Saturday, July 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 3.3 (Dante Alighieri)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Alighieri, Dante
Sinclair, John D.
The Divine Comedy:
1: Inferno

Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore, most likely within the first year after I read the Ciardi translation mentioned in the previous entries -- 1989 or 90. To give you an idea of the education I received there -- this was taught neither in the literature department nor even in the modern languages department. It was taught in the theology department. I remember the course well -- it was called something like: Dante's Divine Comedy: The Spiritual Journey. It was taught by an older professor of theology named Ewert Cousins, who I earlier described here.

Whereas Ciardi's translation has the virtue of actually being a poem, Sinclair's has little if any virtue other than as a kind of pedant's guide to the DC to be read alongside a verse translation to check the accuracy of the content. It is also in prose, which tells you right off the bat that content is of primary importance, not form. All you need to do is read the first two paragraphs to see that it is a mind-numbingly accurate rendering of the "story," which pays little if any attention to the aesthetic realm of language.

This edition does have one virtue Ciardi's does not, which is that it contains the original Italian, so you can sound it out if you so choose and at least mimic some of the aesthetic pleasure. I speak no Italian, but I can recite the first stanza by memory from having sound it out so many times. It's quite pleasing. You should try it some time, go ahead:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita

Anyhow, I remember the focus Cousin's course was on our own spiritual development. He asked us to write papers that showed we understood how Dante's spiritual journey in the DC pertained to our own lives. At the time, I had been sober somewhere between six months and a year and that process was very much on my mind. I wrote a paper comparing my experiences with alcohol and drugs to Dante's experiences in Hell. I got an A ++.

from the Sinclair translation:

In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell of that wood, savage and harsh and dense, the thought of which renews my fear! So bitter is it that death is hardly more. But to give account of the good which I found there I will tell of other things I noted there.

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