Inferno: A Verse Translation by Allen Mandelbaum

Overview

In this superb translation with an introduction and commentary by Allen Mandelbaum, all of Dante's vivid images—the earthly, sublime, intellectual, demonic, ecstatic—are rendered with marvelous clarity to read like the words of a poet born in our own age.

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Overview

In this superb translation with an introduction and commentary by Allen Mandelbaum, all of Dante's vivid images—the earthly, sublime, intellectual, demonic, ecstatic—are rendered with marvelous clarity to read like the words of a poet born in our own age.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An exciting, vivid Inferno by a translator whose scholarship is impeccable."
Chicago magazine

"The English Dante of choice."—Hugh Kenner.

"Exactly what we have waited for these years, a Dante with clarity, eloquence, terror, and profoundly moving depths."—Robert Fagles, Princeton University.

"Tough and supple, tender and violent . . . vigorous, vernacular . . . Mandelbaum's Dante will stand high among modern translations."—The Christian Science Monitor

"Lovers of the English language will be delighted by this eloquently accomplished enterprise."
Book Review Digest

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780553213393
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1982
  • Series: Bantam Classics Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Bantam Classics Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 157,150
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 4.26 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence, Italy in 1265. His early poetry falls into the tradition of love poetry that passed from the Provencal to such Italian poets as Guido Cavalcanti, Dante's friend and mentor. Dante's first major work is the Vita Nuova, 1293-1294. This sequence of lyrics, sonnets, and prose narrative describes his love, first earthly, then spiritual, for Beatrice, whom he had first seen as a child of nine, and who had died when Dante was 25. Dante married about 1285, served Florence in battle, and rose to a position of leadership in the bitter factional politics of the city-state. As one of the city's magistrates, he found it necessary to banish leaders of the so-called "Black" faction, and his friend Cavalcanti, who like Dante was a prominent "White." But after the Blacks seized control of Florence in 1301, Dante himself was tried in absentia and was banished from the city on pain of death. He never returned to Florence. We know little about Dante's life in exile. Legend has it that he studied at Paris, but if so, he returned to Italy, for his last years were spent in Verona and Ravenna. In exile he wrote his Convivio, kind of poetic compendium of medieval philosophy, as well as a political treatise, Monarchia. He began his Comedy (later to be called the Divine Comedy) around 1307-1308. On a diplomatic mission to Venice in 1321, Dante fell ill, and returned to Ravenna, where he died.?

Allen Mendelbaum's five verse volumes are: Chelmaxions; The Savantasse of Montparnasse; Journeyman; Leaves of Absence; and A Lied of Letterpress. His volumes of verse translation include The Aeneid of Virgil, a University of California Press volume (now available from Bantam) for which he won a National Book Award; the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso volumes of the California Dante (now available from Bantam); The Odyssey of Homer (now available from Bantam); The Metamorphoses of Ovid, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry; Ovid in Sicily; Selected Poems of Giuseppe Ungaretti; Selected Writings of Salvatore Quasimodo; and David Maria Turoldo. Mandelbaum is co-editor with Robert Richardson Jr. of Three Centuries of American Poetry (Bantam Books) and, with Yehuda Amichai, of the eight volumes of the JPS Jewish Poetry Series. After receiving his Ph.D. from Columbia, he was in the Society of Fellows at Harvard. While chairman of the Ph.D. program in English at the Graduate Center of CUNY, he was a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and at the universities of Houston, Denver, Colorado, and Purdue. His honorary degrees are from Notre Dame University, Purdue University, the University of Assino, and the University of Torino. He received the Gold Medal of Honor from the city of Florence in 2000, celebrating the 735th anniversary of Dante's birth, the only translator to be so honored; and in 2003 he received the President of Italy's award for translation. He is now Professor of the History of Literary Criticism at the University of Turin and the W.R. Kenan Professor of Humanities at Wake Forest University.

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Read an Excerpt

CANTO I

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 e cosa dura4

esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte

che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant' e amara che poco e piu morte;7

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

diro 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 pie d'un colle giunto,13

la dove terminava quella valle

che m'avea di paura il cor compunto,

guardai in alto e vidi le sue spalle16

vestite gia 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,

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

si volse a retro a rimirar lo passo

che non lascio gia mai persona viva.

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

ripresi via per la piaggia diserta,

si che 'l pie fermo sempre era 'l piu basso.

The voyager-narrator astray by night in a dark forest. Morning and the sunlit hill. Three beasts that impede his ascent. The encounter with Virgil, who offers his guidance and an alternative path through two of the three realms the voyager must visit.

When I had journeyed half of our life's way,

I found myself within a shadowed forest,

for I had lost the path that does not stray.

Ah, it is hard to speak of what it was,4

that savage forest, dense and difficult,

which even in recall renews my fear:

so bitter—death is hardly more severe!7

But to retell the good discovered there,

I'll also tell the other things I saw.

I cannot clearly say how I had entered10

the wood; I was so full of sleep just at

the point where I abandoned the true path.

But when I'd reached the bottom of a hill—13

it rose along the boundary of the valley

that had harassed my heart with so much fear—

I looked on high and saw its shoulders clothed16

already by the rays of that same planet

which serves to lead men straight along all roads.

At this my fear was somewhat quieted;19

for through the night of sorrow I had spent,

the lake within my heart felt terror present.

And just as he who, with exhausted breath,22

having escaped from sea to shore, turns back

to watch the dangerous waters he has quit,

so did my spirit, still a fugitive,25

turn back to look intently at the pass

that never has let any man survive.

I let my tired body rest awhile.28

Moving again, I tried the lonely slope—

my firm foot always was the one below.

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

una lonza leggiera 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 piu volte volto.

Temp' era dal principio del mattino,37

e 'l sol montava 'n su con quelle stelle

ch'eran con lui quando l'amor divino

mosse di prima quelle cose belle;40

si 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 si 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,

si che parea che l'aere ne tremesse.

Ed una lupa, che di tutte brame49

sembiava carca ne la sua magrezza,

e molte genti fe gia 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 e 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 la dove 'l sol tace.

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 gia fui,67

e li parenti miei furon lombardi,

mantoani per patria ambedui.

And almost where the hillside starts to rise—31

look there!—a leopard, very quick and lithe,

a leopard covered with a spotted hide.

He did not disappear from sight, but stayed;34

indeed, he so impeded my ascent

that I had often to turn back again.

The time was the beginning of the morning;37

the sun was rising now in fellowship

with the same stars that had escorted it

when Divine Love first moved those things of beauty;40

so that the hour and the gentle season

gave me good cause for hopefulness on seeing

that beast before me with his speckled skin;43

but hope was hardly able to prevent

the fear I felt when I beheld a lion.

His head held high and ravenous with hunger—46

even the air around him seemed to shudder—

this lion seemed to make his way against me.

And then a she-wolf showed herself; she seemed49

to carry every craving in her leanness;

she had already brought despair to many.

The very sight of her so weighted me52

with fearfulness that I abandoned hope

of ever climbing up that mountain slope.

Even as he who glories while he gains55

will, when the time has come to tally loss,

lament with every thought and turn despondent,

so was I when I faced that restless beast,58

which, even as she stalked me, step by step

had thrust me back to where the sun is speechless.

While I retreated down to lower ground,61

before my eyes there suddenly appeared

one who seemed faint because of the long silence.

When I saw him in that vast wilderness,64

"Have pity on me," were the words I cried,

"whatever you may be—a shade, a man."

He answered me: "Not man; I once was man.67

Both of my parents came from Lombardy,

and both claimed Mantua as native city.

Nacqui sub Iulio, ancor che fosse tardi,70

e vissi a Roma sotto 'l buono Augusto

nel tempo de li dei falsi e bugiardi.

Poeta fui, e cantai di quel giusto73

figliuol d'Anchise che venne di Troia,

poi che 'l superbo Ilion fu combusto.

Ma tu perche ritorni a tanta noia? 76

perche non sali il dilettoso monte

ch'e principio e cagion di tutta gioia?"

"Or se' tu quel Virgilio e quella fonte79

che spandi di parlar si 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 viaggio,"91

rispuose, poi che lagrimar mi vide,

"se vuo' campar d'esto loco selvaggio;

che questa bestia, per la qual tu gride,94

non lascia altrui passar per la sua via,

ma tanto lo 'mpedisce che l'uccide;

e ha natura si malvagia e ria,97

che mai non empie la bramosa voglia,

e dopo 'l pasto ha piu fame che pria.

Molti son li animali a cui s'ammoglia,100

e piu saranno ancora, infin che 'l veltro

verra, che la fara morir con doglia.

Questi non cibera terra ne peltro,103

ma sapienza, amore e virtute,

e sua nazion sara tra feltro e feltro.

Di quella umile Italia fia salute106

per cui mori la vergine Cammilla,

Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute.

And I was born, though late, sub Julio,70

and lived in Rome under the good Augustus—

the season of the false and lying gods.

I was a poet, and I sang the righteous73

son of Anchises who had come from Troy

when flames destroyed the pride of Ilium.

But why do you return to wretchedness?76

Why not climb up the mountain of delight,

the origin and cause of every joy?"

"And are you then that Virgil, you the fountain79

that freely pours so rich a stream of speech?"

I answered him with shame upon my brow.

"O light and honor of all other poets,82

may my long study and the intense love

that made me search your volume serve me now.

You are my master and my author, you—85

the only one from whom my writing drew

the noble style for which I have been honored.

You see the beast that made me turn aside;88

help me, o famous sage, to stand against her,

for she has made my blood and pulses shudder."

"It is another path that you must take,"91

he answered when he saw my tearfulness,

"if you would leave this savage wilderness;

the beast that is the cause of your outcry94

allows no man to pass along her track,

but blocks him even to the point of death;

her nature is so squalid, so malicious97

that she can never sate her greedy will;

when she has fed, she's hungrier than ever.

She mates with many living souls and shall100

yet mate with many more, until the Greyhound

arrives, inflicting painful death on her.

That Hound will never feed on land or pewter,103

but find his fare in wisdom, love, and virtue;

his place of birth shall be between two felts.

He will restore low-lying Italy106

for which the maid Camilla died of wounds,

and Nisus, Turnus, and Euryalus.

Questi la caccera per ogne villa,109

fin che l'avra rimessa ne lo 'nferno,

la onde 'nvidia prima dipartilla.

Ond' io per lo tuo me' penso e discerno112

che tu mi segui, e io saro tua guida,

e trarrotti di qui per loco etterno,

ove udirai le disperate strida,115

vedrai li antichi spiriti dolenti,

ch'a la seconda morte ciascun grida;

e vederai color che son contenti118

nel foco, perche speran di venire

quando che sia a le beate genti.

A le quai poi se tu vorrai salire,121

anima fia a cio piu di me degna:

con lei ti lascero nel mio partire;

che quello imperador che la su regna,124

perch' i' fu' ribellante a la sua legge,

non vuol che 'n sua citta per me si vegna.

In tutte parti impera e quivi regge;127

quivi e la sua citta e l'alto seggio:

oh felice colui cu' ivi elegge!"

E io a lui: "Poeta, io ti richeggio130

per quello Dio che tu non conoscesti,

a cio ch'io fugga questo male e peggio,

che tu mi meni la dov' or dicesti,133

si ch'io veggia la porta di san Pietro

e color cui tu fai cotanto mesti."

Allor si mosse, e io li tenni dietro.136

And he will hunt that beast through every city109

until he thrusts her back again to Hell,

from which she was first sent above by envy.

Therefore, I think and judge it best for you112

to follow me, and I shall guide you, taking

you from this place through an eternal place,

where you shall hear the howls of desperation115

and see the ancient spirits in their pain,

as each of them laments his second death;

and you shall see those souls who are content118

within the fire, for they hope to reach—

whenever that may be—the blessed people.

If you would then ascend as high as these,121

a soul more worthy than I am will guide you;

I'll leave you in her care when I depart,

because that Emperor who reigns above,124

since I have been rebellious to His law,

will not allow me entry to His city.

He governs everywhere, but rules from there;127

there is His city, His high capital:

o happy those He chooses to be there!"

And I replied: "O poet—by that God130

whom you had never come to know—I beg you,

that I may flee this evil and worse evils,

to lead me to the place of which you spoke,133

that I may see the gateway of Saint Peter

and those whom you describe as sorrowful."

Then he set out, and I moved on behind him.136

CANTO II

Lo giorno se n'andava, e l'aere bruno

toglieva li animai che sono in terra

da le fatiche loro; e io sol uno

m'apparecchiava a sostener la guerra4

si del cammino e si de la pietate,

che ritrarra la mente che non erra.

O Muse, o alto ingegno, or m'aiutate;7

o mente che scrivesti cio ch'io vidi,

qui si parra la tua nobilitate.

Io cominciai: "Poeta che mi guidi,10

guarda la mia virtu s'ell' e possente,

prima ch'a l'alto passo tu mi fidi.

Tu dici che di Silvio il parente,13

corruttibile ancora, ad immortale

secolo ando, e fu sensibilmente.

Pero, se l'avversario d'ogne male16

cortese i fu, pensando l'alto effetto

ch'uscir dovea di lui, e 'l chi e 'l quale,

non pare indegno ad omo d'intelletto;19

ch'e' fu de l'alma Roma e di suo impero

ne l'empireo ciel per padre eletto:

la quale e 'l quale, a voler dir lo vero,22

fu stabilita per lo loco santo

u' siede il successor del maggior Piero.

Per quest' andata onde li dai tu vanto,25

intese cose che furon cagione

di sua vittoria e del papale ammanto.

Andovvi poi lo Vas d'elezione,28

per recarne conforto a quella fede

ch'e principio a la via di salvazione.

The following evening, Invocation to the Muses. The narrator's questioning of his worthiness to visit the deathless world. Virgil's comforting explanation that he has been sent to help Dante by three Ladies of Heaven. The voyager heartened. Their setting out.

The day was now departing; the dark air

released the living beings of the earth

from work and weariness; and I myself

alone prepared to undergo the battle4

both of the journeying and of the pity,

which memory, mistaking not, shall show.

O Muses, o high genius, help me now;7

o memory that set down what I saw,

here shall your excellence reveal itself!

I started: "Poet, you who are my guide,10

see if the force in me is strong enough

before you let me face that rugged pass.

You say that he who fathered Sylvius,13

while he was still corruptible, had journeyed

into the deathless world with his live body.

For, if the Enemy of every evil16

was courteous to him, considering

all he would cause and who and what he was,

that does not seem incomprehensible,19

since in the empyrean heaven he was chosen

to father honored Rome and her empire;

and if the truth be told, Rome and her realm22

were destined to become the sacred place,

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Table of Contents

Introduction IX
Acknowledgments XIX
The Plan of Dante's Hell XXI
Inferno I
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  • Posted February 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    could be better for the price

    This translation is much easier to read than the traditional Longfellow. I really enjoyed it. However, it could really use an interactive TOC and footnotes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2002

    Awsome book Dante ROX

    Dude this book is amazing Im only 15 and Im really loving it even though I am not quite through with the book it really puts a new perspective on how to live my life depite my own Inferno of being a sophmore in high school

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