New Project : Dante’s Divine Comedy (but where to start?)

Last year I challenged myself to read the Iliad, which proved a surprisingly compelling and heart-wrenching read. This year, I thought I could try another challenge, to pick from those famous classics that I’ve never tried before. I chose Dante’s Divine Comedy. As for the Illiad last year, and because of its massive size, I will read it in electronic version, a few pages at a time.

Gutenberg offers a boon for Dante lovers: numerous versions in several languages (including original Italian, as well as Finnish and Friulano) and no less than 3 different English translations. I gather that they are all classics, because of copyright issues: Henry Francis Cary (1772-1844), Henry Longfellow (1807-1882) and Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908).

I also found a website of Columbia University called Digital Dante (it’s kind of surrealist, don’t you think?), that offers the Longfellow translation compared to a (more modern?) Allen Mandelbaum translation. But having to read it online is not so comfortable for me.

I am a complete beginner in Dante-land and would like to ask my enlightened fellow lit-bloggers: did anyone of you read the Comedy? Do you have a clue which translation is (considered) best? Of course, my objective is purely literary and not academic in the least. As a non-native English speaker, I am clumsy with olde English (ye and thee are not my cup of tea, although I can get some of it). I don’t want to be burdened with massive footnotes, but I don’t want to miss the action either…

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7 thoughts on “New Project : Dante’s Divine Comedy (but where to start?)

  1. Pingback: Charlottesville Words

  2. I’m teaching the Inferno next week, and I’m using Pinsky’s translation. It’s a very up-to-date sounding translation, which is in keeping with Dante’s original, written in vernacular Italian instead of Latin. Pinsky is a great, talented poet in his own right, and he worked very hard to approximate the terza rima without committing any egregious sins against the original. There are some great websites–the Columbia site is quite good.

  3. I forget which version I have (have had for ages) and I’ve let it languish on my bookshelves for so long. I’m very intimidated by it and very impressed by you taking it on as a project. I’ll cheer you on and perhaps gather up some guts to read it too!

  4. I read The Inferno in high school (the most exciting section–we didn’t have time for Purgatory or Paradise I guess), but it has been so long I don’t think I would be any help now in giving any suggestions. I love the idea of reading Dante, though.

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