In 1867, when Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published the first American edition of The Inferno, Dante was almost unknown in this country. The New England poet and educator, who taught Italian literature at Harvard, introduced Dante's literary genius to the New World with this vibrant blank verse translation of the first and most popular book of the three-part Divine Comedy. Expressed in haunting poetry of great emotional power, The Inferno chronicles Dante's passage through nine circles of the underworld and his encounters with tormented sinners. Combining Aristotelian philosophy, mythology, Roman Catholicism, and thirteenth-century Italian politics, this landmark of world literature forms a unique synthesis of the Christian, classical, and secular worlds.
Dante's depictions of hell and its grotesque punishments found their ideal match in the hands of the eminent nineteenth-century illustrator Gustave Doré. Unable to find a sponsor, the artist published his stunning engravings for The Inferno at his own expense. An instant and enduring success, Doré's images made a lasting impression on the public imagination. This volume's enchanting translation and unforgettable illustrations offer readers a perfect blend of literary and artistic skill.
The opening canzone of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy has appeared in almost every imaginable variety of English translation: prose, blank verse and iambic pentameter; unrhymed or in terza rima; with and without the original Italian; with commentary ranging from a few notes to a full separate volume. The translations have been produced by poets, scholars and poet-scholars. In the past six years alone, six new translations of the Inferno have appeared (including Robert Pinsky's 1994 rendition for FSG) and at least 10 others remain in print, including Allen Mandelbaum's celebrated 1980 translation (Univ. of Calif. Press and Bantam) and the extensively annotated editions of Charles Singleton (Princeton Univ. Press) and Mark Musa (Univ. of Indiana Press), the latter two unlikely to be surpassed soon in terms of extensiveness of commentary. Dante scholar Robert Hollander and the poet Jean Hollander bring to this crowded market a new translation of the Inferno that, remarkably, is by no means redundant and will for many be the definitive edition for the foreseeable future. The heart of the Hollanders' edition is the translation itself, which nicely balances the precision required for a much-interpreted allegory and the poetic qualities that draw most readers to the work. The result is a terse, lean Dante with its own kind of beauty. While Mandelbaum's translation begins "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," the Hollanders' rendition reads: "Midway in the journey of our life/ I came to myself in a dark wood,/ for the straight way was lost." While there will be debate about the relative poetic merit of this new translation in comparison to the accomplishments of Mandelbaum, Pinsky, Zappulla and others, the Hollanders' lines will satisfy both the poetry lover and scholar; they are at once literary, accessible and possessed of the seeming transparence that often characterizes great translations. The Italian text is included on the facing page for easy reference, along with notes drawing on some 60 Dante scholars, several indexes, a list of works cited and an introduction by Robert Hollander. General readers, students and scholars will all find their favorite circles within this layered text.