The Divine Comedy by Dante AlighieriThe Divine Comedy describes Dantes descent into Hell with Virgil as a guide; his ascent of Mount Purgatory and encounter with his dead love, Beatrice; and finally, his arrival in Heaven. Examining questions of faith, desire and enlightenment, the poem is a brilliantly nuanced and moving allegory of human redemption.
Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and belonged to a noble but impoverished family. His life was divided by political duties and poetry, the most of famous of which was inspired by his meeting with Bice Portinari, whom he called Beatrice,including La Vita Nuova and The Divine Comedy. He died in Ravenna in 1321.
Clive James on translating Dante
A lifetime's practice of poetry equips James, as translator and interpreter, to scale this summit. The three parts of the Divine Comedy — Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso - are an expression of faith undertaken to the glory of God, and a demonstration of the use to which God's gifts can be put. Get money off this title at the Independent's book shop. The poem's religious scope is matched by its influence. It is as important as its lineal ancestor, Virgil's epic Aeneid, which transports Homeric characters to Italy and thus to the founding of Rome. Whereas Virgil lent legitimacy to the Emperor Augustus, Dante, working in exile, offered a corrective to the many errors of the church, serving God rather than the corrupted secular power of Rome.
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By Clive James. And indeed, if it were just a story, it would be back to front: the narrator has an exciting time in Hell, but Purgatory, when it is not about art, is about theology, and Heaven is about nothing else. What kind of story has all the action in the first third, and then settles back to stage a discussion of obscure spiritual matters? Appreciated on the level of its verse, the thing never stops getting steadily more beautiful as it goes on. Eliot said that the last cantos of Heaven were as great as poetry can ever get. She proved this by answering my appeal to have the famous Paolo and Francesca episode in Inferno 5 explained to me from the original text.
Jane Goodall. The exhortations continue all the way through the mountain climb of the Purgatorio , where the travellers must time their progress against the passage of the sun. This sense of forward momentum should also be part of the reading experience of The Divine Comedy according to Dorothy Sayers, who produced a best-selling translation for Penguin in the s. Sayers begins her introduction with the advice that, for the general reader, the best approach is to start at the first line and allow oneself to be carried through the whole work by the vigour of the narrative. She explains how the three-line terza rima verse form, in which one stanza is linked to the next with an echoing rhyme in the middle line, promotes fluency and impetus. The tone, once you are familiar with it, comes right off the printed page as you read.
P oets can't help themselves from translating Dante, even if they are only going to do small chunks, as Byron did, having a stab at Francesca of Rimini's speech from the fifth canto of the Inferno. He approached it the most difficult way, rendering "verse for verse the episode in the same metre I have sacrificed all ornament to fidelity". I won't take up space by quoting it here, but it's remarkably good, and you can also see why he stopped after 50 lines. For, as Clive James notes in his excellent introduction to his translation, "for an Italian poet, it's not rhyming that's hard". The terza rima, which is Dante's basic unit for the poem, transfers naturally enough to English iambic pentameter, which is not strange to our ears, and the point is, as James says, to make the poem flow in English as it did in Italian.