The Inferno (English and Italian Edition)

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9780385496971: The Inferno (English and Italian Edition)

Dante's immortal poem enters English in the clearest, most accurate, most readable translation in decades, accompanied by a commentary of unsurpassed scholarship.

The Inferno, the opening section of Dante Alighieri's epic theological poem La Divina Commedia, is one of the indispensable works of the Western literary canon. The modern concept of hell and damnation owes everything to this work, and it is the rock upon which vernacular Italian was built. Its influence is woven into the very fabric of Western imagination, and poets, painters, scholars, and translators return to it endlessly.

This new verse translation (with facing-page Italian text) by internationally famed scholar and master teacher Robert Hollander and his wife, poet Jean Hollander, is a unique collaboration that combines the virtues of maximum readability with complete fidelity to the original Italian-and to Dante's intentions and subtle shadings of meaning.  The book reflects Robert Hollander's faultless Dante scholarship and his nearly four decades' teaching experience at Princeton. The introduction, notes, and commentary on the poem cannot be matched for their depth of learning and usefulness for the lay reader. In addition, the book matches the English and Italian text on the Web site of the Princeton Dante Project, which also offers a voiced Italian reading, fuller-scale commentaries, and links to a database of some sixty Dante commentaries.

The Inferno opens the glories of Dante's epic wider for English speakers than any previous translation, and provides the interpretative apparatus for ever-deeper excursions into its endless layers of meaning and implication. It is truly a Dante for the new millennium.

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Review:

Translation is always an imperfect art, demanding from its practitioners a level of dual fidelity that even a seasoned bigamist would envy. And no work of art has prompted more in the way of earnest imperfection than Dante's Divine Comedy. Transforming those intricate, rhyme-rich tercets into English has been the despair of many a distinguished translator, from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to W.S. Merwin (whose estimable rendition of Purgatorio found the poet rattling over more than one linguistic speed bump). Now comes a fresh rendition of the Inferno from a husband-and-wife team. Robert Hollander, who has taught Dante for nearly four decades at Princeton, supplies the scholarly muscle, while his wife, poet Jean Hollander, attends to the verbal music.

How does their collaboration stack up? In his introduction, Robert Hollander is quick to acknowledge his debt to John D. Sinclair's prose trot of 1939, and to the version that Charles Singleton derived largely from his predecessor's in 1970. Yet the Hollanders have done us all a favor by throwing Sinclair's faux medievalisms overboard. And their predilection for direct, monosyllabic English sometimes brings them much closer to Dante's asperity and rhythmic urgency. One example will suffice. In the last line of Canto V, after listening to Francesca's adulterous aria, the poet faints: "E caddi come corpo morto cade." Sinclair's rendering---"I swooned as if in death and dropped like a dead body"--has a kind of conditional mushiness to it. Compare the punchier rendition from the Hollanders: "And down I fell as a dead body falls." It sounds like an actual line of English verse, which is the least we can do for the supreme poet of our beleaguered civilization.

Robert Hollander has also supplied an extensive and very welcome commentary. There are times, perhaps, when he might have broken ranks with his academic ancestors: why not deviate from Giorgio Petrocchi's 1967 edition of the Italian text when he thinks that the great scholar was barking up the wrong tree? In any case, the Hollanders' Inferno is a fine addition to the burgeoning bookshelf of Dante in English. It won't displace the relatively recent verse translations by Robert Pinsky or Allen Mandelbaum, and even John Ciardi's version, which sometimes substitutes breeziness for accuracy, can probably hold its own here. But when it comes to high fidelity and exegetical generosity, this Inferno burns brightly indeed. --James Marcus

From the Back Cover:

“The most accessible and the closest to the Italian...with ample commentary easily and unobtrusively available at the end of each Canto.”–Tim Parks, The New Yorker

“The Hollanders...act as latter-day Virgils, guiding us through the Italian text that is printed on the facing page.”–The Economist

“Probably the most finely accomplished and may well prove the most enduring.... The annotation...is crowded with useful insights and bits of information and keeps us abreast of scholarly opinion across the ages.”–R.W.B. Lewis, Los Angeles Times Book Review

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