That’s a great View From Your Table, sent by a friend in River Ridge, Louisiana, featuring my Wall Street Journal cover story this morning about Dante. You can’t get the WSJ in St. Francisville, so this is the first I’ve seen of the art the Journal put with my piece. Knocked my socks off.
I’ve had a number of e-mails from Journal readers curious to know which translation of the Commedia I would recommend. I’m partial to the Hollander and Musa translations, though if you get the Hollander, which is the academic standard, be aware that the notes are exhaustive — really overwhelming to the lay reader. That’s not a complaint, really, but it is to say that for someone coming to the text for the first time, they can be daunting. Mark Musa’s translation has more accessible notes — and it cannot be stated strongly enough how important it is to have good notes to explain references — but if you go with his translation, buy them separately; The Portable Dante gives you the Musa translation, but with a bare minimum of his notes. I’ve been impressed by the Durling/Martinez translation as well. Esolen’s is also good, but the style is not as simple as the others I’ve recommended. Be very careful with Dorothy Sayers. Her notes are spectacular, but she tries to make the English do things it can’t do, and the whole thing is a mess, at least to me. John Ciardi has a lot of Dante’s musicality, but I prefer the directness and lucidity of the more contemporary translations. The thing you have to keep in mind, though, is that you should choose the translation that sounds best in your ear. You will be spending a lot of time with that voice, so it had better be one that’s a good fit.
Below, I’m republishing the text of a note I posted yesterday, when the Journal first put my story online. Many Journal readers first encountered it in the print edition, and may not have seen this yesterday. Regular readers of this blog who would like to re-read the Purgatorio blogging may enjoy having all the links in one place:
Welcome readers of my Wall Street Journal essay about how Dante saved my life. If you want to read a longer, more in-depth version, check out my cover story from the current issue of TAC. If you’re interested in looking in on the Lenten blogging pilgrimage through Purgatorio, here are links to those entries:
Canto I, Canto II, Canto III, Canto IV, Canto V, Canto VI, Canto VII, Canto VIII, Canto IX, Canto X, Canto XI, Canto XII, Canto XIII, Canto XIV, Canto XV, Canto XVI, Canto XVII, Canto XVIII, Canto XIX, Canto XX, Canto XXI, Canto XXII and Canto XXIII, Canto XXIV, Canto XXV, Canto XXVI, Canto XXVII, Canto XXVIII, Canto XXIX, Canto XXX, Canto XXXI, Canto XXXII, Canto XXXIII.
If you only have time for a few entries, my remarks on cantos VII, IX, XI, XIV, and XXVII are my favorites of the bunch.