Dante’s Champion: An Interview with Robert M. Durling

An Interview with Robert M. Durling

Robert Durling

Robert M. Durling is Professor Emeritus at University of California at Santa Cruz. He received his Ph D. from Harvard and taught at Haverford College, Cornell University, and University of California at Santa Cruz. He is most known for his incredibly detailed, accurate and literal translation and editing of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy with Ronald L. Martinez.

In the interview, Durling talks about what he likes most about teaching, how he learned Italian, why he decided to translate The Divine Comedy, and more importantly how. He also reveals what he likes to do in his spare time, who he likes to read, and whether he’s done with Dante’s opus.

To read the interview, click here, or the photo or title above. To read reviews, click on the book covers below.

Inferno Purgatorio Paradiso

“The Divine Comedy, Volume 3: Paradiso” by Dante Alighieri, translated by Robert M. Durling, with Ronald L. Martinez (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Part Three of Three


Released in hardcover in January of 2011, Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez present their translation and editing of the final volume in the epic trilogy of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, with Paradiso.  After the success of the first two volumes – Inferno and Purgatorio – with readers and scholars alike, fans will now be able to complete their collection.

After reuniting with his love, Beatrice, Dante now travels with her through the heavenly spheres, experiencing “the state of blessed souls after death.”  With paradise depicted as a series of concentric heavenly spheres surrounding the earth, they consist of the planetary bodies: the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, then on to the Fixed Stars, the Primum Mobile, and finally the Empyrean.     Allegorically, this volume represents the soul’s ascent to God.  Like in the previous volumes, each of the heavenly spheres bears a title and important messages, in this case associated with the angelic hierarchy.  Dante continues with what he’s done previously, providing historical setting and characters based on real people, along with an important lesson to be learned with each sphere reached.

In the introduction, Durling discusses when the text was likely written, exploring the setting for it, as well as investigating a number of interpretive issues surrounding Paradiso, the possible meaning behind the allegories, and what this volume represented in Dante’s complete body of work.  Again done in this preferred and beneficial bilingual edition, readers can enjoy the full translation, as well as the original fourteenth-century Italian, as it is revealed what a talented writer Dante truly was, making it clear why The Divine Comedy is revered as such an important piece of work with that of Shakespeare and Chaucer.  Notes at the end of each canto provide commentary and details that help the reader follow the text with full understanding and comprehension.  At the end is included Boethius’s famous cosmological poem that ends the third book of his Consolation of Philosophy, which bore a strong influence on Dante and his work, along with a translation and commentary.  The additional notes include discussions of myths, symbols, and themes that all play a part in the three volumes.  This comprehensive index includes Proper Names Discussed in the Notes, Passages Cited in the Notes, Words Discussed in the Notes, and an Index of Proper Names used in the text and translation.  Robert Turner’s illustrations, as with the previous volumes, again help to illustrate the text in a poignant and unique way, especially with his depiction of the heavenly spheres.

This concluding volume of The Divine Comedy completes one of the most important translations of the current era, with its crucial accuracy, extensive and comprehensive notations and explorations, as well as its thorough effort in being the most important translation of Dante’s opus, making it available and so readable to any person who is interested in the work.  The covers alone will capture anyone’s eye, and as they begin to read the incredibly beautiful, powerful, descriptive words of Dante, they will be swept away to this unique world, just as Tolkien did with his Lord of the Rings.

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

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

“The Divine Comedy, Volume 2: Purgatorio” by Dante Alighieri, translated by Robert M. Durling, with Ronald L. Martinez (Oxford University Press, 2004)

Part Two of Three


In the second volume of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatorio, Dante continues his journey from hell into purgatory, continuing to be guided by the skilled hand and mind of Virgil.  Dante must climb up the Mount of Purgatory, beginning at the bottom with Ante-Purgatory, then the seven terraces – seven levels of suffering and spiritual growth – as associated with the seven deadly sins; at the very top is Earthly paradise.  Just as in the first volume, Inferno, Dante continues to discuss politics and the Church in general, as well as relating to his own experiences during the writing of the Divine Comedy in the fourteenth century.  Familiar characters in Dante’s life again play a part, as he makes his intentions of them all too clear.  It is in this volume that Dante is reunited with his long-lost love, Beatrice.

In this shorter introduction, Robert M. Durling and Ronald L. Martinez go into some detail on when this second volume was likely begun, how and when it was exactly written and how Dante was influenced by events and happenings in his life in the writing of it.  Just as with the first volume, detailed notes are provided at the end of each canto, explaining locations, historical references, and short biographies on the people mentioned and what relevance they had to Dante.  With these priceless details, any reader can pick up this translation of the Divine Comedy, and not feel lost or overloaded by all the historical setting, peoples and details, but are skillfully guided along Dante’s unique journey.

At the end of the text are further detailed notes and fifteen short essays covering Dante’s political views, his respect and use of Virgil and Ovid, his original conceptions of homosexuality, and on moral growth, to name a few.  Durling and Martinez also explore similarities and possible linkages with the three volumes in analyzing similar cantos, their possible relations to each other, as well as the numbering system used in each volume.  At the end is a bibliography and extensive index, allowing the reader to travel about the text freely and with little hindrance.

With this second volume, Durling continues what he began with Inferno, keeping the reader hooked with this accurate translation, along with the original Italian on the left-hand page, as Dante’s true skill as a storyteller and descriptive writer are brought to light as never before.

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

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

“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.