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The Kindle version is flawed: stanzas running together, ugly double-spacing of stanzas... the translation might be good, but as an ebook, this needs serious formatting work. Come on, Penguin! I expect more of you!
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on January 1, 2008
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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on July 11, 2001
About twenty years ago I read Dorothy Sayers's translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy" with great pleasure, finding an awesome grandeur in Dante's progression from Hell through Purgatory to Heaven. When I decided to re-read the work, I found the poetry tortured and the references obscure. So I went comparison shopping, settling on Mark Musa's version. He created an excellent, free-flowing, poetic, and easily understandable translation of the three canticles of Dante's "Divine Comedy" for Penguin Classics.
In addition to the direct translation, Musa provides an introductory summary to each canto, detailed notes following each canto, a glossary of names in the back of each volume, and an introductory essay for each volume. The introduction to "Volume 1: Inferno" gives a thorough introduction to Dante and to his other works as well as to the Inferno. Following the introduction is a translator's note. The introductions to "Purgatory" and "Paradise" do not go over the extra information presented in "Inferno". It is useful to read all three of Dante's canticles in the Musa translation to get a complete, consistent presentation of the work. Musa does make reference in his notes to one volume to ideas or people presented in the others.
The notes are vital for almost everyone. The references to Biblical, classical, and medieval personalities, myths, time systems, theology, and events come frequently. Few people are up on the ins and outs of Guelf vs. Ghibelline in medieval Italian politics. Musa makes it all as clear as it needs to be.
Musa's version of "Inferno" italicizes the introductory summary before each canticle and retains the detailed, interesting mappings of Hell used in the Sayers edition.
Dante's poem is central to Western civilization. Allowing for some poetic necessities, it pulls classical and medieval history into the framework of Christian theology to show how God's love powers the universe, how people can exercise free will, and how God can help and reward those who trust in Him. It is very easy for the reader to ask how he or she would fare in the afterlife and how to go about finding a better outcome. Some sins are punished severely [like traitors frozen near Lucifer in the ice of the Cocytus lake], and some sins have varying outcomes [E.g., there are some sodomites running on the burning sand of Lower Hell forever and some having their sins burned way in the last stage of Purgatory before going to Paradise.]. Some loves are more blessed than others too. There is much to reflect on. Dante the Pilgrim, drawn by his love for Beatrice gets the full experience.
Reading "The Divine Comedy" is valuable in any translation; Musa's flies along, bringing his audience along with understanding.
This review for "Inferno" applies to "Purgatory" and "Paradise" as well, since the productions are so comparable.
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on April 26, 2004
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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"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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on October 12, 2003
When I first checked this out of the library, I was looking forward to re-acquainting myself with the work of a great poet. In general, my experiences with recorded books have quite positive. I've usually been able to pick up things when listening that I miss when reading. When it's a book that I've already read, listening to the taped version gives me a much deeper appreciation of the work. Having read and enjoyed "The Inferno" many years ago, I was hoping that this would be the case here.
Alas, this was not to be. I found May's rendition to be plodding and leaden. I got through most of the first tape, but finally gave up because I didn't want to destroy my appreciation of Dante's poetry. May's reading was so matter of fact that I never even figured out whether the translation used was prose or poetry. (I may have missed it, but I'm not sure if they even mentioned which translation they were using).
The bottom line is, Dante Aligheri is a great poet and "The Divine Comedy" is his greatest work. But find another recording if you want to experience more fully.
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on April 20, 2001
Mark Musa's translation of the Divine Comedy is the smoothest, most enjoyable version I have read. (I've read a few.) Mr. Musa provides a brief summation at the beginning of each Canto of Dante's Inferno. He then follows the summation with the actual poem (his translation), and then, after each Canto, he gives in-depth notes on all the references Dante has made -- which may often be obscure to the modern reader. This version is perfect for high-school and college students as well as the leisure time reader who simply wants to become acquainted with this foundation of Western poetry.
The Inferno is the first volume of the Divine Comedy and tells the story of how Dante is taken by the spirit of Virgil through the depths of Hell. The scenes and characters that they encounter cover many different human emotions; mostly sorrowful ones while Dante and Virgil are in Hell. This first volume is the most famous of the three, but Mark Musa's translation makes it so quick and entertaining to read, that I think most will find themselves wanting to continue on into the final two volumes, which I would highly recommend in order for one to obtain the entire perspective of this brilliant poem.
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"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 "Inferno," the most famous part of the legendary Divina Comedia. But the stuff going on here is anything but divine, as Dante explores the metaphorical and supernatural horrors of the inferno.

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.

If nothing else makes you feel like being good, then "The Inferno" might change your mind. The author loads up his "Inferno" with every kind of disgusting, grotesque punishment that you can imagine -- and it's all wrapped up in an allegorical journey of humankind's redemption, not to mention dissing the politics of Italy and Florence.

Along with Virgil -- author of the "Aeneid" -- Dante peppered his Inferno with Greek myth and symbolism. Like the Greek underworld, different punishments await different sins; what's more, there are also appearances by harpies, centaurs, Cerberus and the god Pluto. But the sinners are mostly Dante's contemporaries, from corrupt popes to soldiers.

And Dante's skill as a writer can't be denied -- the grotesque punishments are enough to make your skin crawl ("Fixed in the slime, groan they, 'We were sullen and wroth...'"), and the grand finale is Satan himself, with legendary traitors Brutus, Cassius and Judas sitting in his mouths. (Yes, I said MOUTHS, not "mouth")

More impressive still is his ability to weave the poetry out of symbolism and allegory, without it ever seeming preachy or annoying. Even pre-hell, we have a lion, a leopard and a wolf, which symbolize different sins, and a dark forest that indicates suicidal thoughts. And the punishments themselves usually reflect the person's flaws, such as false prophets having their heads twisted around so they can only see what's behind them. Wicked sense of humor.

Dante's vivid writing and wildly imaginative "inferno" makes this the most fascinating, compelling volume of the Divine Comedy. Never fun, but always spellbinding and complicated.
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on June 4, 2007
In my search for a copy of Dante's epic poem, the Divine Comedy, I encountered over 10 different copies of the opening part, Inferno. This edition with notes by Mark Musa is exemplary, it offers analysis of each section, and follows the pilgrim Dante's voyage down to the dark pits of hell. The book is set up in Canto form, dividing the original Inferno into 34. Following each Canto is a great analysis that picks apart the Canto from every perspective, and I found that these few paragraphs granted me additional insight into the philosophy and allegory that the poem emanates. Musa's commentary radiates a passion for the Inferno, and is a great asset for a first time reader of Dante's works.
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on October 14, 2002
I didn't know a lot about Dante's Divine Comedy before I decided to read this. I paged through several different translations and decided on Mark Musa's work. Most of the translations are laborious to follow. If you are looking for a version of the Inferno that is direct and easy to understand, this is the version for you.
Musa begins each canto (chapter) with an introduction and provides, at the end of each canto, a further explanation of many of the items in the book. Dante makes continuous references to people, events, and other literature that nobody except scholars that pour over this book will get. Musa fills in these gaps and, in several cases, provides the different interpretations that translators over time have thought.
The book itself was a little less enjoyable than I expected (at times, I felt that Dante wrote it to put all of his political enemies in a literary hell), but Musa deserves much praise for his translation.
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