Monday, February 1, 2016

The Divine Comedy (Quarto Knows and Oxford University Press)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri is the greatest poem ever written. Because of its importance to literature, there have been many translations, editions, and texts written on it. I am not qualified to judge translations, but I do know someone who is. So instead of pointing you toward the best translation, I will instead tell you about two editions I have recently been reading.

The Knickerbocker Classics version of The Divine Comedy is the translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow was the first U.S. translation of The Divine Comedy, and because of that it is a very accessible translation. It's not the best translation I have read in terms of beauty, but it is an easier read than others which I have attempted. The best part of this edition is the images of Gustave DorĂ©. The illustrations of DorĂ© are easily recognized and you will also find them in the works of John Milton. Like all books in the Knickerbocker Classics line, the pages are thinner than my liking, and that creates both word and image bleed-through. This is not a textbook edition, but more a bookshelf edition. Because of that, it is missing footnotes both for translation and literary references. Those are helpful and I'd argue essential for anyone reading through Dante the first time. There is a brief introduction on Dante, a section on "The Life and Times of Dante Alighieri," and some keys to studying the text at the end. However, for a thorough study, you'll want a more scholarly translation and perhaps a textual guide or commentary on it. Overall, this is a good book for an affordable price and you could walk away from it with a basic grasp and appreciation of The Divine Comedy. I recommend it for someone who has never read this great work or someone looking to re-introduce themselves to this work.

If you are a bit more experienced or adventurous in your reading of The Divine Comedy, then you could check out the three-volume paperback set from Oxford University Press. Like any translation, there are pros and cons to this edition. Even though, the poem is meant to be read as one work, the fact that they are in three books makes it a bit more portable if you want to read one at a time. The biggest plus to these books though is that they are a parallel translation. That means you get the original Italian on one side (if you are smart enough to know the Italian, which again, I know someone who is), and John D. Sinclair's translation on the other. The translation loses the beauty of the poetic verse in doing a translation of this type, but it adds a scholarly level to it, if that's your thing. There is also commentary included in these volumes, which while helpful can be leading. Works need to be read on their own before you start listening to what other people have to say about them. Overall, this is a solid translation and one that I would recommend if you are experienced in Dante and if you have an interest in reading what others have to say about Dante.

This book was provided to me for free by Quarto Knows and Oxford University Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!