The Florentine, “Best Dante Books: A Deep Dive Into The Medieval Poet”

best-dante-books-a-deep-dive-into-the-medieval-poet-2021“T.S. Eliot famously said, ‘Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third.’ While Dante is still rigorously read in Italian schools, most English-speaking countries limit themselves to a bit of the Inferno in Western literature courses, if at all. Approaching Dante for the first time can be daunting, especially since some knowledge about his life and times is essential for understanding the poem. Fortunately, there is no shortage of excellent books on the subject to help make the journey easier and more enjoyable.” [. . .]    –Alexandra Lawrence, The Florentine, March 5, 2021.

Tomás Eloy Martínez, Purgatorio (2008)

“It should be noted from the outset that unlike Dante’s Purgatorio, which explores the painful processes of self‐examination of those who sinned, repented before they died, and are preparing themselves to enter Paradise’s realm of bliss, Martínez’s Purgatorio is a meditation on a state of suffering by the innocent victims of Argentina’s dictatorial regimes of the 1970s. The notion of a ‘purgatory’ for repentant sinners in Dante, therefore, is creatively transformed in Martinez’s Purgatorio to suggest a shameful period of Argentina’s history plagued by repression and violence, but most importantly, by the pain it generated for decades to come in those who were affected by it.”   –Efrain Kristal, “What Is, Is Not: Dante in Tomás Eloy Martínez’s Purgatorio,” Bulletin of Latin American Research, 2012 (abstract publicly available; full text behind paywall)

The novel, originally published in Spanish in 2008, was translated into English by Frank Wynne (Bloomsbury, 2011).

REVIEWED: Dante’s Inferno: A Verse Translation by Sean O’Brien

“At least 50 English translations of The Inferno — the first volume of Dante’s three-part epic — have appeared in the 20th century alone. And now we have another, by the Yorkshire-born poet Sean O’Brien. O’Brien’s is a brave undertaking, given the scores of august literary figures who have attempted the task in previous centuries, often obscuring Dante’s brilliance in the process.

“O’Brien’s Inferno is touted by the publishers as ‘the most fluent, grippingly readable English version of Dante yet’.”   –Ian Thomson, The Spectator, 2006

Read the full review here.

Paradise: Dante’s Divine Trilogy Part Three, by Alasdair Gray (2020)

“Published posthumously, the third instalment of Alasdair Gray’s ‘Englishing’ of Dante’s Divine Comedy is a welcome reminder of the brilliant strangeness of the original.”

“It is darkly ironic that this is a posthumous work given that its great theme is heaven. Alasdair Gray died in 2019, and one ought to take account of the phrase ‘De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum’: of the dead nothing but good is to be said. It is not an aphorism that wholly applies to Dante himself, given the glee with which he torments his foes in the first third of the poem, the Inferno. But it is applicable to the Paradiso, the triumphant conclusion.”

[. . .]

“Gray did not call this a translation and it is not. The folksy chumminess of his prosaic verses are all well and good as a crib, but the problem with the Paradiso is that it is profoundly serious. This is a poem that wrestles with free will and predestination, with the different moral qualities of action and contemplation, and above all with the inability of the human to utter the divine. I read the book almost stereoscopically, with three other versions by my side and an excellent online resource from Columbia for the Italian. The Paradiso has images both homely and intellectual, but in this part the tension of the form becomes paramount.”  –Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman, 2020

Read Stuart Kelly’s full review here.