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Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Divine Comedy 1: Hell

Well, I have now been to hell and back. Not quite literally, but given how far out of the norm 14th C literature is for was a pretty difficult read. Dorothy L Sayers' translation of The Divine Comedy 1: Hell by Dante Alighieri is tremendous. Her attempt to maintain the terza rima rhyme scheme is beautiful and the overall feel of the work is haunting. She also has provided copious notes explaining the political background and giving details on the figures Dante encounters on his journey through hell. Without these notes, I would have been lost.

Of course, most literate people have the general idea of Dante's Inferno...that hell is divided up into various levels starting with the least of sins to the most vile. It was quite a trip to finally read in detail the punishments set in store for transgressors. And quite interesting to see how the "punishment fit the crimes." But it was also interesting to find that Dante's work was not just meant as a warning of what awaits the unrepentant in the hereafter, but it is also a warning about the workings of this life. Dante was speaking directly to those in power at the time....warning them against using that power unwisely or selfishly.

This was a daunting read for me...but I intend to keep soldiering on. Next up, Purgatory.

I'm not quite sure how to rate this one....four stars out of five seems about right--for being a classic, for Sayers' terrific translation, for the awesome imagery, and for knocking me off the laurels of my English degree.


CMash said...

I rate your review a 5/5. I am not a fan of the classics, I think it is because it was mandatory to read in school and it took time away from my contemporary reads. Good review!

kimberlyloomis said...

And this continues to remain on my TBR list. Got all the way through college without once reading Dante. Will see if I can grab up this translation the next time I wander to my new favorite bookstore. Thanks for the review!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Kudos to you for reading this and reviewing! What a tough one! I get a little intimidated by these BIG classics, but I know I really must read it one of these days!!

Heather J. said...

I'm so impressed that you tackled this one - great job!