Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Inferno

Tonight I read the first canto (there are 34) of Dante's The Inferno (the first part of his epic poem Divine Comedy, or Commedia, depending on how la-dee-da you want to be). I probably say this sort of thing too much -- and I'm only 1/34th of the way in -- but it gave me chills.

I have my Slavist professor to guide me when it comes to Russian novels, but I was kind of on my own to come up with the "best" translation of this one -- and what do I know? I Googled and read and ended up choosing a fairly new one -- by Robert Hollander, who has apparently been teaching Dante for a hundred years, and his wife Jean who is a poet. I liked the idea that one of them knows the language (maybe Jean does too -- I don't know) and the other has a poet's sensibility.

The poem in Italian is quite amazing. Dante created a new form of poetry, terza rima. Each verse has three lines, each line has eleven syllables. And each verse connects to the next through rhyme.

My copy of the book (Kindle) comes with the Italian -- but I don't read Italian, so I am stuck with the English that pays no attention to syllables or rhyme (each verse is still three lines, though). I think it might be worth learning Italian just so I could read this. But -- Latin first. Even in English the translation was still lovely, still powerful and beautiful. And very accessible, which is handy because I'm about to start Plato and I have a suspicion he'll be a little chewier.

More later...

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