Dante's Divine Comedy (1921) Trans. by Melville Best Anderson, PDF

Dante's Divine Comedy 

Dante's Divine comedy
Divine comedy 


As to the form and phrasing of this translation, a few explanations seem desirable. 
This is a line-for-line translation retaining the original rime-form, — terza rima, or triple rime. In using the expression "line-for- hne translation," it is not meant to imply that every Hne will be fomid in the translation in the exact place where it is foimd in the original. The substance of every sentence or paragraph presents itself to the translator as material to be freely rehandled in accordance with the exigencies of the rime and the requirements of English idiom.

 It will be found that the number of lines in every canto of the translation corresponds to that of the original. In conformity with the genius of our language and the practice of our poets, the Italian hendecasyllabic line is rendered by the normal English line of ten syllables.

 As almost every Italian word ends with a vowel sound, the feminine or double rime, involving a line of eleven syllables, is normal in that language. To what issue the attempt to transplant the Italian eleven-syllable line into EngUsh leads, has been shown by the experiment of Lee-Hamil- ton with the Inferno. Like other poets of our tongue, I have introduced the eleven-syllable lines here and there, sometimes in considerable numbers, with a view to special expressiveness. 

With respect to the choice of the English triple rime, I will frankly admit that the late Professor Charles Eliot Norton very strongly, although very kindly, advised me against it. Certainly, there was little to encourage one in the results attained by those who had previously attempted to render the Poem in this form. To argue that because no one had succeeded with terza rima in English, failure was necessarily a foregone conclusion, seemed to be a plain begging of the question.

There was encouragement in the fact that Rossetti had succeeded beautifully in his translations of the minor poems in the original rime-forms, and that he, as well as Byron, had nobly rendered in triple rime the story of Francesca. In fact, the arguments against the attempt to translate Dante in the corresponding English meter were much on a plane with those raised against the attempts at the conquest of the Poles and of the Air. Twenty-one years ago, when I began this delightful labor, those conquests were still to make. Twenty-one years is doubtless a long period to look forward to. Looking back, however, the time seems only too short, and I do not regret one hour of it. 

Should a friendly critic perchance admonish me that I ought to have tarried longer in Jericho, I should be inclined to agree with him. Parsons, a true poet, is said to have given a very much longer time to his brilliant experiment, leaving it after all only half done. Of the shortcomings of the present version I am, of course, more painfully aware than anyone else can be. But I do think that in certain passages I have justified the choice of the triple rime as the form in which the translator can come nearest to the spirit and power of the great ori^aJ. There were moments when I felt near the Master, — when he seemed to take the pen out of my hand and show me how the lines should read in English. Moments of happy, stimulating illusion, such as come to the translator as the supreme reward of fidelity! To judge by many recent comments,

 Dante seems to be popularly known as the poet of the Inferno. In fact, persons who ought to know better have fallen into the loose habit of referring to the Divine Comedy as "Dante's Inferno." The Inferno has perhaps a hundred readers, where the Purgatorio has a score and the Paradiso one or two. Yet the two latter Cantiche Introduction y contain passages transcending in beauty and in moral significance anything in the Inferno. 

And to speak of my translation, inasmuch as I naturally gained in mastery of my difficult instrument as I proceeded, I believe my rendering of the Paradiso to be both technically and poetically superior to my rendering of the Inferno. I should be sorry, therefore, if any disappointed reader should lay down my version without looking at some of the later cantos. If the Divine Comedy is regarded as the Poet's spiritual autobiography, surely the Inferno must be essentially preliminary. The true center of the Poem, so considered, is formed in the thirtieth and thirty-first cantos of Purgatorio.

 With respect to the marginal notes, I wish to say that they of course make no claim to anything like completeness, is intended only as an unobtrusive commentary to help the reader to slip through, or over, certain perplexing passages, so encomium: aging him to achieve the rather unusual feat of reading the whole Divine Comedy through at a few sittings. It is believed that this can be comfortably accomplished in the long winter evenings of a single week. I once read my translation of the whole Inferno to a friend at a single unbroken sitting.
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