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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple, lovely verse, good for first-timers
Of the five best translations of the Divine Comedy into English and the best one for first-timers is Mark Musa or this translation from John Ciardi.

A succinct versified translation that opens up the plot, themes, and characters of this epic while charming the reader with simple beauty. It translates the (sometimes overwhelming) aesthetic experience of...
Published on Jan. 1 2008 by Keith Buhler

versus
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars so so
This is a detailed read and only the lonely should try this as it is deep and requires skill at interpertation.
Published 23 months ago by H. Osborn


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple, lovely verse, good for first-timers, Jan. 1 2008
By 
Keith Buhler "KEDB" (Lexington, KY) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Divine Comedy (Paperback)
Of the five best translations of the Divine Comedy into English and the best one for first-timers is Mark Musa or this translation from John Ciardi.

A succinct versified translation that opens up the plot, themes, and characters of this epic while charming the reader with simple beauty. It translates the (sometimes overwhelming) aesthetic experience of Purgatory and Paradise into muted, manageable modern bites.

The scale of "more complex/more beautiful/more difficult" to "less complex/less beautiful/easier" is as follows:

1. Mandelbaum. Practically a "King James" translation from an excellent poet. Charming, textured, a delicious read, but confusing for the first timer.

2. Longfellow. Similar to Mandelbaum. Emphasis on beauty of English verse. A good edition to include for comparison in serious studies, but difficult for first-timers.

3. Dorothy Sayers (& Barbara Reynolds). Precise, elegant, though sometimes technical. A translation from an excellent scholar. Retains a golden mean between eloquence and clarity. Perhaps the best overall translation for the serious student until he reads the Comedy in the original Italian.

4. John Ciardi. A simplified translation (sometimes misleadingly so), yet retaining a rhyme scheme, clear, even lovely at points. Much more readable than Sayers and second only to Musa for first-timers.

5. Mark Musa. Literal, clear, charming, but loses the rhyme scheme and the overall feel of the original verse. An excellent introduction to the story, characters, and themes.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Musical Translation, Aug. 25 2003
By 
Terry Bohannon (Houston, TX USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Divine Comedy (Hardcover)
I was introduced to Ciardi's translation of "The Divine Comedy" in an anthology of continental literature I read in college. At that time, after experiencing fragments of Fagles' horrible "verse" translation of Homer's works, I had low expectations for the translations in that anthology.
However, the instant I started reading John Ciardi's verse translation of "The Inferno", my hardened heart once again began to beat with the vibrancy it had when I read poems of Wordsworth or Browning.
John Ciardi, with a poetic talent that seems to be unmatched -- except for what I've read of W.S. Merwin's "Paradiso XXXIII," -- creates a poetic flow that feels, tastes, and even smells Italian. A poetic flow that delightfully contrasts Fagles', whose poetic flow is limited by popular styles and even phrases of the 20th century.
Instead of trying to lift Dante to the 20th century, Ciardi gracefully carries us to the early 14th century.
Instead of assuming that Dante is arcane, old fashioned, and in need of John's own poetic help, he believes that the original Italian is fresh, exciting, and poetically graceful.
The translation of Dante would have been diluted if Ciardi were to try and bring the 14th century to us through the modernization of the language, symbolism, and even the geography of Dante's world. (Fagles even geographically modified his "Odyssey" at one point to rename a Greek river the Nile because readers may get 'confused'.)
I'm glad that Ciardi tries to bring us back in time when the universe was cosmically full of life, where even the stars were more than the mere byproducts of abstract forces, chance, that can only be systematically analyzed and dissected.
The medieval worldview is far richer than the purely logical and scientific mindset that's now common. By bringing Dante to us unfiltered by that mindset, Ciardi helps move us towards the bright and vibrant medieval world.
I strongly recommend John Ciardi's poetic translation of "The Divine Comedy."
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly beautiful work, and a lyrical translation, April 26 2004
By 
Grace M. (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Divine Comedy (Paperback)
I did an essay on this in first-year university, and when I picked up a random translation at the library, I dreaded having to read something so thick. I was afraid of having to read some clunky translation with prose that would be difficult to understand, but I was pleasantly surprised when I began reading, I just couldn't put it down.
Ciardi did an amazing job with this translation: Dante's work flows so smoothly and beautifully on the page. I doubt you can find a translation that is so easy to read while maintaining a style and language that is true to what the original author wanted to convey.
While it is true that 'Inferno' is the most interesting book of the three, it is not complete if you only read one; reading the whole work leads to a better understanding of his message regarding spirituality. It evokes such images and allegories that are vivid, imaginative and moves the reader. As biased as "The Divine Comedy" is (and it is; you'll understand this better when you read the work, or Ciardi's helpful footnotes), this is nothing short of true literary art.
I highly recommend this work, and this specific translation especially. Even if you don't follow the faith, the beauty of the poetry is not to be missed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Divine, Nov. 9 2007
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Divine Comedy (Paperback)
"Midway life's journey I was made aware/that I had strayed into a dark forest..."

Those eerie words open the first cantica of Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy," the legendary poem that takes its author through the eerie depths of hell, heaven and purgatory. It's a haunting, almost hallucinatory experience, full of the the metaphorical and supernatural horrors of the inferno, and joys of paradise.

The date is Good Friday of the year 1300, and Dante is lost in a creepy dark forest, being assaulted by a trio of beasts who symbolize his own sins. But suddenly he is rescued ("Not man; man I once was") by the legendary poet Virgil, who takes the despondent Dante under his wing -- and down into Hell.

But this isn't a straightforward hell of flames and dancing devils. Instead, it's a multi-tiered carnival of horrors, where different sins are punished with different means. Opportunists are forever stung by insects, the lustful are trapped in a storm, the greedy are forced to battle against each other, and the violent lie in a river of boiling blood, are transformed into thorn bushes, and are trapped on a volcanic desert.

Well, that was fun. But after passing through hell, Dante gets the guided tour of Purgatory, where the souls of the not-that-bad-but-not-pure-either get cleansed. He and Virgil emerge at the base of a vast mountain, and an angel orders him to "wash you those wounds within," then lets them in.

As Virgil and Dante climb the mountain, they observe the seven terraces that sinners stay on, representing the seven deadly sins -- the angry, the proud, the envious, the lazy, the greedy, the lustful and the gluttons. It's a one-way trip, and you don't even get to look back.

The road up the mountain leads to the gates of Heaven, and soon Dante has been purified to the point where he's allowed to go inside. Virgil doesn't get to enter Heaven, so he passes Dante on to the beautiful Beatrice, the woman he loved in his younger years.

She whisks him up to the spheres of those who are now pure of soul -- the wise, the loving, the people who fought for their religion, the just, the contemplative, the saints, and finally even the angels. And after passing through heaven's nine spheres, he passes out of the physical realm and human understanding -- and sees God, the incomprehensible, represented by three circles inside each other, but all the same size.

Needless to say, it's a pretty wild trip.And admittedly "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso" aren't quite on the writing level of "Inferno," which has the most visceral, skin-crawling imagery and lines ("Fixed in the slime, groan they, 'We were sullen and wroth...'"), and a wicked sense of irony. It makes the angels and saints seem a bit tame.

But there's plenty of power in the second two books, particularly when Dante tries to comprehend God, and almost blows out his brain in the process -- "my desire and my will were turned like a wheel, all at one speed by the Love that turns the sun and all the other stars." It's haunting, and sticks with you long after the story has ended.

More impressive still is his ability to weave the poetry out of symbolism and allegory, without it ever seeming preachy or annoying. Even at the start, Dante sees lion, a leopard and a wolf, which symbolize different sins, and a dark forest that indicates suicidal thoughts. Not to mention Purgatory as a mountain that must be climbed, or Hell as a Hadesian underworld.

Dante's vivid writing and wildly imaginative journey makes the "Divine Comedy" a timeless, spellbinding read, and hauntingly powerful from inferno to paradiso.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 10 stars would not be enough!!, Dec 15 2003
By 
Roberto P. De Ferraz "ferraz9" (Sao Paulo, Brazil) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Divine Comedy (Paperback)
The Divine Comedy" was written in Toscan by the Florentinian Dante Aligheri 700 years ago and is one of the most important texts ever written. Dante Aligheri is, along with Miguel de Cervantes, Willian Shakespeare and the Portuguese Luis de Camões, one of the most important writers of History, but we have to remember that Dante Alligheri was born some 250 years before each one of the latter.
"The Divine Comedy" was first published in the beginning of the 14th century and narrates a vision Dante Alligheri had of his visit to Hell (Dante's Inferno), the Purgatory and to the Heavens (Paradiso), where he is guided by the Latin poet Virgil and later on by his muse, Beatrice, deceased some years before. His narrative is full of devout catholic sentiments and he spares no expenses in narrating the torments perpetrated in Hell, described in details, where each ring or level is reserved for each different earthly infraction that the penitent has commited when alive. The company of Virgil, a permanent resident of the first hell ring, the Limbo, is a magistral coup by Dante Aligheri and adds lustre to the text.
Virgil leads Dante too through the Purgatory, where, contrary with what happens in the Inferno where there is no salvation, the souls are suffering with a view to a future life in Heaven. Dante is the first and only human being that put his feet into this after life regions, and things get increasingly intense and sometimes dangerous to him. Also to be noted is the disposition of Dante to here and there sting his earthly political opponents, which were not few, banning them to hellish confines.
The final visit to the supreme heavenly region, where he meets Beatrice, is suffused with catholic symbology, fully explained by Dante, who embroiders the descriptions with all the richness of his language. You end the book asking for more, and sensing intensively the powerful richness of Dante's vocabulary. I hope you enjoy the Divine COmedy as much as I did. Good reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Longest love poem, Sept. 18 2003
By 
Luc REYNAERT (Beernem, Belgium) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Divine Comedy (Paperback)
It is difficult to add something new to the thousands of pages that have already been written on Dante's Divine Comedy, the peak of Medieval/ Renaissance literature.
Dante's work is the longest love poem ever put on paper, and that for a pubescent girl, whom the author probably saw only on a few ephemeral occasions. They were his 'Divine Appearances' of Beatrice.
On the other hand, some 'political' aspects of the Comedy are still very modern, like the clashes between the religious and worldly powers.
Here, Dante criticizes the interventions of the Catholic Church in worldly matters to defend her profane but huge interests.
Dante's work is also an eminent catholic poem. As Jesus Christ, who said 'who's not for me, is against me', Dante fulminates (and puts in Hell) against those who didn't accept his vision of society (strict separation between religous and worldly powers), or those who didn't belong to his political party and sent him in exile.
My personal preference goes to the 'Hell' part, where certain images evoke the impressive pictures of Jheronimus Bosch.
Everybody - even the heathen - should read this monument of human art, even if Dante's message is sometimes biased or flawed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Musical Translation!, Aug. 25 2003
By 
Terry Bohannon (Houston, TX USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Divine Comedy (Paperback)
I was introduced to Ciardi's translation of "The Divine Comedy" in an anthology of continental literature I read in college. At that time, after experiencing fragments of Fagles' horrible "verse" translation of Homer's works, I had low expectations for the translations in that anthology.
However, the instant I started reading John Ciardi's verse translation of "The Inferno", my hardened heart once again began to beat with the vibrancy it had when I read poems of Wordsworth or Browning.
John Ciardi, with a poetic talent that seems to be unmatched -- except for what I?ve read of W.S. Merwin's "Paradiso XXXIII," -- creates a poetic flow that feels, tastes, and even smells Italian. A poetic flow that delightfully contrasts Fagles', whose poetic flow is limited by popular styles and even phrases of the 20th century.
Instead of trying to lift Dante to the 20th century, Ciardi gracefully carries us to the early 14th century.
Instead of assuming that Dante is arcane, old fashioned, and in need of John's own poetic help, he believes that the original Italian is fresh, exciting, and poetically graceful.
The translation of Dante would have been diluted if Ciardi were to try and bring the 14th century to us through the modernization of the language, symbolism, and even the geography of Dante's world. (Fagles even geographically modified his "Odyssey" at one point to rename a Greek river the Nile because readers may get 'confused'.)
I?m glad that Ciardi tries to bring us back in time when the universe was cosmically full of life, where even the stars were more than the mere byproducts of abstract forces, chance, that can only be systematically analyzed and dissected.
The medieval worldview is far richer than the purely logical and scientific mindset that?s now common. By bringing Dante to us unfiltered by that mindset, Ciardi helps move us towards the bright and vibrant medieval world.
I strongly recommend John Ciardi's poetic translation of "The Divine Comedy," a lot is missed when reading only "The Inferno." The whole work is amazingly balanced.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Journey of the Soul, May 7 2003
By 
William R. Cooper (Smyrna, Delaware United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Divine Comedy (Hardcover)
Whether you care to join the scholarly debate over whether Dante's soaring masterpiece is medieval or renaissance literature, this trilogy is well worth the time and effort anyone cares to invest. Make no mistake - this account of the journey of a soul through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven is very demanding reading, no matter how well translated and how many helpful notes are provided (I first "discovered" Dante in high school and remain faithful to the Ciardi translation). Dante can be read on so many levels that it constantly challenges the reader, yet the rewards are great. Dante the poet and the protagonist is a medieval Christian who is also embracing the masters of classical antiquity, such as his first guide, Virgil. He is a Florentine who bitterly resents the people who contributed to his exile from his beloved city-state. He is a political theorist who embraces a sort of world order far beyond the nations and petty principalities of his day. He is a devout believer who abhors the corruption of the late medieval Church. He is a writer who constructs a masterpeice of structure. He is a romantic who pines for his ultimate guide Beatrice. But ultimately, Dante is a passionate believer who chronicles the allegory of his soul's journey from sin (The Inferno) to repentance (Purgatory) to salvation (Paradise). Don't make the all-too-frequent mistake of reading only the most entertaining Inferno. A third of Dante is fascinating but the entire Divine Comedy is an inspiration.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Greatest Literature I've Ever Read, March 12 2003
By 
Erik J. Malvick "Erik Malvick" (Davis, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Divine Comedy (Hardcover)
I am not a literary expert, nor am I well read in all of the great literature of the past, but I have read enough to say this is the best piece of literature I've read.
First, the Divine Comedy Itself. I first read the Inferno as an Undergrad in general ed. I just loved this story as challenging as it was to read. Curiosity got to me, and I bought this edition (the same as I had read for the Inferno). The book got much more challenging to read as it progresses, perhaps because the imagery is much more abstract, but it also gets more fantastic all the way through. The Paradiso definitely fits its purpose as a climax. The whole of The Divine Comedy is a good story of the spiritual journey of one man through "the afterlife" so to speak. I love the interaction the book takes of Dante's interaction with history and religion, biblical and mythical. It is an interesting perspective that shows the genious of Dante the author.
As for this particular edition. I could not tell you it is the best as I have never read others. I've heard this is one of the few that has tried to make the translation stay true to the original Latin poetic form Dante used. I also think it is wonderful, and from my point essential, that this edition comes with extensive notes that help explain in layman's terms what is going on in the story Canto by Canto as well as line by line explanations of the different references made to historical people, places, and events as well as literary references.
In sum, all I can say is that "The Divine Comedy" is worth a read especially if you are up to the challenge. I am not a literary expert; I work in engineering, but I find this the most fascinating literature I've ever read. Most of all, it is inpirational, the quest of one man to find his true love, facing Hell and more...
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hell's greatest architect, July 29 2002
By 
This review is from: Divine Comedy (Hardcover)
Dante's "The Divine Comedy" is an allegory of the range of human potential from the depths of sin to the heights of grace, and the journey a man must take -- that is, the way he should live his life -- to make himself worthy of the ultimate rewards of Heaven. In a way, it contains the prototypical visions of the afterlife, images of heavenly and hellish realms that would remain definitive and powerful to centuries of readers. Structurally, it is a poem divided into three parts: Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Heaven). The protagonist, Dante himself, must travel through these three realms in order to reach God, the ultimate beatitude.
The poem begins with Dante lost in the woods, like a man who lacks spiritual guidance or is uncertain how to live his life. He is approached by the Roman poet Virgil, who offers to lead him out of the wilderness. They have to travel down through the depths of Hell and face Satan himself (Inferno) before they can escape to the outside world and scale the mountain of Purgatory (Purgatorio), at the top of which is situated the Garden of Eden, where Beatrice, Dante's earthly love, will guide him up through the celestial spheres towards Heaven (Paradiso).
Dante's great inspiration is his concept of the physical and spiritual aspects of these realms. Hell is composed of nine circles arranged in an inverted cone, each circle representing a mortal sin such as violence, theft, treason, witchcraft, blasphemy, suicide, heresy, etc., in which souls who committed these sins in their lifetimes are punished. Even the topmost circle is a sort of Limbo reserved for pre-Christians like Virgil himself, pagans and the unbaptized. Having envisioned this infernal masterpiece, Dante could be considered Hell's greatest architect.
The mountain of Purgatory consists of seven terraces, each representing some corrigible sin like envy, pride, anger, etc., on which souls who committed these sins in their lifetimes do penance. The Garden of Eden represents living man's ideal state of existence, that of perfect wisdom and nearness to God. Admission to the Garden of Eden must be earned by doing penance for earthly sins, hence Purgatory. In the Paradiso, the celestial spheres, each representing a virtue (ambition, love, prudence, fortitude, etc.), consist of the moon, the inner and outer planets, the sun (based on the Ptolemaic model of the solar system), and finally Heaven, wherein dwell God and all angels.
The poem could be considered a morality tale or a series of object lessons, but it's a little more purely narrative than that, given its creative illustration of the hierarchy of souls and its effortless synergy of classical Greco-Roman mythology and Christian theology. It is an essential Medieval literary landmark, and it is difficult to imagine how European literature would have evolved without it.
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The Divine Comedy
The Divine Comedy by John Ciardi (Paperback - May 6 2003)
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