Oh Heavens!

I’ve forgotten to start my annual read of Dante’s Comedy! I started early this morning, finishing off five cantos before Micah got up. I’m sure another Dante post or five will be coming soon.

I’ve read the entire Comedy (that is to say, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) every summer since 2002, and I don’t intend to break the streak this year. I also try to read Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and a long poem from Homer, Virgil, Ovid, or the Northern European (e.g. Old English, Norse, or Icelandic) corpus every year, but Dante is the poet that I hope never to skip. I still think that Dante’s is my favorite poem of all time. I love Milton, but even in English translation there’s something about Dante that sets him above even the great blind poets. Every year I find something different that draws me in–some years it’s the theology, others the history, others still the psychology. I suppose we’ll just have to see what I see this year.



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4 responses to “Oh Heavens!

  1. Jonathan

    I think I’ll give this one another try. I read parts of it before for a class and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed what I did read. It’s easier to follow (for me atleast) than Paradise Lost.

  2. I don’t doubt that; Milton was engaged in a Protestant theological experiment with Paradise Lost, one in which he tried to imitate the fallen mind’s apprehension of the world by means of difficult poetic syntax and manipulation of the affections by means of poetic devices. In other words, he saw Plato’s critiques of poetry and said, “Yeah, that’s right. I should do that!” 😉

    As I said before, since I teach the poem that way, folks who dig intellectual experiments tend to be a little less put off and more willing to go along with him that way. Incidentally, it’s an experiment that later, modern poets and novelists imitate, and in some senses it’s the genesis of the “unreliable narrator,” though Milton’s narrative voice gives readers all the tools that we need; he just gives them to us in ways that lead is into following our fallen impulses towards hero-worship and resentment of rightful authority.

    Dante, on the other hand, is all about orderliness and imitation of divine hierarchies, so his poem, although complex, is wonderfully readable.

  3. Isn’t that S. Fish’s interpretation of “Paradise Lost”?

    Anyway, what translation of the Comedy do you use? I am partial to the Dorothy Sayers version, which maintains the terza rima–but then I’ve not really read the other translations. I do have a good Allan Mandelbaum story though.

  4. It is Fish’s, and frankly, I haven’t encountered a better account of it.

    I use Mark Musa’s translation from The Viking Portable Dante. I’ve also read Longfellow’s translation, I’ve not tried Sayers. I find that Musa strikes a nice balance between not trying to be overly literal and not trying to pretend that Dante isn’t Italian. That, and his footnotes are quite good, and my memory isn’t nearly capacious enough to remember all of the stories behind all of the Italian and classical figures in the poem.

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