The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky

Overview

Robert Pinsky's acclaimed translation of The Inferno was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award given by the Academy of American Poets. As Edward Hirsch wrote in The New Yorker, "Robert Pinsky's translation is fast-paced, idiomatic, and accurate. . . It maintains the original's episodic and narrative velocity. . . . Pinsky succeeds in creating a supple American equivalent for Dante's vernacular music where many others ...
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The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation, Bilingual Edition

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Overview

Robert Pinsky's acclaimed translation of The Inferno was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award given by the Academy of American Poets. As Edward Hirsch wrote in The New Yorker, "Robert Pinsky's translation is fast-paced, idiomatic, and accurate. . . It maintains the original's episodic and narrative velocity. . . . Pinsky succeeds in creating a supple American equivalent for Dante's vernacular music where many others have failed".
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Though transforming Dante's terza rima into readable English has bogged down many a distinguished translator, Pinsky (The Want Bone) more than meets the challenge. His rendering has an efficient feel; the lines seem slimmer and less unwieldy than most contemporary verse translations. Each one of the cantos features a good number of stanzas dominated by monosyllables-his answer, along with intriguing patterns of assonance, to approximating the splendor of Dante's profusion of rhymes, which are impossible to replicate in English. The coherent narration of the translation is also welcome, as it keeps a harness on the sometimes meandering diction of the original. Pinsky's voice is nearly irresistible when rounding out the grotesqueries of Dante's Hell: his versions of the ninth and final circle bring the bizarre terror of the fiery pit to life. Plainspoken yet elegant, this Inferno sustains a tactile succession of images over 34 cantos, and lends itself to being read aloud. Illustrations not seen by PW.
Library Journal
Since Charles Rogers published the first complete translation of the Inferno in 1782, nearly 80 versions of Dante's masterpiece have appeared in English. Poet Pinsky (English, Boston Coll.) offers another. This book includes the Italian version at the end of the book, notes on textual allusions, a foreword by scholar John Freccero, and illustrations by Michael Mazur. Unlike other modern verse translations, notably those of Dorothy Sayers, John Ciardi, and Allen Mandelbaum, Pinsky's attempts to capture Dante's terza rima, the interlocking rhyme scheme aba, bcb, cdc, etc., which is difficult to sustain in English. A good poet, Pinsky is fluent if less literal than Ciardi and Mandelbaum, flattening Dante's diction. His version is a pleasure to read, but ultimately it does not supersede Ciardi's or Mandelbaum's.-T.L. Cooksey
From the Publisher
"Splendid . . . Pinsky's verse translation is fast-paced, idiomatic, and accurate. It moves with the concentrated gait of a lyric poem . . . It maintains the original's episodic and narrative velocity while mirroring its formal shape and character . . . Pinsky succeeds in creating a supple American equivalent for Dante's vernacular music where many others have failed."—Edward Hirsch, The New Yorker

"Pinsky's rare gifts as a poet, a wild imagination disciplined by an informed commitment to technical mastery, are superbly well suited to the Inferno's immense demands. Pinsky has managed to capture the poem's intense individuality, passion, and visionary imagery. This translation is wonderfully alert to Dante's strange blend of fierceness and sympathy, clear-eyed lucidity and heart-stopping wonder. It is now the premier modern text for readers to experience Dante's power."—Stephen Greenblatt

"A new translation of Dante's classic poem uses slant rhyme and near rhyme to preserve the original terza rima form without distorting the English meaning, providing a lively and faithful rendition of the poem. " —Ingram

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374525316
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/28/1997
  • Language: Italian
  • Edition description: Bilingual Edition
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 716,920
  • Product dimensions: 8.56 (w) x 5.96 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

A former Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky was born and raised in Long Branch, New Jersey. He teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University and has also taught at the University of California at Berkeley. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Reading Group Guide

Questions for Discussion

1. Robert Pinsky has described the process of translation as “always a compromise,” as “never complete,” as “an activity in which you know you’re going to fail.” What do you think he means by this? Do you agree with his own assessment that his completed translation is “above all a poem” and “a work of metrical engineering?” Is the Inferno in English essentially a different poem from what it is in its original language? What aspects of the poem seem to you to be most “translatable?” Which least?

2. On its face, the Inferno dramatizes the medieval Christian belief in a literal Hell, where sinners are punished eternally for disobeying the moral law as understood by the Church, however sympathetically human they might otherwise be. Why, in spite of this stark vision, do you think the Inferno has remained compelling and vital—and even beloved—to so many twentieth-century readers? Do you think we respond to the poem differently than fourteenth-century readers did? How do the very different circumstances of contemporary Western culture influence our reading of the poem?

3. The pilgrim Dante’s first meeting in Hell is with Francesca, whose moving account of how she is seduced, in part by literature, into an act of adultery has caused many readers to question why the poet renders her so compassionately. To what extent is Dante, then renowned in Florence for his courtly love poetry, implicating himself in her fall? Why might Francesca be the first to speak in Hell? Is there a difference between the way the pilgrim Dante responds to her tale and what the poet Dante intends? Why do you think this meeting comes first in the poem?

4. Though Dante is commonly thought of as a medieval poet, thirteenth-century Florence was a democracy and Dante’s own political views stemmed from his allegiance to a faction of the Guelph party that advocated steadfast independence from both king and pope. In what ways might democratic ideals be said to manifest themselves in Dante’s vision? How does the poet reconcile them with his belief in a rigorous and hierarchical Christian moral system? By having Brutus, Cassius, and Judas share the deepest pit in Hell, does Dante imply that crimes against the state are morally equivalent to the betrayal of Christ?

5. Do you see ways in which Dante’s writing anticipates the Renaissance? What is Dante's attitude toward human reason (see especially Canto XXVI)? How do his ideas about art as embodied in the Commedia differ from predominant medieval and/or Renaissance attitudes?

6. The scholar John Freccero says in the Foreword, “There is no sign of Christian forgiveness in the Inferno. The dominant theorem is not mercy but justice, dispensed with the severity of the ancient law of retribution.” In this view, whatever empathy the pilgrim (and the reader) feels for the sinners represents incomprehension of the Divine. In contrast, Alan Williamson has proposed in The American Poetry Review that “Dante [is] often at his strongest as a poet when his feelings seem to strain aggainst the limits of his system.” In Canto XXXIII, for example, he chooses to dramatize not the sin that landed Count Ugolino in hell, but the tragic suffering of Ugolino’s innocent children. What might account for this choice? If the poem was meant to illustrate an inflexible moral theology, why might Dante have chosen to tell Ugolino’s story from a point of view that encourages empathy, when he could have chosen to have Ugolino speak instead of his own odious acts of betrayal? Do you agree that Dante’s “feelings seem to strain against the limits of his system?” How do we know what the poet feels?

7. Dante seems to have written the Inferno in part to take revenge on his own enemies. What, in his own moral cosmology, are the implications of taking justice into his own hands in this way? Is there an appropriate Circle of Hell for such a sin? Why or why not?

8. Many twentieth-century readers have been interested almost exclusively in Hell—in the Inferno, the first section of the poem. What are some possible implications of reading the Inferno in contextual isolation from Purgatorio and Paradiso?

9. T.S. Eliot, among others, has asserted that the encounter with Satan in the last canto is anticlimactic. Do you think this is so? What might account for this? Do you think the poet was cognizant of it?

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 18, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Disturbingly Great!

    This is a book that I have kept on my nightstand since I first read it. It strangely triggers the most F***cked up dreams I've ever had. Weird huh?

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A "Must Have" for the bibliophile . . .

    For decades, John Ciardi's translation has been my favorite translation of Dante, but Pinsky has managed to match it with a translation that retains much of the music of the original, which is given on the left-hand pages in this edition. The difference between the Ciardi and the Pinksy is that while Ciardi may be somewhat more faithful to the original, Pinksy manages here to retain a touch more of that musicality. Always, I first check one point in every translation I come across: the first nine lines of Canto III - Dante's famous inscription over the Gate of Hell, and as soon as I read this translation, I was intrigued. And I found that the work in its entirety does not disappoint. Were I the publisher, I'd very seriously consider a deluxe edition and search for a modern Doré to illustrate this - I'd love to see what someone like H. R. Giger might do with this - because Pinsky is a strong contender to set the new standard for modern translations of Dante. Perhaps the best I can say for this translation is that it reads wonderfully aloud.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2003

    Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation

    The fact that Pinsky was recognized with an actual award for his translation shows that anyone who thought Pinsky ruined the book is blatantly - not right. The book and its translation are awesome.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2006

    Dante¿s Bridge of the Ages

    Dante¿s Inferno is the landmark work of literature that bridges the Medieval Ages to the Renaissance. His interpretation of Hell is consistent enough with the teachings of the Church to seem reasonable to others, yet he flies in the face of all convention when he places prominent church leaders and historical figures in the depths of Hell. We have no way of knowing if any similar work was written prior to Dante¿s Divine Comedy, but we do know that his is the first one of its kind to survive. The fact that a work such as this survived to the present day reflects, perfectly, the European culture¿s movement out from underneath the oppressive thumb of the Church and towards free thought. Dante even went so far as to attack leaders of the Church who were alive at the time. Deep in the seventh circle, Dante comes across Pope Nicholas V, who mistakes Dante for Pope Boniface VIII, who was living at the time. ¿(Nicholas V) shouted: `Ha! already standest there? Already standest there, O Boniface!¿ (The Divine Comedy of Dante Aligheri, Cary 142)¿. Vicious attacks upon the character of previously revered people such as that one are found throughout The Inferno. It is no coincidence that thirty years after the writing of The Divine Comedy is the official beginning of the Renaissance, a time during which the Church was weak and open to attacks from its enemies. Dante¿s work is one of the first and strongest indications of the fall of the Medieval Church and the rise of Humanism in the Renaissance.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2003

    Intense, Thought Provoking Imagery!!!

    An intense rollercoaster ride crashing straight through the pulpits of HELL! This voyage through eternal torment and despair has been perfectly brought to life through Pinsky's translation of the Great Poem.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2001

    GREAT!

    Pinsky did an incredible job translating this book. I read parts of it in school and it wasn't written well; so bad that I didn't even feel like reading it. After reading Pinksy's version, however, I could tell what Dante was really trying to get across. You need to buy THIS book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2001

    Great Great

    This book was the most great book ever. I had to read it for a class, and i usually hate to read, but i just couldn't put this book down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 19, 2000

    Terriffic !!!!!!!!!

    This was the best book I've ever read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2000

    AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    this is the best book i ever read in my life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 29, 2011

    Timeless and lyrical

    Pinsky's translation is a great modern read of a timeless tale. A must have!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2006

    A Temporal Perspective on The Inferno

    Virgil. Ulysses. Geri del Bello. Judas. Fra Gomito. All of these people, whether well known or relatively obscure, can be found in Dante¿s depiction of hell in The Inferno. Dante attempts to make his work timeless, endeavoring to place well known figures of history in hell, the ultimate punishment. However, because Dante also tries to seek revenge on his personal enemies by subjecting them to horrific tortures, he detracts from his own work, making it one that can only be viewed within the context of the time period it was written in. A well known Roman figure in hell is Virgil, Dante¿s guide. Dante feels obligated to put Virgil in hell because he wasn¿t a Christian, but Dante only subjects him to the first circle, which has no tortuous punishment. Dante¿s feelings to other non-Christians are not as lenient, however. Instead of putting Mohammed of Islam in the heretic circle of hell (circle 6), he puts him at the bottom of the fraud circle (circle 8) as a schismatic. This demonstrates Dante¿s intolerance of Muslims and of Mohammed himself, who tried to create a ¿schism of religion¿ by promoting Islam. In Canto XV, Dante sees three Florentine politicians ¿ Conti Guidi, Jacopo Rusticucci, and Tegghiaio Aldobrandi. The politicians ¿¿raced up¿linked their bodies in a wheel. As champions, naked and oiled¿¿ in order to avoid getting ¿¿wounds both old and new¿where flames had burned their limbs¿ (Pinsky 161). The politicians are most likely in hell because Dante disagreed with their decisions. These decisions are never specifically addressed in The Inferno. Though Dante¿s audience was probably familiar with the decisions made by these politicians, the audience of future generations is left clueless as to why Guidi, Rusticucci, and Aldobrandi are stuck in the sodomite level of the seventh circle of hell. The lack of information concerning the politicians detracts from the timelessness of the piece, forcing the reader to view The Inferno from a specific temporal context. Works cited Alighieri, Dante. The Inferno of Dante. Trans. and Ed. Robert Pinksy New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2006

    Inferno- Controversial and Exciting

    At the time of publication, Dante¿s Inferno was the most controversial and descriptive story ever told, and it remains such today. Inferno is the story of Dante¿s journey through the different levels of hell and the chaos he encounters in each. He includes commentary on every kind of sin, from gluttony to betrayal. He uses himself as a narrator, but does so objectively. This makes it so the reader thinks Dante¿s ideas are God¿s ideas and he simply discovered them during his journey. This objective point of view is believable because Dante feels sympathy towards the sinners at the beginning even though he is the person who has put those sins in hell. However, his character is not assigning punishment he is simply observing the torture the sinners must endure. This torture includes stories ranging from the river Styx to the river of boiling blood to a three-headed monster chewing on the three greatest sinners in history. Dante is extremely descriptive from the beginning and his descriptions become more vivid as he gets deeper into hell. Since I was able to visualize and even feel the agony of hell, everything Dante is trying to convey becomes engrained into the reader¿s mind and each sin is thought about. The imagery in Inferno teased my mind more than any other imagery I have ever read, which is the reason I was also forced to think about every sin Dante discussed. Because of its imagery and controversial viewpoints on sin, Inferno has been an influential and popular book throughout history. I would recommend it to anyone because it is exciting and can be read as a historical perspective of hell or an exciting journey through the levels of hell and each reader can make of it what they want.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2003

    Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation

    The "Inferno of Dante" translated by Robert Pinsky is superb. His rhyming is different than the original, but the book doesn¿t lose its meaning. Others may not agree, but Pinsky was very true to the original and tried his hardest to mend the rhyme gaps between the Italian language and English. He acknowledges that it is his effort to bridge the two languages in his introduction. The book itself is wonderful and a delight to read. Dante used certain symbolism and allegory to produce a superior piece of literature. Because it is so superior, I praise it as one of the best books I have ever read. The meaning of the book amazes even the most educated and is not lost through Pinsky¿s translation. The "Inferno of Dante" cannot be given enough praise from either a literary standpoint or from a critical standpoint.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2001

    What a mess

    I am Italian, I live in Italy and I study classical subjects like Latin and ancient Greek in school. I read the entire poem by Dante in Italian, and reading it in English was disappointing. This transalation doesn't get across the original message, even if you can sense the effort made by the transalator. I always try to read books in the original language: if you want to enjoy Dante you should read it in Italian...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 10, 2008

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    Posted February 25, 2011

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    Posted September 2, 2013

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    Posted May 15, 2010

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    Posted April 14, 2009

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    Posted March 20, 2010

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