the fraudulent. His sinners and the lairs they inhabit are thought-provoking and rich with a symbolism and imagery unrivaled by any other poet until that time. There are unforgettable stories of love, vengeance, betrayal, abuse-of-power, guilt and just about everything one can imagine in an underworld which teems with characters from mythology, history and the Bible. From the tempestuous love affair of Paolo and Francesca in the second circle to the chilling prophecy of Farinata in the sixth to the horrifying story of Count Ugliono in the ninth, the Underworld is vast and complex, and the punishment each sinner endures serves as both physical and mental penance for the wrongs they committed on earth; as they sinned, so do they now suffer and are forever reminded of what brought them there.
Dante begins his journey on Good Friday 1300, when he is at the cross-roads of his life and just emerged from a dark wood "where the straight way was lost." He encounters three beasts: a she-wolf, a lion and a leopard, each representing the different types of sins of the Inferno. His guide is the poet Virgil, who represents reason in its purest form and who has been prompted to help Dante see the wages of sin by his departed Beatrice, who represents love and Christian charity in its purest form. Virgil himself occupies a circle of Hell, a circle occupied only by the most enlightened pagans the world has ever seen. Nevertheless, his seniority over the other wraiths of hell, as well his calmness in the face of all adversity, helps keeps Dante's fear in check, as they make their way through the gut-wrenching circles of hell. Virgil is there to bring order to the chaos, to remind Dante that these sinners have earned their judgment and to yell at any brazen demons, centaurs, giants or otherwise who block their path, ordained by the Divine. Dante is there to learn so that he may be spared the awful fate of the souls he meets.
There is a Clifton Fadiman quote that "when you re-read a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in yourself than there was before." For this reason, I urge anyone who was compelled to read this timeless poem in school to revisit it as an adult. See how much more you appreciate Dante's terza rima, his epic similes, his imagery and his insight into the depths of human fallibility, now that you don't have to study for a quiz on it. And this particular translation, so carefully rendered by John Ciardi, reads so nicely, and his commentary is so exhaustive that you could not get lost if you wanted to. On the other hand, the ambitious reader who likes to unravel the symbolism on his/her own should be warned that this edition contains many spoilers if too much of the commentary is read.
In any case, Dante's work is a triumph of the Medieval world, a classic that will be read and re-read until the end of time!