Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dante's 750th Birthday, Pope Francis and Some Good Reading

On the eve of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father expresses his hope that during this year the figure of Dante and his work will also accompany us on this personal and community path. “Indeed”, he remarks, “the Comedy may be read as a great itinerary, or rather as a true pilgrimage, both personal and interior, and communal, ecclesial, social and historical. It represents the paradigm of every authentic journey in which humanity is called upon to leave what Dante defines as 'the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious' to attain a new condition, marked by harmony, peace and happiness. And this is the horizon of every true humanism”.

“Dante is, therefore, a prophet of hope, herald of the possibility of redemption, of liberation, of the profound transformation of every man and woman, of all humanity. He continues to invite us to rediscover the lost or obscured meaning of our human path and to hope to see again the shining horizon on which there shines in all its fullness the dignity of the human person. Honouring Dante Alighieri, as Paul VI has already invited us to do, we are able to enrich ourselves with his experience in order to cross the many dark forests still scattered on our earth and to happily complete our pilgrimage in history, to reach the destination dreamed of and wished for by every man: 'the love that moves the sun in heaven and all the stars'”.
That's not all Pope Francis had to say so just click over to the Vatican Information Service for the whole scoop.

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest PoemHow Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History's Greatest Poem by Rod Dreher

I recently got interested in rereading The Divine Comedy because of Rod Dreher's new book.

However, before I get to that book I have a couple of others I'm interested in. Why I feel I need to read them first I don't know. I'm just going with the (internal) flow on this.

Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic TraditionHeaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition by Louis Markos

I really enjoyed Louis Markos' On the Shoulders of Hobbits. Having begun this I'm hooked. The way Louis Markos examined the Hebrew and Greek views of the afterlife are insightful and exciting. Dante's Divine Comedy takes up the middle of the book and I'm looking forward to that part quite a bit.

You'll be seeing excerpts from this show up soon as daily quotes.

Also it didn't hurt that he gives my favorite John Ciardi his endorsement as best Dante translation and notes. In fact: "Ciardi is really the only guide you need to Dante." (I've been so beaten up for not preferring other translations that Markos' recommendation was balm to my wounds.) Not that he doesn't comment on many other translations also. When the bibliography is as invitingly written as this, then you know the book's got to be good.

Reading Dante: From Here to EternityReading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw

I can't remember where I came across this. Possibly from my pal Garry Wilmore on Goodreads. He began learning Italian in order to read Dante in the original. That's how much he loves his writing.

So when he gave this 5 stars I knew it had to be good.

The Divine ComedyThe Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Ultimately, I'd be remiss not to include the actual book itself. We don't want to forget in reading about The Divine Comedy that ultimately it is a book we should read for itself. I'm not going to ever get into a translation battle because I don't know enough to advise others. I do know what worked for me, though, and on that basis I can highly recommend John Ciardi's translation with the excellent notes.

As I mentioned above, Louis Markos has a few words of recommendation also, which I'll include here. Because Markos does know about translations.
Many great translators have turned their sights to Dante, but I still think that the best English version of the Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise) is by John Ciardi. In addition to his excellent and powerful translation, Ciardi supplies a wealth of notes that help make the work come alive; he even teaches us how to pronounce all the Italian names properly. Indeed, Ciardi is all you need to understand Dante, for his notes draw together much of the best criticism. The introductions and afterwords to all three editions are particularly good.


  1. I didn't realize it until yesterday when I saw it somewhere that this was going to be Dante's 750th. I'll have to do something special on my blog for it as well. I disagree with Markos. Ciardi is not the best translation, nor is it always an accurate one. There are a few better ones. The Hollander translation is excellent, and it's even on line. Anthony Esolen, who I'm sure you've read here and there, has a very good translation too. It's really grown on me. I also thought the Prue Shaw book you mentioned above was mediocre and over hyped.

  2. It looks as if you should definitely avoid all books in this post that you haven't read. If my pal who learned Italian in order to read Dante in the original can't pick a book you like on the subject, then my sources are not going to be very useful to you. :-)