I have a truckload of Dante at my home. I have the authoritative Charles Singleton prose translation, the Dorothy Sayers verse translation with her copious notes, along with her two volumes of Dante essays, I have the overlooked Peter D...
I have a truckload of Dante at my home. I have the authoritative Charles Singleton prose translation, the Dorothy Sayers verse translation with her copious notes, along with her two volumes of Dante essays, I have the overlooked Peter Dale translation, I even have the Longfellow translation, and Daniel Halpern‘s “Dante’s Inferno: Translations by Twenty Contemporary Poets,” including Seamus Heaney, Carolyn Forche, Deborah Digges, C.K. Williams, W.S. Merwin, and others. I have books on Dante by John Freccero and Mark Musa and R.W.B. Lewis, and William Anderson and heaven knows who else… that’s in addition to several translations of La Vita Nuova and De Monarchia. What more can be said? Lots, it appears.
San Francisco as Paradise.
Dante Alighieri is in the news again … and how could it be otherwise with a new book from Dan Brown (of Da Vinci Code fame) called Inferno? “For all its absurdities, Brown’s book is a comfort, because it proves that the Divine Comedy is still alive in our culture,” writes Joan Acocella in The New Yorker. Otherwise…
As we saw in The Da Vinci Code, there is no thriller-plot convention, however well worn, that Brown doesn’t like. The hero has amnesia. He is up against a mad scientist with Nietzschean goals. He’s also up against a deadline: in less than twenty-four hours, he has been told, the madman’s black arts will be forcibly practiced upon the world. Though this book, unlike The Da Vinci Code and Brown’s Angels and Demons (2000), is not exactly an ecclesiastical thriller, it takes place largely in churches and, as the title indicates, it constantly imports imagery from the Western world’s most famous eschatological thriller, Dante’s Inferno. Wisely, Brown does not let himself get hog-tied by the sequence of events in Dante’s poem. Instead, he just inserts allusions whenever he feels that he needs them. There are screams; there is excrement. The walls of underground caverns ooze disgusting liquid. Through them run rivers of blood clogged with corpses. Bizarre figures come forward saying things like “I am life” and “I am death.” Sometimes the great poet is invoked directly. The book’s villain is a Dante fanatic and the owner of Dante’s death mask, on which he writes cryptic messages. Scolded by another character for his plans to disturb the universe, he replies, “The path to paradise passes directly through hell. Dante taught us that.”
Acocella doesn’t stick with Brown, however. Most of her focus is on the new translations of The Divine Comedy by Clive James and Mary Jo Bang. Both poets take a lot of liberties. We’ve written about the latter translation here, and as for the James translation … it sounds like it’s worth a read. But read Acocella’s whole review here.
Acocella notes that “Translators are not the only ones drawn to Dante. Since 2006, Roberto Benigni has been touring a solo show about the Divine Comedy” – the we wrote about that here – “In 2010, Seymour Chwast rendered the poem as a graphic novel. There are Inferno movies and iPad apps and video games.” Ahhh, but she does not complete the list. She neglected to mention San Francisco’s very own version of Dante (also on our shelves) by Sandow Birk and Marcus Sanders, which opens:
About halfway through the course of my pathetic life,
I woke up and found myself in a stupor in some dark place,
I’m not sure how I ended up there; I guess I had taken a few wrong turns.
Chris and her “Postcards from Hell”
Meanwhile, a trip to the recent 46th International Antiquarian Book Fair in San Francisco, I met Chris Lowenstein, the “Chief Bibliophilic Officer” for Book Hunter’s Holiday – who is so fond of Dante that she has a whole section of her website devoted to Dante books and artwork. On this particular day, she showed me her “Postcards from Hell.”
Only they weren’t. Not a