Visualizing Dante’s Hell: See Maps & Drawings of Dante’s Inferno from the Renaissance Through-out Today
The light was departing. The brown air drew down
all the earth’s creatures, calling them to rest
from their day-roving, as I, one man alone,
prepared myself to face the double war
of the journey and the pity, which memory
shall here set down, nor hesitate, nor err.
Reading Dante’s Inferno, and Divine Comedy generally, can seem a daunting task, what with the book’s wealth of allusion to 14th-century Florentine politics and medieval Catholic theology. Much depends upon a good translation. Maybe it’s fitting that the proverb about translators as traitors comes from Italian. The first Dante that came my way—the unabridged Carlyle-Okey-Wicksteed English translation—renders the poet’s terza rima in leaden prose, which may well be a written betrayal.
Gone is the rhyme scheme, self-contained stanzas, and poetic compression, replaced by wordiness, antiquated diction, and needless density. I labored through the text and did not much enjoy it. I’m far from an expert by any reach out but was much relieved to later discover John Ciardi’s more faithful English rendering, which immediately impresses upon the senses and the memory, as in the description above in the first stanzas of Canto II.