Best Translation?


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Best Translation?

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jun 16, 2007, 6:36 pm

I've only read a couple of short passages of Dante (from Inferno) and that was when I was in college and took some courses in Italian. While it probably is best read in the original Italian, it's been so long since I have used it that I don't remember much at all. So English translation is the best option.

My question--do any of you all have any recommendations as to which is the "best" translation? I know it's a very subjective question.

I'm just finishing The Dante Club : a novel right now, just in case you all are curious as to why the sudden renewed interest. :)

jun 16, 2007, 7:00 pm

Even though it is impossible to equal the original Italian (which we, poor Italian students, study through middle and high school), I think the best English translation is the one by Allen Mandelbaum. I recommend it.
How do you like The Dante Club? I confess I gave it up after a couple hundred pages. Perhaps I should give it another try.....

jun 16, 2007, 7:28 pm

Thanks, aluvalibri.

I am of two minds about The Dante Club. It certainly rekindled my interest in Dante, and I guess that is enough to redeem any faults and to give give it a good review. I like mysteries, even formulaic ones, and the concept here isn't that bad. However, there is something about his writing style that distracts me. I am almost finished with the book and I still haven't pin-pointed exactly what it is yet. I find myself having to reread paragraphs to digest the story and get into a flow, albeit a broken, jarring flow. I rarely have to do that with any book. But while his words expressing his story do not inspire me, the words he gives to his characters to express their respect for Dante inspire me to read Dante. In the end, I would say that would make it a positive.

Why did you give up on it?

jun 18, 2007, 7:11 am

Christiguc, to quote what you wrote: "...there is something about his writing style that distracts me".
In spite of the plot and the characters it involves, I could not get into it for the reason stated above.
I will try to read it again and, who knows, perhaps this time I will manage to finish it. I SOOOO hate to leave books unfinished.....

jul 20, 2007, 3:12 pm

As for translations, I agree with aluvalibri who recommends Mandelbaum-- I'm working through his translation of Purgatorio right now. I'd also like to suggest two others, very different from one another. Charles Singleton's translation of the Comedy is considered the "scholarly" translation, as I understand it. It is very close to the Italian. The other option is Robert Pinsky's translation of the Inferno. It is not as close to the Italian, but I think for that reason it is perhaps more easily read for the modern American.
I have several translations of the Inferno, and I try always to get bilingual editions. Even when I read the Inferno in high school (Pinksy's edition) and hadn't studied either Latin or Italian yet, I found having the Italian to refer to useful and interesting.

Regarding The Dante Club, I found it entertaining, and I picked it up because I'm Dante fan. What I liked best was learning about the learned men who encouraged an appreciation for Dante in America. It was a while ago, so I don't remember being distracted by the author's style, but I do remember it picking up after the first third, so if you left it off, perhaps you should try it again.

nov 24, 2007, 5:39 pm

It looks like this topic and this group have gone into hibernation, or, as Dante cum Mandelbaum, puts it:

The land of tears gave forth a blast of wind,
And fulminated a vermilion light,
Which overmastered in me every sense,
And as a man whom sleep hath seized I fell.

Inferno, III, 133-6.

Be that as it may, I'm currently in the process of translating the Divine Comedy for myself. My goal is to be as strict as possible in:
1. Sticking to terza rima slavishly -- and not with half-rhymes or "consonantal" rhymes, like Robert Pinsky, but with real, full-blooded rhymes, to the best of my ability.
2. Writing only hendecasyllabic lines. Dante was very interested in numerology, as he was in every field of knowledge. Invariant use of the 11-syllable line had meaning to him.

I've read that what I'm trying to do can't be done. I do not agree. I am proving that it can. Now if you were to say it can not be done well, I'd have to agree. I am proving that as well.

At any rate, to assist my in my labors, I've read many of the translations easily available to me, including those of John Ciardi, Lawrence Binyon, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Dorothy L. Sayers, Mark Musa, Mandelbaum, Pinsky, Anthony Esolen, Jean Hollander, John D. Sinclair, Charles Singleton, several others. (Not all of these have translated all three books.)

First off, Sinclair and Singleton are indisepensable, for their commentaries no less than their sensible, no-nonsense prose translations.

For the verse translations I'd have to say:
for the Inferno -- Ciaran Carson, even though he gets a key word in the very first line wrong!
for the Purgatorio -- W.S Merwin, who is one of the great literary translators of all time.
for the Paradiso -- well, I'm still waiting on that one. Maybe the Hollanders, who just came out with their version. I haven't gotten into that yet.

Special mention to some illustrators who considerably illuminate their respective editions: Barry Moser, Michael Mazur, and, of course, Gustave Dore and William Blake.

Extra special mention to the translation by Marcus Sanders, Doug Harvey and Sandow Birk. Sui generis, and completely loopy! Birk's illustrations, though, are really something.

BTW, here's my translation of the lines I quoted at the beginning of this posting. Suggestions for improvement are always welcome.

A blast of wind rose up from the land of tears,
With a blinding flash of bright vermillion light.
And then, like a man who ne ither sees nor hears,
I fell as if I were seized by sleep at night.

sep 30, 2008, 9:21 pm

Personally I enjoyed the Robert and Jean Hollander Italian/English facing page translation very much. It's a verse translation, written in up-to-date, accessible English with Dante's Italian right there on the facing page. The Hollanders provide ample footnotes for those like me who are not well versed in the political landscape and personalities of Italy circa 1300.

dec 21, 2009, 10:21 pm

I'm new here, but I'll weigh in. For getting the 'feel of Dante's verse, I agree with the recommendations given. But to read Dante for the layers of meaning, for the wealth of symbolism, his theology, his cosmology, etc. I'd recommend Mark Musa's translation in the Penguin editions. His translation is quasi-poetic, but I think he's made a conscious (and to my mind, quite successful) choice between verse form and sensitivity to meaning - one can't always create equally evocative rhyme-schemes across languages. His notes seem to me to be among the best as well.

I'd also recommend his translation of La Vita Nuova; it's an invaluable companion to the Commedia, as is the Aeneid, is you can plow through it. I don't care for it personally, but I think it really does add a lot of dimension to a reading of the Commedia. YMMV, of course...

sep 14, 2017, 3:32 am

>8 Mithalogica:

Mark Musa's translation is excellent, but I think Sayers has it for me.

There was a recent Facebook course that used Musa's translation, run by Dr Mahfood (no connection)

I followed all three books. Great little videos and analysis on each canto.

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