Title: The Divine Comedy, Part 1: Hell
Author: Danté Alighieri
Translator: Dorothy L. Sayers
(Yes, the same one who wrote the Lord Peter Wimsey series)
Genre: Classic Narrative Poetry
Rating: 4 of 5
In her translation of the Divine Comedy, Dorothy L. Sayers manages to closely approximate the terza rima of the original (rhyme scheme ABA BCB CDC, DED, etc.). I love it when a translator takes this approach to narrative poetry. The original author chose a specific form (whether meter, rhyme, alliteration, or something else), and I want to experience as close as I can to that original artistry as I read the poem, even if it sometimes means a slightly less precise translation.
Danté’s journey through hell is much more than a morbid freak show of horrors, though that is all you might get out of it without some scholarly help. The poetry is accompanied by insightful notes explaining historical and mythological references, theological and philosophical concepts, and the allegorical/symbolic meaning behind the story. As with any literary analysis, some of the interpretation of symbolism is highly conjectural and probably says more about the commentator than it does about authorial intent. However, the overall understanding of “this is sin stripped of its glamor” and “this is the soul progressing toward repentance” do seem to fit very well.
I have read the entire Divine Comedy before, but this translations and accompanying notes have made it a completely different, more understandable experience. I come from a different theological viewpoint than either the author (Medieval Roman Catholic) or translator (Anglican), but appreciated some of the spiritual insights of the poem and commentary. I am curious if this will continue to be the case as I continue into the other two volumes where our theology diverges even farther (e.g. the existence of purgatory, the role of Mary, etc.).
Overall, if you are interested in The Divine Comedy, can’t read it in the original language, and don’t need word-for-word precision, I highly recommend trying this translation.