Monday, September 2, 2013

Clive James's Dante

The Divine Comedy
by Dante Alighieri, translated by Clive James

Those of us who can’t read Dante in the original know, or ought to know, that we are missing one of literature’s main events. The calibre of Dante’s fans, and the extravagance of their admiration, put the matter beyond doubt. Edmund Wilson called him the greatest poet of all time. T.S. Eliot put him up there with Shakespeare. Michelangelo put him next to God.

There has never been a definitive English translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, and it seems safe to say there never will be. The translation that excels on some levels is bound to fall short on others; so much goes on in Dante’s Italian that the English language simply isn’t up to catching all of it at once. You don’t even need to speak Italian to grasp this. You only need to know how the language sounds. Listen to this line, which clinches the fifth canto of the Inferno ... [read more]