Reviews for Divine Comedy


Booklist Reviews 2013 April #2
Critic extraordinaire James (Cultural Amnesia, 2007) is also a poet (Opal Sunset: Selected Poems, 2008), and he has been working his way to this daring project ever since he was in Florence in the mid-1960s while studying at Cambridge, as he explains in his rousing introduction. His companion, whom he would soon marry, the future Dante scholar Prudence Shaw, revealed to him the "great secret of Dante's masterpiece," the fact that it possesses both "interior intensity" and propulsion. How, James wondered, could a translator re-create this dynamic? Deciding that Dante's terza rima is too strained in English, he uses robust, rollicking quatrains. He also avoids footnotes, which so rudely interrupt the flow and drama of this defining classic, by working necessary explanations into the poem itself. James' revitalizing translation allows this endlessly analyzed, epic, archetypal "journey to salvation" to once again stride, whirl, blaze, and sing. Anyone heretofore reluctant to pick up The Divine Comedy will discover that James' bold, earthy, rhythmic and rhyming, all-the-way live English translation fulsomely and brilliantly liberates the profound humanity of Dante's timeless masterpiece. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

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Kirkus Reviews 1998 February
This new blank verse translation of the first ``Canticle'' of Dante's 14th-century masterpiece compares interestingly with some of the recent English versions by American poets, though it suffers particularly by comparison with Allen Mandelbaum's graceful blank verse one. Its aim to provide ``a clear, readable English version . . . that nevertheless retains some of the poetry of the original'' is only imperfectly fulfilled, owing partly to moments of unimaginative informality (``In Germany, where people drink a lot''), though these are intermittently redeemed by simple sublimity (``Night now revealed to us the southern stars,/While bright Polaris dropped beneath the waves./It never rose again from ocean's floor''). Translator Zappulla, an American Dante scholar and teacher, offers helpful historical and biographical information in an Introduction and exhaustive Notes following each of the poem's 34 ``Cantos.'' Readers new to Dante may find his plainspoken version eminently satisfying; those who know the poem well may be disappointed by it. Copyright 1998 Kirkus Reviews

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 March #1

Prolific author, journalist, and British television personality James offers a modern verse translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. This is the product of 40 years of thought and conversation with his wife, Prue Shaw, a noted Danteist and romance-language philologist. Working from the premise that the greatness of Dante's poetry resides in its command of verse and language, James seeks a version in idiomatic English rather than attempting to replicate the elements of Dante's rhyme, meter, and other verbal features. His goal is to make the whole of the work, not just the more lurid parts of the Inferno, interesting to contemporary readers. Poetically, the results are very good English verse, but much of Dante's verbal symbolism and structural patterns is lost. James eschews footnotes or other scholarly apparatus, instead working the identity of various significant figures into the body of his text. VERDICT James offers here a vigorous, poetic paraphrase of the Comedy rather than a translation. Those interested in something closer to the formal properties of the original should stick with translations by Allen Mandelbaum, Mark Musa, Robert Pinsky, or Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander.--Thomas Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 May #1

National Book Critics Circle Award-winning poet Bang (Elegy) offers an original and idiosyncratic version of the first part of Dante's Divine Comedy. Working from various English translations and the original, Bang seeks to bring out Dante's contemporary relevance by a frequent use of current idiom, borrowing from or transferring Dante's imagery to modern circumstances. Where Dante often quoted poet-songwriters of his day, Bang uses relevant passages from John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles. In a process of reverse reference, where many modern poets, such as T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Plath, quoted or paraphrased Dante, Bang puts these paraphrases back into the original. Her verse is vigorous, her imagery enjoyable and astute. Still, while her notes explain modern references, her knowledge of contemporary Dante scholarship is limited. The book is richly illustrated by Drescher, whose children's books include Love the Beastie and The Fool and the Flying Ship. VERDICT For readers already familiar with Dante, this is a rich, playful, and insightful poetic reading, true to the spirit if not the word. Those seeking a conventionally accurate translation should instead go to Mark Musa, Robert Pinsky, or Robert Hollander.--T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA

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Library Journal Reviews 2010 September #2

Prolific translator Raffel (Distinquished Professor Emeritus of Arts & Humanities, Univ. of Louisiana at Lafayette) has produced a new verse translation of the complete Divine Comedy, joining those of John Ciardi, Mark Musa, Allen Mandelbaum, Robert Pinsky, and others. Raffel, whose recent translations include The Canterbury Tales and Das Nibelungenlied, offers a serviceable version of Dante, observing Dante's rhyme scheme and basic rhythms. His choice of diction, however, is a bit staid, flattening some of Dante's idiomatic registers. The overall effect is somewhat ponderous. Raffel's version also includes an introduction by Paul J. Contino (great books, Pepperdine Univ.) and extensive informational notes by Henry L. Carrigan Jr. (senior editor/assistant director at the press and an LJ reviewer). As with the translation, these are serviceable but offer no great insight into the text. VERDICT A competent translation that does not supersede any of the others that are currently available. While Raffel is a good poet and his translation is accurate, Musa's and Pinsky's translations remain the preferred choices for general readers and students owing to their fluency and vigor.--T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 April #3

Do we really need yet another translation of Dante's world-famous journey through the three parts of the Catholic afterlife? We might, if the translator is both as eminent, and as skillful, as Clive James: the Australian-born, London-based TV personality, cultural critic, poet and memoirist (Opal Sunset) is one of the most recognizable writers in Britain. James's own poetry has been fluent, moving, sometimes funny, but it would not augur the kind of fire his Dante displays. Over decades (in part as an homage to his Dante-scholar wife, Prue Shaw), James has worked to turn Dante's Italian, with its signature three-part rhymes, into clean English pentameter quatrains, and to produce a Dante that could eschew footnotes, by incorporating everything modern readers needed to know into the verse--from the mythological anti-heroes of Hell through the Florentine politics, medieval astronomy, and theology of Heaven. Sometimes these lines are sharply beautiful too: souls in Purgatory "had their eyelids stitched with iron wire/ Like untamed falcons." Even in Heaven, notoriously hard to animate, James keeps things clear and easy to follow, if at times pedestrian in his language: "I want to fill your bare mind with a blaze/ Of living light that sparkles in your eyes," says Dante's Beatrice, and if the individual phrases do not always sparkle, it is a wonder to see the light cast by the whole. (Apr.)

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 May #3

Bang has done for Dante's most famous poem something akin to what Baz Luhrmann did for Shakespeare in his 1996 film of Romeo and Juliet: updated the presentation of a classic for a contemporary sensibility without sacrificing its timelessness. Bang (The Bride of E) has preserved the feel and tempo of the original--and the many English translations that readers will be familiar with: "Stopped mid-motion in the middle/ Of what we call our life, I looked up and saw no sky--/ Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost," she begins. She has, however, modernized the metaphors; where Dante looked to the politics and culture of his contemporary Italy for allusions to illustrate his sense of faith and morality, Bang mines American pop and high culture. Yes, traditionalists and scholars may shriek upon seeing Eric Cartman (of South Park fame), sculptures by Rodin, John Wayne Gacy, and many others make anachronistic cameos in Bang's version of Hell, but this is still very much Dante's underworld, updated so it pops on today's page. The result is an epic both fresh and historical, scholarly and irreverent: " ‘Pope Satan, Pope Satan, Alley Oop!' " begins Canto VII with a line in which Bang mines various previous translations of Dante and the roots of the phrase "Alley Oop" in French gymnastics and a newspaper comic about "a Stone Age traveling salesman from the kingdom of Moo who rode a dinosaur named Dinny," according to Bang's comprehensive notes. This will be the Dante for the next generation. Includes illustrations by artist Henrik Drescher. (Aug.)

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