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.

Christina Hale, “3 Ways Dante Influenced C.S. Lewis”

christina-hale-three-ways-dante-influenced-cs-lewis“C.S. Lewis’s love for Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy was no great secret. Lewis first read Dante’s Inferno in the original Italian when he was in his teens and later read Purgatorio while he was in the hospital recovering from wounds received in World War I. He finally read Paradiso for the first time in 1930, before he became a Christian, but after he had reluctantly decided that there was a God. At this point, he was still very much conflicted as to the nature of God and whether or not there was an afterlife.

“After finishing Paradiso, he told a dear friend, Arthur Greeves, that ‘it reaches heights of poetry which you get nowhere else; an ether almost too fine to breathe. It is a pity I can give you no notion what it is like. Can you imagine Shelley at his most ecstatic combined with Milton at his most solemn & rigid? It sounds impossible I know, but that is what Dante has done.’ He thought that it felt “more important” than any poetry he had ever read. The year after reading Paradiso, Lewis became a believing Christian. While we might never know just how large a role Dante played in his actual conversion, it is clear that Dante had an incredible effect on Lewis’s life and writings.

“The influence of The Divine Comedy can be clearly seen in one of Lewis’s finest, and yet frequently overlooked, works—the Ransom Trilogy (commonly but erroneously called the Space Trilogy). In this post I will outline three ways in which Dante’s influence can be seen in the Ransom Trilogy.” [. . .]   –Christina Hale, Roman Roads, 2020.

Check out more of Christina Hale’s work here.

Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano (1947)

the-malcolm-lowry-project-under-the-volcano-1947Chapter 3. 65.6: “In Canto XIII of the Inferno, Dante and Virgil enter a pathless wood full of withered trees. Hearing a mournful wailing but seeing no one, the poet stops and is advised by Virgil to break off a twig from one of the trees. Dante does so; the tree becomes dark with blood and begins to cry: ‘Perché mi scerpi? / non hai tu spirto di pietade alcuno?’ (‘Why do you tear me? / Have you no spirit of pity?’). The trees are the suicides, those who have wantonly destroyed their lives and poisoned their souls and are therefore fixed for eternity in barren sterility. [. . .]”

Chapter 3. 65.7: “In Mexico, figures of Christ or the Virgin Mary are common features of house or garden walls as reminders of the suffering Christ assumed on behalf of all. The words also evoke the suffering figure of Faustus: the earlier ‘Regard’ recalls his hellish fall, but the emphasis here, as with the echoes of Eliot and Dante above, is on blood and sorrow and compassion. Faustus, in distress and anguish, cannot look up to heaven for the mercy that is there; one drop of Christ’s blood would save his soul, but he cannot avoid despair. Like Faustus, the Consul is unable to ask for relief, even though it is so immediately at hand. In an early draft [UBC 29-8, 1] Lowry was more explicit: ‘You have always secretly longed, like Christ, even like your own brother, to die.'” [. . .]    — The Malcolm Lowry Project: Under The Volcano, June 2012.

See these and many more Dante-related annotations to Under the Volcano at the hypertext resource the Malcolm Lowry Project, sponsored by University of Otago (NZ).

 

John Took, Why Dante Matters: An Intelligent Person’s Guide (2020)

“The year 2021 marks the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri, a poet who, as T. S. Eliot put it, ‘divides the world with Shakespeare, there being no third.’ His, like ours, was a world of moral uncertainty and political violence, all of which made not only for the agony of exile but for an ever deeper meditation on the nature of human happiness.

“In Why Dante Matters, John Took offers by way of three in particular of Dante’s works – the Vita Nova as the great work of his youth, the Convivio as the great work of his middle years and the Commedia as the great work of his maturity – an account, not merely of Dante’s development as a poet and philosopher, but of his continuing presence to us as a guide to man’s wellbeing as man.

“Committed as he was to the welfare not only of his contemporaries but of those ‘who will deem this time ancient,’ Dante’s is in this sense a discourse overarching the centuries, a discourse confirming him in his status, not merely as a cultural icon, but as a fellow traveller.”   —Bloomsbury

See also the Virtual book launch event held at UCL’s Institute for Advanced Study, November 24, 2020.

Final Chapter of Adam Buenosayres: “A Journey to the Dark City Cacodelphia” (1948)

the-final-chapter-adam-buenosayres“A modernist urban novel in the tradition of James Joyce, Adam Buenosayres is a tour-de-force that does for Buenos Aires what Carlos Fuentes did for Mexico City or José Lezama Lima did for Havana – chronicles a city teeming with life in all its clever and crass, rude and intelligent forms. Employing a range of literary styles and a variety of voices, Leopoldo Marechal parodies and celebrates Argentina’s most brilliant literary and artistic generation, the martinfierristas of the 1920s, among them Jorge Luis Borges. First published in 1948 during the polarizing reign of Juan Perón, the novel was hailed by Julio Cortázar as an extraordinary event in twentieth-century Argentine literature. Set over the course of three break-neck days, Adam Buenosayres follows the protagonist through an apparent metaphysical awakening, a battle for his soul fought by angels and demons, and a descent through a place resembling a comic version of Dante’s hell. Presenting both a breathtaking translation and thorough explanatory notes, Norman Cheadle captures the limitless language of Marechal’s original and guides the reader along an unmatched journey through the culture of Buenos Aires. This first-ever English translation brings to light Marechal’s masterwork with an introduction outlining the novel’s importance in various contexts – Argentine, Latin American, and world literature – and with notes illuminating its literary, cultural, and historical references. A salient feature of the Argentine canon, Adam Buenosayres is both a path-breaking novel and a key text for understanding Argentina’s cultural and political history.” [. . .]    –Amazon, April 1, 2014.

Jennifer D. Upton, The Ordeal of Mercy (2015)

jennifer-d-upton-the-ordeal-of-mercy-2020“The Ordeal of Mercy is a book of wide erudition and simple style; its goal is to present the Purgatorio, according to the science of spiritual psychology, as a practical guide to travelers on the Spiritual Path. The author draws upon many sources: the Greek Fathers, notably Maximos the Confessor; St. John Climacus; Fathers and Doctors of the Latin Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas; John Donne, William Blake and other metaphysical poets; the doctrines of Dante’s own initiatory lineage, the Fedeli d’Amore; the modern Eastern Orthodox writers Pavel Florensky and Jean-Claude Larchet; and the writings of the Traditionalist/Perennialist School, including René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings, Leo Schaya, and Titus Burckhardt. Other exegetes of Dante have dealt with the overall architecture of the Divine Comedy, its astronomical and numerical symbolisms, its philosophical underpinnings, and its historical context. Jennifer Doane Upton, however—while preserving the narrative flow of the Purgatorio and making many cogent observations about its metaphysics—directs our attention instead to many of its ‘minute particulars,’ unveiling their depth and symbolic resonance. She presents the ascent of the Mountain of Purgatory as a series of timeless steps, each of which must be plumbed to its depths before the next step arrives; in so doing she demonstrates how the center of this journey of purgation is everywhere, and its circumference nowhere. In the words of the author, ‘The soul in its journey must divest itself of extraneous tendencies and desires in order to become the ‘simple’ soul of theology — the soul of one essence, of one will, of one mind. If it can do this it will reach Paradise, its true homeland.'” [. . .]    –Jennifer D. Upton, Angelico Press

Check out the Angelico Press website to read praise for The Ordeal of Mercy.

Humanities Magazine’s “What’s the Best Way to Read the Divine Comedy If You Don’t Know Italian?”

humanities-magazine-tour-of-translation-2020-wikimedia“In comparing these two translations, the Sayers version seems to win out in two ways—it matches Dante in form and, to a degree, in content. By starting with ‘Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,’ she remains faithful to the starting point, ‘nel mezzo,’ while Mandelbaum pushes this to the middle of the first line. Sayers adds ‘bound upon’ (not, strictly speaking, in the original), which allows her to make the rhyme in the third line with ‘gone.’ But Mandelbaum is more faithful to the directness of the original, not stretching the meaning or introducing words to make the rhyme. His metered language often seems more natural than Sayers’ and more in keeping with the diction of Dante, which favored solid vocabulary and straight-forward syntax. Mandelbaum, will, in fact, interject rhyme if it’s not forced (as he does with way and stray). In spite of first impressions favoring Sayers, most readers who choose to make the entire journey from inferno to purgatory and finally paradise ultimately find the Mandelbaum translation more satisfying.” [. . .]    –Steve Moyer, Humanities: The Magazine Of The National Endowment For The Humanities, 2017

 

James Fenton on Mandelstam’s Dante

“The poet’s widow describes how, at a point when Mandelstam refers to Dante’s need to lean on authority, she refused to write his words down, thinking that he meant the authority of rulers, and that he condoned Dante’s acceptance of their favours. ‘The word had no other meaning for us,’ she says, ‘and being heartily sick of such authorities, I wanted no others of any kind.’ ‘Haven’t you had enough of such authorities?’ I yelled at him, sitting in front of a blank, grey-coloured sheet of paper, my hands defiantly on my knees. ‘Do you still want more?'”

“Mandelstam was furious with her for getting above herself. She was angry back, and told him to find another wife. But in due course she did what the circumstances required during the Stalinist persecution: she learnt the essay by heart, in order to ensure its survival. It wasn’t printed until three decades later, in 1967, when an edition of 25,000 copies appeared in Moscow and quickly sold out – the first of Mandelstam’s works to appear after the thaw.

“The argument about authority warns us to read Mandelstam’s essay not only for what it tells us about Dante but also as a reflection on our own times, and Mandelstam’s. [. . .]”   –James Fenton, The Guardian, 2005

See full article here.

Andrew Frisardi, Love’s Scribe: Reading Dante in the Book of Creation (2020)

frisardi-loves-scribe-reading-dante-in-the-book-of-creation-2020“In a few passages of his writings, Dante identifies himself as ‘Love’s scribe’—the scribe, that is, of all love, from natural and human love to the “Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” Another fundamental notion in Dante, and in medieval thought in general, is that the manifold things of the creation are like pages bound together by divine love into a unified book, a series of successive analogies of God—a book written by God, in which can be discerned images and resemblances of divinity. As the current volume shows, this way of reading the creation also opens a vista into Dante’s or any traditional metaphysical-symbolist author’s works as an analogia entis—as a series of signs corresponding to multiple levels of reality, each resonating with others in the hierarchical chain of being.” [. . .]    –Andrew Frisardi, Angelico Press, 2020

Check out the Angelico Press website to read praise for Love’s Scribe.

John Took, Dante (2020)


“If we’re in hell, we might as well read Dante. New book on the Italian great is rough sledding, but provides poetic insight on our present perdition.”    –Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun Times, July 28, 2020