Dantes"The Divine Comedy"


    I need suggestions for a good english translation of Dantes "The Divine Comedy". I have found many and it amazes me that some range from 200 pages to 1500 pages or more. Are the smaller translations leaving pieces out? 

   I have read that a few notible translations into English verse renditions can be found by Henery Wadsworth Longfellow or 20th century writer Dorothy L. Sayers or John Ciardi. But I need the text in full. Hell, Purgatory and Paradise with no exceptions. I want to understand what made this such an epic masterpiece. I need the translation to capture the writers great percision and dramatic force. 

   I would appreciate the feedback. :)

Whatever you get, make sure you get one with exhaustive annotations. Me, I just use a cheap Penguin edition I picked up in college by Mandelbaum. It might lack the poetry of Longfellow, but it’s fairly close and, hey, if you ever have doubts about the translation, it includes the original Italian text…

And if you really want to add to the experience, check your local library for Sandro Botticelli: The Drawings for The Divine Comedy by the Royal Academy of Arts. Unfortunately Sandro never finished them and so the drawings for Paradisio are largely just sketches. But the ones for Purgatorio are FREAKING wonderful! The detail in them in amazing.

Is there a Norton edition? That would be the first one I’d look at for annotation.

Thanks for the great info. I am a large connoisseur of the arts and have had the pleasure of viewing many paintings and various illustrations inspired from Dantes works. I have seen some of Botticelli’s works at the Museum of Art in San Diego. I will have to check out the collection. Thanks again. In fact the musuem is showing Degas bronze scupltures right now. Well, I guess I am well overdue for a trip to the museums and library.

Well, the Divine Comedy consists of three books (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) so that is probably where the page discrepancy comes in (some editions have all three together, some sell each separately). I have read Inferno, but Purgatorio and Paradiso made my eyes glaze over. I recommend just buying the Inferno first. It is most interesting (IMHO) and famous and after finishing that, if you want to see how it all turns out, you can buy Purgatorio and Paradiso. Former poet laureate Robert Pinsky has a translation (just of Inferno) out, but any reputable paperback should have decent translation and decent notes.

There is a Norton edition but it is in 3 volumes. I assume that would be Hell, Purgatory and Paradise. I believe it is a Cd -rom with 3 translations. Longfellow, Cary and Norton. Hummmm. So many options.

I would like to find a hardback compilation of all 3 books. I would prefer it have both English and the original Italian text with accompaning extensive footnotes. I was thinking of taking a class in theology or philosophy or classical literature (if there is such a class). This is something I must research.

Mandelbaum’s translation has been praised by Dantean scholars for its accuracy. Irma Brandeis, who was one of the foremost scholars on Dante in the English-speaking world, lauded Mandelbaum while tearing apart Ciardi’s translation as inaccurate and full of embellishments.

The Penguin (or is it Bantam, I don’t remember, cream-coloured covers) editions of Mandelbaum’s translation are facing-page, so you can always look at the original Italian.


I’m pretty sure Pinsky’s done the whole thing, although it’s only available in big expensive editions AFAIK.

I’ve got the Pinsky Inferno but the Ciardi Purgatorio – I like both, I think, but I don’t know any Italian (well, I can pick out bits here and there, as once you’ve seen one Romance language you’ve seen 'em all ;))…

I like the Dorothy Sayers translation, but I’ve only read Inferno. Another version I’ve browsed (Inferno, Purgatio, and Paradiso) is in the Harvard Classics series. It stays true to the story and symbolism but doesn’t keep the rhyme scheme.

Check out Will Durant’s The Renaissance for a good background to Dante’s life and writing of the epic.

www.divinecomedy.org is an excellent resource.

Thanks Jello. I will pick up “The Renaissance” and check out the site. By the way, I like your handle. Is it Jello as in Biafra or just Jello, Jello?

Biafra, as a matter of fact. Had a big Dead Kennedys / Jello spoken word phase going a few years ago.

Most likely Penguin Classics. The only other Pengiun Classics book I have in my room this minute is Candide, but that’s got the cream cover and I think I remember other Penguins being like that.

Jello, I still have a big Jello spoken word thing going on.

Asterion, I am sure it is Penguin. It is a great place for me to start. Thanks.

That’s actually the edition I mentioned earlier. It’s pretty good. What it lacks in poetry it makes up for in a) affordability and b) accuracy. In fact, I just finished re-reading the trilogy last weekend in that edition.

I have the Penguin “black classic” edition of the Dorothy Sayers translation, which is very readable and comprehensively annotated … the only thing it doesn’t have is the original Italian text.

The recent Robert and Jean Hollander translations (Doubleday, 2000 and 2003) are quite readable, are faithful to the original, and have excellent notes and commentaries, as well as the Italian text on the facing pages. So far, they’ve done the Inferno and Purgatorio. By the time you’ve finished those, their translation of the Paradiso may have come out. If not, I’d recommend either the Singleton (Princeton) or Sinclair (Oxford) prose translations with notes and the Italian text.

For my taste, both Sayers and Ciardi took on too ambitious a rhyme scheme, with the result that their language often seems forced and unnatural.

I recall adding my two cents on this topic here before. There have been several “Whose translation of Dante is best?” threads that are probably worth searching.

Thanks for all the information everyone. It is much appreciated and I am egar to hit the bookstore.