“The Divine Comedy, Volume 1: Inferno” by Dante Alighieri, translated by Robert M. Durling, with Ronald L. Martinez (Oxford University Press, 1997)

Part One of Three


The Divine Comedy is seen as one of the seminal works in the history of the written word, up there with Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and the works of William Shakespeare.  Not just an interesting story, the work is also filled with many characters based on actual people, as well as events and references to actual happenings.  Originally written in the fourteenth century by Durante degli Alighieri, a nobleman who was very opinionated and involved in Italian politics of the time; in his Divine Comedy, he deals with politics, religion, and much more, but was not above letting readers know how he felt about certain people.  The key then to reading, understanding and enjoying this work is really in the translation and editing.

In the lengthy introduction, Robert M. Durling – professor emeritus from the University of California at Santa Cruz – along with Ronald L. Martinez do a great job of introducing the reader to this historical and important work, dividing it up with the biography of Dante, when he likely wrote The Divine Comedy, what Durling hoped to achieve with this translation, as well as what Dante sought to achieve as a writer and a poet in medieval Italy.  The epic poem, spanning three volumes, helped create and cement the Tuscan dialect, written in terza rima, which is hendecasyllabic or lines of eleven syllables, divided into cantos.

Inferno is the most popular of the three volumes, mainly because of its content featuring graphic descriptions of the nine circles of hell, as Dante paints vivid pictures with words of what those suffering in these respective levels are experiencing.  The story is of Dante himself traveling through hell, guided by Virgil.  Along the way he meets many people he recognizes, whether they be renowned people throughout history, or local Italians or people of Europe that Dante himself has known in his lifetime.

This translation does a great job of keeping things easy and user-friendly for the reader.  It is a bilingual edition, featuring the original medieval Italian on the left-hand side, and Durling’s English translation on the right.  Those who have some grasp of the Romance Languages will often be able to glance over the Italian and pick out certain words and phrasings, comprehending Dante’s original words and descriptions.  There’s also a detailed picture of all nine circles by Robert Turner, as well as further illustrations throughout the text.  It is filled with endnotes for each canto, further expanded notes and an index; so whether you’re well versed in Italian medieval literature, or someone wanting to read this renowned work for the first time, Durling’s translation of The Divine Comedy, Volume 1: Inferno is an excellent starting point that will quickly draw you into the unforgettable world that Dante created over six hundred years ago.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on April 10, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.