Inferno: The Longfellow Translation

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Overview

In 1867, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow completed the first American translation of Inferno and thus introduced Dante’s literary genius to the New World. In the Inferno, the spirit of the classical poet Virgil leads Dante through the nine circles of Hell on the initial stage of his journey toward Heaven. Along the way Dante encounters and describes in vivid detail the various types of sinners in the throes of their eternal torment.
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Overview

In 1867, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow completed the first American translation of Inferno and thus introduced Dante’s literary genius to the New World. In the Inferno, the spirit of the classical poet Virgil leads Dante through the nine circles of Hell on the initial stage of his journey toward Heaven. Along the way Dante encounters and describes in vivid detail the various types of sinners in the throes of their eternal torment.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Opening the book we stand face to face with the poet, and when his voice ceases we may marvel if he has not sung to us in his own Tuscan.” —William Dean Howells, The Nation
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812967210
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/4/2003
  • Series: Modern Library Classics Series
  • Edition description: Modern Library Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,422,986
  • Product dimensions: 5.18 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet, educator, and linguist, wrote many long narrative poems, including The Song of Hiawatha, Evangeline, and The Courtship of Miles Standish.

Matthew Pearl is the author of the novel The Dante Club, published by Random House, and is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School. In 1998 he won the prestigious Dante Prize from the Dante Society of America for his scholarly work. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Lino Pertile is a professor of Romance languages and literature at Harvard University. He specializes in Dante and the Latin Middle Ages.

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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 dura4

  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 spalle16

  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, and harsh,

  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 robed16

  with the rays of that wandering light of Heaven°

  that leads all men aright on every road.

That quieted a bit the dread that stirred19

  trembling within the waters of my heart

  all through that night of misery I endured.

And as a man with labored breathing drags22

  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 venisse46

  con la test' alta e con rabbiosa fame,

  sì che parea che l'aere ne tremesse.

Ed una lupa, che di tutte brame49

  sembiava carca ne la sua magrezza,

  e molte genti fé già viver grame,

questa mi porse tanto di gravezza52

  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 stuffed49

  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 came58

  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 giusto73

  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 fonte79

  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 how73

  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 spring79

  swelling into so rich a stream of verse?"

  I answered him, my forehead full of shame.

"Honor and light of every poet, may82

  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 help94

  never lets any pass along her way,

  but checks his path until she takes his life.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 403 )
Rating Distribution

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 406 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2005

    You can see why it is a classic

    Yes, once again, Aaron actually reads a classic. The last time this happened was, ummm..., a few years ago. Anyway, this time I tackled the famous recounting of one man's journey to Hell. The version I read used the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translation from the nineteenth century, which might have made things harder then they needed to be, as there were definitely some archaic words used. Not that the subject wasn't hard enough, considering that the book was written around 750 years ago. What I wasn't prepared for was how personal everything would be (for the author, not for me). See, Dante used this book (and most likely all of the Divine Comedy, of which The Inferno is just the first part) to take some rather serious pot shots at various people he didn't like, as well as showing favor to people that he did like. For example, many of Dante's political enemies find themselves in some rather interesting situations in hell, undergoing some rather perverse tortures for their sins in life. A number of classical philosphers and poets show up in Hell, too, which only makes sense considering that they died without acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus Christ. However, because Dante likes these guys, they are only in the first circle of Hell, where things relatively aren't all that unpleasant (like Judas Iscariot, who gets eaten by Lucifer for all eternity. Lovely.). Lastly, I would like to note that the preface, the footnotes, and the endnotes were very helpful in getting a proper understanding for what was going on and putting it in the proper context. Props to whoever put that all together.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    JUST READ IT

    If your looking at this as a possible book to reread, get it. If you've never read The Inferno, BUY THIS COPY. Its the greatest poem in history, arguably the greatest work of art in history. It is epic, beautiful, amazing, and stimulating, intellectualy and emotionally. In ways, it is beyond flawless. Everything about this work: the writing, the story, the characters, the presentation, eben the preface is masterful. Buy it, and never sell it unless you can get another copy cheaper.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2007

    Excellent

    The writing in Dante¿s Inferno is beautiful, powerful, and effective. It was a little hard to comprehend, but I understood much of it. I thought the book was very excellent and fun to read. I would recommend it to anyone who finds fantasy interesting. The way God/Dante punishes the people in Hell is weird/interesting, but I loved it.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Very intellectual

    Dante takes a journey through the 9 levels of hell with incredible dipictions of the tortures of each level... yeah if you can understand it. This was written in 1300 so obviously the writting is much different. I found it incredibly hard to read and if it hadnt been for the endnotes i would have finished and had no idea what i just read. The idea behind the book is briliant, i loved it, i just couldnt follow along very well. I learned a lot and it was interesting enough, but it is just a tough book to follow along with. If you have lots of time, READ IT, and good luck.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2008

    Great book......

    I really enjoyed this book. It was great I L.O.V.E a book with symbolizism in it. This book is always misrepresented as one thing when its talking about something else. Dante biography is amazing. N his L.O.V.E for Beatrice was incredible. I had decided to do farther research on his life. From start to finish the book his life....both very wonderful. I enjoyed it...it is a MUST READ!!!

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

    Difficult to get through,but rewarding none the less

    It probably took me a month to trudge through Dante's Inferno. That being said, it was probably one of the best books i have ever read, and I really wish there was a modern text version of it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2008

    Inferno is a Must

    The Inferno is an epic poem, rather than a novel. Written in the first person, Dante takes the reader through his version of Hell. As he descends, the sins become increasingly catastrophic. Comical at times, serious at times, but all around a great read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2013

    Only canticle 1

    Don't get this version. There is only a tiny fraction of the poem here. What a rip off!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2012

    It was bad

    Not good

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2011

    Good

    Good soo mch fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2011

    great book

    i have the Dantes Inferno video game which is based on this and i really wanted to read this and i thought it was really good

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    an excellent book

    i don't particularly like poetry, but this book is incredible. though the first canto is a little boring, it grabs you from the second canto all the way through to the 34th. the book can be a little hard to understand due to the translation by Longfellow into the older English of the time, but if you switch the words around a little bit, it tends to make better sense. this is a very gruesome, gorey, and depictive book of how Hell is. i recommend this for everyone who would like to see into the "9 levels" of Hell as portrayed by Dante.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    There is a reason this book has stood the test of time.

    The Inferno is one of the best books I have read. Once I began reading it, I could not stop. Normally books written in this time period do not hold my interest, but Dante did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2014

    Don't like the translation

    It doesn't read well. There are too many Anglo-French choices when more contemporary words could have worked better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014

    test

    test

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2014

    AHHH!!!!!!!!!! SCREAM!!!!!!!!!!!! AHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Made You Look.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014

    From the fiery pits of the Wrathful, to the bitter, glacial tomb

    From the fiery pits of the Wrathful, to the bitter, glacial tombs of the Traitors, Hell has a torturous domicile to accommodate sinners of all kinds for eternity. Dante Alighieri is considered by many to be one of the most brilliant writers of all time, and is credited with the transformation from Middle Age literature to the masterpieces of the Renaissance. The pinnacle of his writing career was “Dante’s Inferno”, which was published as part of his “Divine Comedy” in 1314. Dante’s brilliant epic poem explored the faults of humankind through the journey across Hell and the shortcomings of the main character. 
    The protagonist of the story is Dante, who is a poet that must pass through the nine circles of Hell in order to achieve salvation. He must cross over the circles of Limbo, Lust, Gluttony, Avarice, Wrath, Heresy, Violence, Fraud, and Treachery/Betrayal, each more detestable than the last. Fortunately, Dante is guided by his perspicacious guide, Virgil, who comes to him as he is being attacked by animals and has lost his way – both literally and figuratively. As he traverses through the underworld, the faults of human civilization are exposed by each of the nine circles.
    To give example of each of these faults, Alighieri includes notable figures from history, literary works, and mythology, such as Alexander the Great and Helen, by placing them in the circle that they supposedly belong. In the novel, Dante frequently converses with these support characters in order to elucidate how to alleviate his sins. Additionally, these conversations provide insight as to the sins that each of these people represent and which human fault they symbolize. Furthermore, it can be argued that the character Dante does not wholly represent the author, but rather mankind itself, while Virgil represents God, as he guides Dante to salvation, which is similar to how God guides people to that same result. 
    These colloquies are pretty common and somewhat predictable (although the content and messages are not), as the poem follows a generally linear plot in which Dante enters the next circle, talks with the damned souls, deals with the challenges of the current situation, and moves on to the next circle. Consequently, the linear plot doesn’t build much suspense and the poem is met with a very anticlimactic end when Dante meets Lucifer. 
    The barren ending was a shortcoming of the book; however, it was still a brilliant work of literature. The clever symbolism in the book, such as when the punishment for avarice is pushing a boulder against another boulder, which is pointless like wealth, is particularly impressive. Additionally, the dark and hopeless atmosphere of the book is held throughout the book, as it never fails to remind the reader that he/she is in Hell. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2013

    Better Reading On Nook Than The Book

    It's much faster reading the Inferno on the Nook than the paper book because of the footnote links. But all around a great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2013

    This bok is amazing

    Omg good bok who ever wrote this book is a gen gen

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2013

    I wrote the comment "excellent read my review"

    Oh too continue on my last review saying its great, mark up the text, add notes etc. I'm 14 so if i can read and decipher it you can...just rememer everything has symbolism usually not many things are literal. Everything idripped alot of details if yiu can decipher taht you can read this

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