Dante's Inferno

Dante's Inferno

3.3 27
by Dante Alighieri
     
 

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In the Inferno, the first of the three-part Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri is wandering through a dark wood on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300. Losing his way and suddenly fearful, he looks up to see the sun shining on a mountain above. He tries to reach it, but is thwarted by three beasts. The Roman poet Virgil appears, sent to guide him

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Overview

In the Inferno, the first of the three-part Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri is wandering through a dark wood on the evening of Good Friday in the year 1300. Losing his way and suddenly fearful, he looks up to see the sun shining on a mountain above. He tries to reach it, but is thwarted by three beasts. The Roman poet Virgil appears, sent to guide him back to the path and on to the top of the mountain. They must go through Hell, says Virgil, but will eventually reach Heaven, where Dante's beloved Beatrice awaits. Thus begins this poetic tale whose vivid images of the circles of hell, its themes of human torment and triumph, and the search for spiritual sustenance and transcendent love have made it a classic of Western literature. This audio version features several narrators — including Corin Redgrave and Laurie Anderson — and a moody score by the ambient musician Scanner (Robin Rimbaud).

Editorial Reviews

William Dean Howells
Here at last that much suffering reader will find Dante's greatness manifest, and not his greatness only, but his grace, his simplicity, and his affection... Opening the book we stand face to face with the poet, and when his voice ceases we may well marvel if he has not sung to us in his own Tuscan.
The Nation
Harper's Monthly
As a crown to his literary life, Longfellow combines his exquisite scholarship and his poetic skill and experience in the translation of one of the great poems of the world.
North American Review
Longfellow, in rendering the substance of Dante's poem, has succeeded in giving also -- so far as art and genius could give it -- the spirit of Dante's poetry.
Publishers Weekly
With 68 7 1/2" x 11" b&w engravings that include helicopters, parking lots, shwarma stands, strip malls, chain-link fences, concrete stairs and skyscrapers, Dante's Inferno is brought into the present by illustrator Sandow Brik, and into English by Brik and Marcus Sanders, a contributing editor to Surfline.com. Their sophisticated Valley-speak ("the ghosts approached us, all totally deadpan, with zero emotion") may not be for everyone, but it is in synch with Dante's vernacular masterpiece. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this adventurous and stimulating experiment in translation, contemporary poets of quite varied persuasions--from Richard Howard to Deborah Digges--reconsider a looming ancestor, Dante. The 34 cantos of the Inferno are shared among 20 poets all known for their strong original work in English, and some, too, for their distinguished accomplishments as translators. The effect of the book is to summon a multiplicity of voices from the one, and to direct readers not only back to the source but to the varying tempos and temperaments of modern poetry in English. Some readers may, it's true, find the plurality of this Inferno engulfing, but it's difficult not to rejoice in such singular abundance. As a project in translation, this one is uncommonly educating, too, asking readers to make judgments on the various approaches and to decide for themselves what matters most about the poetry. In that sense, literary connoisseurship becomes a seemly match for the moral connoisseurship of Dante's work, where sins and sinners are mapped out with a horrifying vividness, harmoniously observed. All readers will have their own favorites, whether these are Cynthia Macdonald's sleekly vigorous Cantos VI and VII, the devastating elegance of Jorie Graham's XI and XII, or others. And yet, the point is finally the whole--the full company, and not the parts. (May)
Library Journal
Artist Sandow Birk and writer Marcus Sanders offer a modern twist on Dante's poem by updating the illustrations and settings to the current slices of hell we experience everyday, e.g., fast food restaurants and minimalls, among others. Perhaps a bit way out for some but pretty cool nonetheless. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Booknews
A brilliant concept beautifully executed--a new version of Dante's masterpiece, translated by 20 contemporary English-speaking poets selected not for their familiarity with Italian or for proven skills at translation, but for the quality of their own poetry in English. Among them: Seamus Heaney, Amy Clampitt, Jorie Graham, Charles Wright, Richard Howard, Carolyn Forche, W.S. Merwin, and Robert Haas. Published by The Ecco Press, 100 West Broad Street, Hopewell, NJ 08525. Distributed to the trade by W.W. Norton. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
This new blank verse translation of the first "Canticle" of Dante's 14th-century masterpiece compares interestingly with some of the recent English versions by American poets, though it suffers particularly by comparison with Allen Mandelbaum's graceful blank verse one. Its aim to provide "a clear, readable English version that nevertheless retains some of the poetry of the original" is only imperfectly fulfilled, owing partly to moments of unimaginative informality ("In Germany, where people drink a lot"), though these are intermittently redeemed by simple sublimity ("Night now revealed to us the southern stars,/While bright Polaris dropped beneath the waves./It never rose again from ocean's floor"). Translator Zappulla, an American Dante scholar and teacher, offers helpful historical and biographical information in an Introduction and exhaustive Notes following each of the poem's 34 "Cantos." Readers new to Dante may find his plainspoken version eminently satisfying; those who know the poem well may be disappointed by it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780253201454
Publisher:
Indiana University Press
Publication date:
01/28/1971
Pages:
320

Read an Excerpt

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

  mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,

  che la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura 4

  esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte

  che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant' è amara che poco è più morte; 7

  ma per trattar del ben ch'i' vi trovai,

  dirò de l'altre cose ch'i' v'ho scorte.

Io non so ben ridir com' i' v'intrai, 10

  tant' era pien di sonno a quel punto

  che la verace via abbandonai.

Ma poi ch'i' fui al piè d'un colle giunto, 13

  là dove terminava quella valle

  che m'avea di paura il cor compunto,

guardai in alto e vidi le sue spalle 16

  vestite già de' raggi del pianeta

  che mena dritto altrui per ogne calle.

Allor fu la paura un poco queta, 19

  che nel lago del cor m'era durata

  la notte ch'i' passai con tanta pieta.

E come quei che con lena affannata, 22

  uscito fuor del pelago a la riva,

  si volge a l'acqua perigliosa e guata,

Canto One

Lost in a dark wood and threatened by three beasts, Dante is rescued by Virgil, who proposes a journey to the other world.

Midway upon the journey of our life

  I found myself in a dark wilderness,

  for I had wandered from the straight and true.

How hard a thing it is to tell about, 4

  that wilderness so savage, dense, andharsh,

  even to think of it renews my fear!

It is so bitter, death is hardly more- 7

  but to reveal the good that came to me,

  I shall relate the other things I saw.

How I had entered, I can't bring to mind, 10

  I was so full of sleep just at that point

  when I first left the way of truth behind.

But when I reached the foot of a high hill, 13

  right where the valley opened to its end-

  the valley that had pierced my heart with fear-

I raised my eyes and saw its shoulders robed 16

  with the rays of that wandering light of Heaven°

  that leads all men aright on every road.

That quieted a bit the dread that stirred 19

  trembling within the waters of my heart

  all through that night of misery I endured.

And as a man with labored breathing drags 22

  his legs out of the water and, ashore,

  fixes his eyes upon the dangerous sea,

° that wandering light of Heaven: Italian pianeta, "planet." It is the sun, considered a planet, or wandering light, revolving about the earth.

così l'animo mio, ch'ancor fuggiva, 25

  si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo

  che non lasciò già mai persona viva.

Poi ch'èi posato un poco il corpo lasso, 28

  ripresi via per la piaggia diserta,

  sì che 'l piè fermo sempre era 'l più basso.

Ed ecco, quasi al cominciar de l'erta, 31

  una lonza leggera e presta molto,

  che di pel macolato era coverta;

e non mi si partia dinanzi al volto, 34

  anzi 'mpediva tanto il mio cammino,

  ch'i' fui per ritornar più volte vòlto.

Temp' era dal principio del mattino, 37

  e 'l sol montava 'n sù con quelle stelle

  ch'eran con lui quando l'amor divino

mosse di prima quelle cose belle; 40

  sì ch'a bene sperar m'era cagione

  di quella fiera a la gaetta pelle

l'ora del tempo e la dolce stagione; 43

  ma non sì che paura non mi desse

  la vista che m'apparve d'un leone.

Questi parea che contra me venisse 46

  con la test' alta e con rabbiosa fame,

  sì che parea che l'aere ne tremesse.

Ed una lupa, che di tutte brame 49

  sembiava carca ne la sua magrezza,

  e molte genti fé già viver grame,

questa mi porse tanto di gravezza 52

  con la paura ch'uscia di sua vista,

  ch'io perdei la speranza de l'altezza.

E qual è quei che volontieri acquista, 55

  e giugne 'l tempo che perder lo face,

  che 'n tutti suoi pensier piange e s'attrista;

tal mi fece la bestia sanza pace, 58

  che, venendomi 'ncontro, a poco a poco

  mi ripigneva là dove 'l sol tace. So too my mind, while still a fugitive, 25

  turned back to gaze again upon that pass

  which never let a man escape alive.

When I had given my weary body rest, 28

  I struck again over the desert slope,

  ever the firmer foot the one below,

And look! just where the steeper rise began, 31

  a leopard light of foot and quick to lunge,

  all covered in a pelt of flecks and spots,

Who stood before my face and would not leave, 34

  but did so check me in the path I trod,

  I often turned to go the way I came.

The hour was morning at the break of dawn; 37

  the sun was mounting higher with those stars°

  that shone beside him when the Love Divine

In the beginning made their beauty move, 40

  and so they were a cause of hope for me

  to get free of that beast of flashy hide-

The waking hour and that sweet time of year; 43

  but hope was not so strong that I could stand

  bold when a lion stepped before my eyes!

This one seemed to be coming straight for me, 46

  his head held high, his hunger hot with wrath-

  seemed to strike tremors in the very air!

Then a she-wolf, whose scrawniness seemed stuffed 49

  with all men's cravings, sluggish with desires,

  who had made many live in wretchedness-

So heavily she weighed my spirit down, 52

  pressing me by the terror of her glance,

  I lost all hope to gain the mountaintop.

And as a gambler, winning with a will, 55

  happening on the time when he must lose,

  turns all his thoughts to weeping and despair,

So I by that relentless beast, who came 58

  against me step by step, and drove me back

  to where the sun is silent evermore.

those stars: the constellation Aries. It is the springtime of the year, recalling the springtime of the universe; see notes. Mentre ch'i' rovinava in basso loco, 61

  dinanzi a li occhi mi si fu offerto

  chi per lungo silenzio parea fioco.

Quando vidi costui nel gran diserto, 64

  «Miserere di me», gridai a lui,

  «qual che tu sii, od ombra od omo certo!».

Rispuosemi: «Non omo, omo già fui, 67

  e li parenti miei furon lombardi,

  mantoani per patrïa ambedui.

Nacqui sub Iulio, ancor che fosse tardi, 70

  e vissi a Roma sotto 'l buono Augusto

  nel tempo de li dèi falsi e bugiardi.

Poeta fui, e cantai di quel giusto 73

  figliuol d'Anchise che venne di Troia,

  poi che 'l superbo Ilïón fu combusto.

Ma tu perché ritorni a tanta noia? 76

  perché non sali il dilettoso monte

  ch'è principio e cagion di tutta gioia?».

«Or se' tu quel Virgilio e quella fonte 79

  che spandi di parlar sì largo fiume?»,

  rispuos' io lui con vergognosa fronte.

«O de li altri poeti onore e lume, 82

  vagliami 'l lungo studio e 'l grande amore

  che m'ha fatto cercar lo tuo volume.

Tu se' lo mio maestro e 'l mio autore, 85

  tu se' solo colui da cu' io tolsi

  lo bello stilo che m'ha fatto onore.

Vedi la bestia per cu' io mi volsi; 88

  aiutami da lei, famoso saggio,

  ch'ella mi fa tremar le vene e i polsi».

«A te convien tenere altro vïaggio», 91

  rispuose, poi che lagrimar mi vide,

  «se vuo' campar d'esto loco selvaggio;

ché questa bestia, per la qual tu gride, 94

  non lascia altrui passar per la sua via,

  ma tanto lo 'mpedisce che l'uccide;

Now while I stumbled to the deepest wood, 61

  before my eyes appeared the form of one

  who seemed hoarse, having held his words so long.

And when I saw him in that endless waste, 64

  "Mercy upon me, mercy!" I cried out,

  "whatever you are, a shade, or man in truth!"

He answered me: "No man; I was a man, 67

  and both my parents came from Lombardy,

  and Mantua they called their native land.

In the last days of Julius I was born, 70

  and lived in Rome under the good Augustus

  in the time of the false and cheating gods.

I was a poet, and I sang of how 73

  that just son of Anchises° came from Troy

  when her proud towers and walls were burnt to dust.

But you, why do you turn back to such pain? 76

  Why don't you climb that hill that brings delight,

  the origin and cause of every joy?"

"Then are you-are you Virgil? And that spring 79

  swelling into so rich a stream of verse?"

  I answered him, my forehead full of shame.

"Honor and light of every poet, may 82

  my long study avail me, and the love

  that made me search the volume of your work.

You are my teacher, my authority; 85

  you alone are the one from whom I took

  the style whose loveliness has honored me.

See there the beast that makes me turn aside. 88

  Save me from her, O man renowned and wise!

  She sets the pulses trembling in my veins!"

"It is another journey you must take," 91

  replied the poet when he saw me weep,

  "if you wish to escape this savage place,

Because this beast that makes you cry for help 94

  never lets any pass along her way,

  but checks his path until she takes his life.

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Wallace Fowlie
"The love of Dante comes through inthe text -- every line carefully, beautifully translated." -- Duke University

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