View Full Version : Versions of Inferno

08-21-2009, 11:27 AM
Hi, I'm sure that this has been asked before but I couldn't find the answer in a thread.

I'm about to start first year English and we've been told to buy Dante's Inferno, but not which translation so I wanted to know is there a translation or edition that is generally regarded as better than the others, or perhaps as a standard edition?


08-21-2009, 12:06 PM
With Dante you have the advantage of an almost embarrassing glut of good translations. I first read Dante in John Ciardi's marvelous translation... which was the version used in a great many college courses at the time... so that will always be dear to me. On the other hand, Allen Mandelbaum, Mark Musa, and even the older Longfellow translation are worthy versions... to say nothing of the Hollander, Pinsky, and Esolen translations. Each good translations brings something different back from the original.

08-21-2009, 12:30 PM
I have read the Henry Francis Cary and the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow translations, and would recommend either. :thumbs_up
Good luck! ;)

08-21-2009, 08:10 PM
Get a bilingual one :). I think Longfellow's classic one is available in Bilingual, but I'm not sure.

Dark Muse
08-21-2009, 09:49 PM
I have two different translations that I have read.

John Ciardi's translation I found to be very easily accessible with a lot of helpful notes

and Dorothy L. Sayers translation which was more lyrically elegant

08-21-2009, 10:51 PM
I'm currently reading the Barnes & Noble edition of the Longfellow translation and I'm enjoying both the translation and the end notes, which are extremely helpful.

08-22-2009, 12:37 AM
I've sampled most of the commonly available translations in the United States and my preference is for the Dorothy L. Sayers version. Her notes alone make that one better than all the others. If you choose not to go with the Sayers then try the Longfellow, Esolen, or Musa translations. Longfellow is a little more polished but they're all pretty much the same.

The Ciardi translation is not like the others. It doesn't have the same feel. The diction and rhythm is a little off. For all that it is still good verse and more readable than the others. But I am reminded of the way that critics responded to Alexander Pope's translation of The Odyssey. Gibbon declared that it had every merit except that of faithfulness to the original, and Bentley quiped "a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer."

Pound, Waley, and Rexroth have a similar flaw in their oriental translations where they stray from exact duplication. There often appears to be more of them in the poems than the original author. Such is the case with Ciardi. Some very few poems have benefited from inexact translations. I think of course of Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat, or Ballad of Dead Ladies by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Yet often, the truth would be better preserved with less intellect and more discipline. I think that scholars make better translators than artists.

08-25-2009, 08:59 AM
I've read the first few pages of all the above, and more, using "Look Inside" and "Google books" and prefer Mark Musa's version. Also, it's in Penguin paperback so the price is right! Careful about which version you get though. You can get "the Inferno" alone with voluminous notes, or "Portable Dante" with the entire divine comedy, but with curtailed notes. As a "common reader" I'm thinking of getting the "Portable Dante". Has anyone read this version right through? How does it compare with the other Divine Comedies available?

12-11-2009, 01:49 PM
I highly recommend the audiobook, The Inferno by Dante, translated by the Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky, and narrated by George Guidall. I keep it in my car and listen to it often. It is on 4 CD's. This provides a most powerful experience and lets the listener enjoy the poetry and the thrill of submerging oneself into this greatest of all poems without getting tired of hearing it again. However, because of the sheer strength of the message, one must turn it off after one or two cantos in order to assimilate in peaceful reflection.

01-11-2010, 10:52 AM
For starters, I'd ask for clarification. The teacher/professor may not have thought that part through. Or if you're at a college or university, the bookstore might stock only the one you're supposed to get.

I think Ciardi's is the most common school version. It's good, with thorough notes. He sacrifices Dante's tersa rima for the sake of comprehension, but the rhyme scheme is partially preserved. Sayers is better for that, but I am not familiar enough with it or any other translation to say whether it's as easy to understand.

I seriously doubt the instructor would have meant the Sandow Birk illustrated version, but it's really good and very modern. It's definitely the easiest to understand.

02-04-2010, 04:23 PM
i read the alan mandelbaum version of The Divine Comedy with the question 'what is all the fuss' about this being a great book. this translation i'd only put in the extraordinarily unremarkable category as for me the translation was such that i'd have difficulty putting Divine Comedy in the category of great literature. A unique idea, to be sure, but the writing was a bit of a turn off compared to expectations. For comparison I looked at Ciardi's translation of the Inferno that I'd read with high praise 30 years before. In the context of quite a bit more education, I found that translation rather pedestrian in my old age. So, i'm thinking, with high praise for DV, the problem must be my translation. Think I may look at Sayers, who was mentioned twice, and also Musa. Wondering how these might compare the mandelbaum.