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The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Divine Comedy (Omnibus)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
14,900128234 (4.11)1 / 172
  1. 51
    The Doré Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy by Gustave Doré (rvdm61)
  2. 20
    The Figure of Beatrice by Charles Williams (jsburbidge)
  3. 21
    Primum mobile: Dantes Jenseitsreise und die moderne Kosmologie by Bruno Binggeli (vreeland)
    vreeland: Bruno Binggeli verbindet Dantes Grosses Werk mit der modernen Astrophysik und macht sich in und mit der Lektüre der Göttlichen Komödie und den darin enthaltenen mittelalterlichen Jenseitsvorstellungen auf die Suche nach dem "Big Bang" - dem Urknall. Paradies und Superraum, Gnadenwahl und Quantenphysik, Hölle und Schwarze Löcher: Mittelalter und Moderne passen sehr viel besser zusammen als man glaubt. Binggeli ist Physiker und Galaxienforscher an der Universität Basel; die wissenschaftliche Akribie, mit der er die Göttliche Komödie mit aktuellen Forschungsergebnissen in Relation bringt, schafft für beide Seiten reizvolle neue Perspektiven und Ansätze des Verstehens.… (more)
  4. 11
    Dante in Love by A. N. Wilson (DLSmithies)
  5. 22
    Ochii Beatricei : cum arăta cu adevărat lumea lui Dante? by Horia-Roman Patapievici (gyges77)

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English (96)  Spanish (15)  Dutch (5)  Italian (4)  Portuguese (Portugal) (2)  German (2)  Danish (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (127)
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
I really, really hated this. It was like the seventh level of hell...

Oh wait. ( )
  authenticjoy | Mar 29, 2019 |
Extraordinary illustrations...Gustave Dore....Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ( )
  Brightman | Feb 17, 2019 |
Something is lost in the translation from Italian. A background of 14th century Italian culture and politics is helpful to really appreciate the significance certain political parodies in this classic also. I never finished the book since it's sooooooo long but I got through half of it. It is an enormous work that I can't ever imagine anyone doing without a word processor under candlelight in the 14th century. Dante had talent far beyond modern mortal humans. ( )
  Chickenman | Sep 11, 2018 |
Dante Alighieri

The Divine Comedy

Wordsworth Classics, Paperback [2009].

8vo. xxii+566. Translated, and with Preface [3-4] and Notes [437-526] by Henry Francis Cary. Introduction by Claire A. Honess [vii-xx]. Additional notes on Inferno by Stefano Albertini [529-66]. Cover: Antaeus setting down Dante and Virgil in the last circle of hell by William Blake (1757-1827).

First printed in Italian as La commedia, 1472.
First published as La Divina Comedia di Dante, 1555.
This translation first published, 1814.
Reprinted with notes by Stefano Albertini, 1998.
Reprinted with a new Introduction, 2009.


Select Bibliography
Note on Pronunciation

The Divine Comedy

Author’s Preface
Chronological View of the Age of Dante

Inferno [Cantos 1-34]
Purgatorio [Cantos 1-33]
Paradiso [Cantos 1-33]

Selection from H. F. Cary’s Notes
Appendix: Additional Notes to Inferno


W. H. Auden, in his essay on Byron’s Don Juan, makes a controversial distinction between “boring” and “a bore”. The adjective, he says, seems to express a “subjective judgement”; something is boring to me. The noun, on the other hand, “claims to be an objective, universally valid statement”. This is, to my mind, one of the not so many instances when Auden wrote complete nonsense. But let’s consider his “four judgments possible”:

1) Not (or seldom) boring but a bore. Examples: The last quartets of Beethoven, the Sistine frescoes of Michelangelo, the novels of Dostoievski.
2) Sometimes boring but not a bore. Verdi, Degas, Shakespeare.
3) Not boring and not a bore. Rossini, the drawings of Thurber, P. G. Wodehouse.
4) Boring and a bore. Works to which one cannot attend. It would be rude to give names.

Now, in my rude opinion, Dante is both boring and a bore. I admit, of course, this is my fault. Ancient classical status like that cannot be wrong. Consider the Bible, the greatest best-seller of all time, obviously the greatest book of all time, simple as that. It may look like a poorly written collection of preposterous short stories (and a few novels), but that is an illusion. So I guess Dante only looks as trivial as in fact he is not. Perhaps if I had come to it in a different way, I might have enjoyed it more.

Music made me read Dante. And the Poet with a capital “P” didn’t live up to the tremendous musical response he elicited from Franz Liszt whose Dante Symphony (1857) remains one of the greatest masterpieces from the nineteenth century most people have never heard of, much less listened to. Liszt punctuated the first movement of his score with some of the best-known lines from Inferno, but neither they nor their context told me much that the music hadn’t with far greater force.

The best I can say about The Divine Comedy is that it is relatively easy to read for something seven centuries old. All 100 cantos are short, 130-150 lines each, and well organised within the story, such as it is. To immediately contradict myself, for the sheer fun of it, the poetry is confused and convoluted, almost wilfully so. I have no idea how much of this is due to the translation. But I suspect a good deal. Henry Francis Cary, our Translator with a capital “T”, writes a ponderous prose, as evident from his preface and notes, and I wouldn’t put it past him to make Dante’s verse more oblique than it is. Claire Honess, in the last as well as the only helpful paragraph of her introduction, claims that Mr Cary made no attempt to preserve Dante’s poetical patterns but tried instead to capture the meaning as fully as possible in blank verse. Well, judge for yourself how well he succeeded by two famous passages from Inferno:

[The inscription on the gates of Hell, 3.1-9:]
‘Through me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for ay.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of power divine,
Supremest wisdom, and primeval love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.’

[Francesca’s story, 5.118-35:]
‘No greater grief than to remember days
Of joy, when misery is at hand. That kens
Thy learned instructor. Yet so eagerly
If thou art bent to know the primal root,
From whence our love gat being, I will do
As one, who weeps and tells his tale. One day,
For our delight we read of Lancelot,
How him love thralled. Alone we were, and no
Suspicion near us. Oft-times by that reading
Our eyes were drawn together, and the hue
Fled from our altered cheek. But at one point
Alone we fell. When of that smile we read,
The wished smile, so rapturously kissed
By one so deep in love, then he, who ne’er
From me shall separate, at once my lips
All trembling kissed. The book and writer both
Were love’s purveyors. In its leaves that day
We read no more.’

A note about the notes in this edition. Those by Mr Cary I found of little help. The translator has a passion for cross-references with everybody from Virgil, Catullus and Ovid to Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton. I didn’t find these notes enlightening at all. I was even less impressed with Mr Cary’s “Chronological View of the Age of Dante” from which it follows that Dante referred to every possible contemporary event in his poem, from his own ancestry (Paradiso, 15-16) to the election of John XXII as Pope (Paradiso, 27.53). Most of these references I found frankly incomprehensible. Mr Cary’s most valuable contributions, apart from a few notes in which he is content to explain the context, are the prose summaries in the beginning of each canto.

The notes by Signor Albertini (to Inferno only) were more accessible and more useful. Dante’s language is ludicrously allegorical and allusional. It is encouraging for the common mortal that even the mighty scholars often find him obscure. They honestly admit this or that may be either that or this. Or it may be something else. We all know the First Law of Literary Criticism: the more obscure the text, the more profound it is.

Finally, let’s look at this poetic masterpiece, one of the greatest pinnacles of Western (nay, world) literature which is essentially “beyond review”, as awed reviewers keep repeating. Have these people ever read the thing at all, I wonder?

Inferno is certainly the most enjoyable part. Our sensitive and easily fainting Poet is taken to a sightseeing tour of Hell by Virgil. May we all have such wise and knowledgeable guides when we go to Hell! The language is rich and vivid, occasionally even beautiful. One must applaud Dante’s imagination in describing the nine circles of Hell and all their wonders. He and Virgil have plenty of fun with all sorts of shady subjects from Charon and Chiron to Cerberus and the Minotaur, plus plenty of serpents, demons, giants, dead people eager to tell their stories and, of course, “Hell’s Monarch [...] The creature eminent in beauty once” (34.1, 34.18). All the same, leaving aside that the very notion of hell can be produced only by the sick minds of devout Christians, I found the infernal regions neither moving nor thought-provoking.

I was surprised how insignificant, considering its enormous fame and influence, the story of Paolo and Francesca is. One of the most famous couples of doomed lovers occupies just a small part from Canto V in which we visit the second circle where “The carnal sinners are condemned in whom / Reason by lust is swayed.” (5.39-40). Yet they have inspired great many spin-offs, including some masterpieces like Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini which, by the way, is closely modelled on the first movement of the Dante Symphony.[2] References to Paolo and Francesca tend to pop up at the most unlikely places:

Some time ago I was reading the page which one of the best of our weeklies devotes to the criticism of current literature. The reviewer started his consideration with the words: ‘Mr. So and So is a not a mere story-teller’. The word mere stuck in my throat, and on that day, like Paolo and Francesca on another occasion, I read no further.[3]

I wish I could honestly say that Dante provides a penetrating discussion of lust, wrath, sloth, avarice and other notorious, if seldom deadly, sins. (Including lack of baptism. However virtuous life you may have led, were you not baptised, you go to the First Circle of Hell. I am not making this up.) But Dante does nothing of the sort. He merely says these things are bad. How come, Signor Alighieri? Why, it is very simple! If you practise these sins in this world, in the next one you will suffer fairly gruesome and relatively everlasting punishments. This is the essence of Inferno, nothing less, certainly nothing more. The rest is rhetorical verbiage, nothing more, certainly nothing less. The numerous colourful descriptions of “the souls / To misery doomed” (3.16-7) are as tedious and worthless as the endless battles in The Iliad (another dead “classic” rotting in lip service).

A great deal of Inferno actually has nothing to do with hell or sin. It deals exclusively with Italian politics. Dante evidently had plenty of scores to settle. The notes are very helpful about these matters, but so what? What do I care about petty quarrels, seven days or seven centuries old? Unlike Machiavelli, his fellow Florentine two centuries later, Dante didn’t write a philosophical treatise on politics still relevant centuries later. He wrote a satirical Commedia (“divine” came posthumously) about topical events, issues and people, occasionally spiced up with some Greek mythology. There is much description but little reflection in it. The Poet spares nobody, not even his own family and his compatriots, much less popes and other foreigners (i.e. natives of other Italian city-states). But his poetry is tremendously superficial. No attempt is made to deal with the depth and complexity of human nature. No attempt at all! But if you are passionately interested in medieval Italian history, you will find Dante compelling.

It has been said that Inferno is enough to turn even the staunchest atheist into a pious believer. It didn’t turn me. I am more likely to be converted by “Inferno” from the Dante Symphony or “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem. Today we still know little and have a great deal to learn, but at least we can dismiss Hell and going there because of a defect baptising record or extra-marital sex as the nonsense which it is. We don’t faint at Francesca’s plight as our compassionate narrator: we know perfectly well she shouldn’t be where she is for what she’s done. And, frankly, who cares about the deeds and misdeeds of Nicholas III, Boniface VIII, Guido da Montefeltro, Count Ugolino and countless others Guelphs and Ghibellines, popes and pundits? Not I.

Purgatorio is not exactly an improvement. Theoretically, the place where souls are purged and prepared for paradise offers an even greater dramatic potential than Hell. Not so here.

Dante and Virgil take a jolly stroll around the mountain of Purgatory, slowly ascending its endless slopes and meeting all sorts of people on the way. Except that the sinners are mostly our Poet’s former friends and treated rather more kindly by the purgatorial powers, there is not much difference with Hell. Again, there is a lot of Italian politics that must have been hot and burning at the time, but seven centuries later has become incomprehensible. The Great Message is nothing more than yet another bit of religious tripe. Whatever sins you may commit in this life, you can still qualify for the celestial purge if you repent (including posthumously) before God. If you can seriously buy this stuff, you have my hearty congratulations. If you feel philosophical, you may enjoy a discourse on love and free will for intelligent five-year-olds (Cantos 16-18).

Again, Liszt is a vast improvement over Dante. If the outer sections of “Inferno” make Dante’s verse pale in comparison and Francesca’s sentiment lends itself better to an English horn solo than to words, the Purgatory is perfectly conveyed by the anguished passage marked “Piú lento – Un poco meno mosso” and the tremendous B minor fugue (“Lamentoso”) which form most of the second movement, “Purgatorio”. If there is a perfect expression of our imperfect struggles for perfection, this is it.

Paradiso is the apotheosis of celestial dullness. Here Beatrice, the perfect incarnation of the Eternal Feminine (who first appears in Canto 30 of Purgatorio), is our Poet’s constant guide and companion. (Virgil, poor chap, is nowhere to be seen.) Dante and Beatrice take a trip through the Solar System and meet plenty of saints, friends and relatives, everybody from Solomon and Justinian to Thomas Aquinas and Saint Peter, one more loquacious than the other.

This is the least descriptive and most philosophical part. Here, for once, Dante does try to grapple with serious issues, I give him that. Unfortunately, his style remains just as verbosely rhetorical and devoid of substance as before. Most of his reflections are spuriously meaningful, the same old tale about the Fall of Man, his redemption through the love of God, and all that celestial jazz. This version is pleasantly anti-clerical and pro-Biblical, but not making more sense on that account. A great deal is obscure enough to pass for something profound in the minds of starry-eyed devotees, I guess. Fools can always be found to discover hidden sense in obscurity and vagueness, as a writer far greater than Dante wisely observed.[4] Sometimes contradictions are hurled in with nonchalance which is positively perverse. For instance, Emperor Justinian tells us that (6.124-7) “Hence doth heavenly justice / Temper so evenly affection in us, / It ne’er can warp to any wrongfulness.” This seems to rule out the free will we’ve been granted in Purgatorio, not to mention fashionable notions such as sin, but never mind minor details like that.

Liszt, unfortunately, never composed a “Paradiso”. He let Wagner convince him no composer could depict Paradise in music. Perhaps he was not hard to convince, considering that Heaven is a lot duller than Hell. But he did provide an ethereal setting of the Magnificat as a rather magnificent conclusion to his Symphony. Certainly, it is a glimpse into our heavenly strivings well beyond Dante’s modest powers.

Bela Bartok once famously said (I wish I could remember where) that a composer must be judged, not by his thematic material, but by what use he makes of it. I maintain the opposite is true of writers. The Divine Comedy is ingeniously organised and written with certain word power. But once you look beyond the structure and the style, it is empty. It shows merely the author’s vast knowledge of Greek mythology, Roman literature, Italian politics and the Bible. It tells nothing important about the human animal, this jumble of vice and virtue, “half dust, half deity” (Byron’s phrase[5], not Dante’s). Mr Cary did a great disservice to Dante by stressing his (lack of) meaning at the expense of his (gorgeous?) poetry.

In short, this is yet another classic that has grown old. Whatever meaning it might have had in the Age of Faith, it is dead. Whatever inspiration it might have been to Byron, Liszt and Maugham, it is gone. The whole human race deserves a special circle in Hell for still keeping this florid drivel in print after seven centuries.

[1] The Dyer’s Hand, Random House, 1962, p. 387.
[2] Humphrey Searle, The Music of Liszt, Dover, 1966, Chapter III, pp. 80-81.
[3] W. Somerset Maugham, The Writer’s Point of View, Cambridge University Press, 1951, p. 12. Incidentally, Maugham claimed his novel The Painted Veil (1925) was inspired by a few lines from Purgatorio (5.131-3). See the 1934 preface for the inclusion of the novel in The Collected Edition. It is reprinted in the Vintage Classics edition, 2001, pp. vii-x.
[4] W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938), Chapter XI.
[5] Manfred, I.2.40. Incidentally, Byron was a big fan of Dante. One of his lesser known poems, written in June 1816 “to gratify” Countess Guiccioli and running to 670 lines organised in four cantos, is The Prophecy of Dante in which the Poet reflects in his favourite terza rima on exile, Beatrice and various other subjects. Around the same time Byron even made a translation of the Francesca episode in rhymed verse, but this was published only posthumously in 1830 (The Prophecy of Dante appeared in print on 21 April 1821). ( )
6 vote Waldstein | May 21, 2018 |
Took me nearly a year to get through this monster. Make sure Google is close at hand when attempting to read this book. Well worth it though. ( )
  knp4597 | Mar 19, 2018 |
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Amari-Parker, AnnaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Amelung, Petersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Armour, PeterNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
. . .quel giorno più non vi leggemmo avante.
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Belonging in the immortal company of the great works of literature, Dante Alighieri's poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through the infinite torment of Hell, up the arduous slopes of Purgatory, and on to the glorious realm of Paradise; the sphere of universal harmony and eternal salvation.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0451208633, Paperback)

Dante Alighieri's poetic masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, is a moving human drama, an unforgettable visionary journey through the infinite torment of Hell, up the arduous slopes of Purgatory, and on to the glorious realm of Paradise—the sphere of universal harmony and eternal salvation.

10 illustrations

@HolyHaha I have to climb a mountain now? You got to be kidding me. Is this a joke? Who the hell came up with story? VIIIRRRGGGILLLLLLLLLLL!

From Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:28 -0400)

(see all 10 descriptions)

"'The Divine Comedy' begins in a shadowed forest on Good Friday in the year 1300. It proceeds on a journey that, in its intense recreation of the depths and the heights of human experience, has become the key with which Western civilization has sought to unlock the mystery of its own identity. Allen Mandelbaum's astonishingly Dantean translation, which captures so much of the life of the original, renders whole for us the masterpiece that genius whom our greatest poets have recognized as a central model for all poets. This Everyman's edition -- containing in one volume all three cantos, 'Inferno,' 'Purgatorio,' and 'Paradiso' -- includes an introduction by Nobel Prize-winning poet Eugenio Montale, a chronology, notes, and a bibliography. Also included are forty-two drawings selected from Botticelli's marvelous late-fifteenth century series of illustrations." ***"An epic poem in which the poet describes his spiritual journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise -- guided first by the poet Virgil and then by his beloved Beatrice -- which results in a purification of his religious faith."… (more)

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