9 Circles of Hell, Canto, classical literature, Dante Alighieri, Dante club, Divine Comedy, Inferno, Italian poetry, John Ciardi, Mary Jo Bang, Medieval studies, Purgatory, South Park, The Poet's Dante, Wizard of Oz
With Halloween upon us, what better time to voyage through Hell?
I recently picked up a copy of poet Mary Jo Bang‘s 2012 translation of Inferno, the famed masterpiece of 14th century Italian Dante Alighieri.
Only the first part in the trilogy that is the often-studied Divine Comedy (the other parts are Purgatory and Paradise), Bang’s translation brings a freshness to the text that makes it agruably the most readable (and enjoyable) translation that I have run across yet.
With references to South Park, The Wizard of Oz and various rock legends such as Jagger and McCartney, it’s a great choice for readers new to the classic work and even interesting enough for high school students to tackle, especially if they are fantasy/horror enthusiasts or [budding] poets themselves.
For a glimpse of Bang’s style, here’s the opening of Canto XXXII (where Dante with his guide enters the 9th and final circle). It begins:
If I could create some death metal vocals
With guttural growls to match this dismal pit
That bears the weight of all the rock above,
I’d be better able to eke out the essence
Of my impressions. Since I can’t do that,
I’m reluctant to even try to speak.
Compare this to say, poet John Ciardi’s 1954 translation, which reads:
If I had rhymes as harsh and horrible
as the hard fact of that final dismal hole
which bears the weight of all the steeps of Hell,
I might more fully press the sap and substance
from my conception; but since I must do
without them, I begin with some reluctance.
You can feel the difference in tone and imagery. I find Bang’s rendering much more approachable, relevant, fun. And with the many web resources available, you may choose to flesh out her notes with “studies” of your own.
I would recommend Danteworlds, The Princeton Dante Project, The World of Dante and Digital Dante as good starting points.
And for more on Dante in contemporary culture, see Dante Today hosted by Bowdoin College. They have great notes on modern interpretations such as the 9 Circles of Hell Rendered in Lego.
Still want more? Try The Poet’s Dante, Introductory Papers on Dante or Matthew Pearl’s historical novel The Dante Club.
Also, if you have a favorite version of Inferno, The Divine Comedy or a link about Dante you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you. I’d be equally happy to see poems (yours or other’s) and even artwork based on any of Dante’s writings as well. Please post. That means you!