Monday, August 4, 2014

The Inferno of Dante translated by Robert Pinsky

The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky This is far and away the best and most accessible translation I have read and I looked at several since 2010. But best of all is that it can now be listened to, as Pinsky's 1995 translation is read with great cognition by Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, Nobel Prize Winner Seamus Heaney, Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize Winner Louise Gl├╝ck, and Bolligen Prize Winner Frank Bidart, in a new production cosponsored by Penguin Audio and FSG Audio. It doesn't take long to listen to, and it packs a punch, just like the original should have.

Dante's The Divine Comedy is an epic poem in three parts and was written in the 14th Century, at a time when oral traditions in storytelling were still prevalent. One benefits from hearing the work spoken aloud, as in all poetry. But in this audio presentation we get only Part I, The Inferno and not Purgatorio and Paradiso. How I yearn to learn that the latter parts will also be translated by Pinsky. I have read Part I many times, Part II once, and never Part III. I'd like to see what Dante has to say about heaven. The whole work was originally entitled Commedia, and in later centuries other artists added the "Divine." The meaning is the same: our God plays with us humans...setting us difficulties and seeing how we manage. Many of us fail.

I came away wondering if this is the version of hell that the Catholic Church promulgated and has adhered to for centuries. Wikipedia says it is, and that in fact, Dante drew on St. Thomas Acquinas' Summa Theologica from medieval Christian theology. It is grim. It is horrible. It is hell in every definition. It is so similar to what I was taught that I wonder now how it is possible that so little has changed in Church teachings and at the imaginations of our religious leaders that no one has come up with a more hellish (or even a different) scenario. How little ignorance is excuse for wrongdoing in Dante's eyes. We have only ourselves to blame, he says. How clear our human moral conundrums seem from this fiery pit.

Remind yourselves of moral wisdom, and listen, just listen to our greatest living poets read Dante.

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