Sunday, January 4, 2015

Book Review: The Divine Comedy- Inferno & Purgatorio- Dante Alighieri

Divine Comedy (Special Illustrated and Annotated Edition): The Vision of Hell, Purgatory, and ParadiseDivine Comedy (Special Illustrated and Annotated Edition): The Vision of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise by Dante Alighieri
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently read Inferno and it ignited again in me the desire to read Dante's Divine Comedy all the way through. When I took Western Lit. in the spring of my freshmen or sophomore year at Cedarville the Divine Comedy was one of the few books we covered that I both enjoyed and had not read already in high school AP English or elsewhere. We read selections of the Comedy from a Norton Anthology that was massively thick and printed on onion leaf paper to boot.
During my junior year while I was working for building services I listened to a lot of books on tape while vacuuming and mopping in the ENS building from 5-7 am every weekday. Those 10 hours a week enabled me to listen to many books:

Little did I know that the translator Robert Pinsky and reader George Guidall would make reading that book as enjoyable as it did. I learned this only now in retrospect as I tried to read it again. Being a classic and being too busy to frequent the library right now I decided to try to skip the middle-man and go to LibriVox which is like Project Gutenberg for audiobooks of public domain works. Unfortunately this project was done by multiple readers and while some were good, others were bad. Not to mention widely varying audio quality and different background noises. On top of that they had to pick from a public domain translation and that meant going with the popular Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translation.
It took me about a week to make it through Inferno and I did not follow it as well or enjoy it as much as I did in college. This led me to try to find the translation I read back then, but as far as I can tell Robert Pinsky has not translated the full Comedy and if he has it certainly hasn't been recorded on audio. Searching for other audio recordings of different translations didn't bring a lot of luck so I returned to the LibriVox recording to listen to Purgatorio. The beginning went quick I made it through the first 5-10 Cantos [Chapters] at a good pace, but I had trouble following it after that, I went days without listening to much of it because I wasn't enjoying it and was having trouble following along. This time span did afford me the opportunity to joke with a few people that I was stuck in Purgatory. When I finally made it out after about 2.5 weeks, I decided that since I was not following it and it had taken so long that I would wait until I could find a better version to finish it. Plus, why do I need to read Paradiso when I'm already there simply by being done with Inferno and Purgatorio.
As far as the book goes, Inferno is still one of my favorite classics and one that I wish more students were given the opportunity to read, just be sure it is a quality, translation. No offense to Longfellow [especially because I am finding that I really enjoy his own poetry], but there are easier to understand version out there. I have no comment on Purgatorio other than stating that I understand why Inferno is so popular and is sometimes read instead of the whole Comedy. Either way, let me encourage everyone who reads this to expand their horizons and read the classics because there are many good ones out there and they are often more enjoyable when you assign them to yourself rather than being given them by a teacher or professor.

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