Suggestions for reading The Divine Comedy

For Lent this year, I decided to read Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’ve the Longfellow translation from Barnes and Noble Classics. I’ve started Inferno. The translation I have is annoying that most of the footnotes are actually endnotes, so I have to keep jumping between the text and the back of the book.

Anyone know of some good online resources which help in reading this work? Obviously many of the people that Dante meets are unfamiliar to me in the 21st centrury.

Get the Dorothy Sayer’s translation

I read the John Ciardi translation (of all three parts) which I liked quite a bit. Also plenty of notes. A poet doing the translation has certain advantages, I think.

I am also a big fan of John Ciardi’s version-- better than many others I’ve seen. My copies have the footnotes on the page, which is MUCH nicer than endnotes, if you ask me.

My daughter just finished it. Said the first was by far the best, and it REALLY started to drag - but she stuck through it to the end.

I’ve read Inferno twice… the first translation was much better than the second one I read. I started to read Paradisio, but it was a snoozer.

Read Inferno. Then stop. There is no earthly reason to put yourself through the rest of it.

I read the Robert Pinsky translation of the Inferno in college and enjoyed it.

IMO, more important than the translation is a really good set of footnotes or some other kind of reading guide that will illuminate everything Dante has done in his writing. “Genius” doesn’t begin to cover what Dante was, and if you just read the verse cold without knowing medieval history, church history, Roman and Greek mythology and literature, Catholic theology, numerology, classical poetry, etc. (not to mention medieval Florentine, because Dante deliberately plays with the sounds of words), you’ll miss 98% of what’s going on. Everything he does works on multiple levels simultaneously.

Unfortunately, I read Dante for a college class and had an excellent professor as a resource, so I don’t know of a particular reference guide to recommend to you. Most translations come with footnotes, which is a start.

FWIW, Purgatorio was my favorite.

This would be my advice too. I also have to recommend the Ciardi translation; love the footnoting.

I’d second the Sayers translation. As a novelist, she knew how to write a story that is readable and yet retain the poetry and images (a major failing of the Ciardi version).

She also preserve’s Dante’s rhyme scheme, which few other translators have managed to pull off. Most don’t even try.

Another vote here for the Ciardi translation. But I’ve never felt the need to try any other translation.

Inferno was probably my favorite college reading assignment, but damn if I can’t remember who the translation was by. Sounds like I’m fortunate Inferno was all that was assigned. :slight_smile:

Another Dorothy Sayers vote here. I also read the Purgatorio and Paradiso in the Penguin translations but couldn’t get through the Paradiso. I got as far as the bit where Dante says that if his readers are seacraft then it’s time for all the little shore and harbour boats to give up because he’s heading on out where they can’t follow. It was sort of like permission to stop now :slight_smile:

It has been about 15 years since I sat down and slogged through the whole thing on my own time. Inferno is awesome. Purgatorio is okay. Paradiso is dreadful. I found it delightfully ironic that the “good” part of the poem is in Hell and it degenerates to the “bad” part once we reach heaven. Something very weird about how reading about people being tortured for all eternity for their sins is entertaining and how people basking happily in God’s love is miserable and crappy. :slight_smile:

I strongly recommend you read all three parts. If I had to get through all that “everything is so wonderful, I’m so delerioously happy” garbage, then so should everyone else.

Mine too, when I read the Ciardi translation a number of years ago. And I agree with all of you who found the Paradiso to be by far the most boring.

I agree that if you want to go away with good lasting memories of Dante you should stop at the end of Inferno. I got to about canto 28 of Paradise and stopped because I just couldn’t take it any more.

I don’t think it was the idea of everyone being happy and basking in god’s love that bothered me, more that the concept of an organised hell is something that has been done in other works of fiction since and is something that we can conceptualise quite easily. In Purgatory and Paradise Dante starts to move into areas that are far more heavily governed by medieval theology and classical ideals and it just gets a bit hard to relate to.

ETA I read the Mark Musa translation and found it very readable, however the Dorothy Sayer version I had to give up on because the rhyming was distracting me from what was going on.

The Inferno is by far the easiest read if you don’t have much of a background, as gallows fodder correctly notes. The Paradiso is a staggeringly wonderful work if you are up on your medieval astronomy and medieval reception of Aristotle and Plato. If not, then you just aren’t going to have as good of a time. And don’t bother with the Purgatorio unless you know about some of the contemporary theological controversies, especially regarding usury. This is heavily influenced poets down the centuries, most notably Ezra Pound in the 20th century.

I read the Mandelbaum translation. While I think he is a bit of a jackass and wouldn’t touch his Aeneid, he did an effective Inferno.

My copies are the Ciardi translation and I enjoyed it well enough but I can’t compare it to other translations…

I liked the Sayers translation as well. And I liked Purgatorio and Paradiso very much. I should really re-read the whole thing.
(hijack)Has anyone else seen the trailer for the new Inferno videogame that’s coming out? I didn’t realise that Dante was actually an anime knight. And that Beatrice got kidnapped by demons. It looks beyond dreadful.

I can’t get too worked up about translating The Inferno into yet another beat-em-up (this time in the style of God of War since these things are cyclical). The structure has been snatched up so many times for so many purposes that someone just using it as a backdrop for another generic game can’t affect me.