The Divine Comedy-Hell
Dante Alighieri, Dante Alighieri, Dorothy L. Sayers  
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Publisher:Penguin Books
Translator:Dorothy L. Sayers
Edition:Later Printing
Dimensions:7.60 x 5.00 x 0.80 in
Date Added:2013-12-30
Summary: The greatest strength of Dorothy Sayers's translation of The Divine Comedy is its notes. Sayers considered this translation her finest work and spent years of her life on it, though she died before she could complete Paradise. Having read The Comedy dozens of times myself, along with many books on Dante and his work, I liked Sayers for her dedication, but her translation--and even her notes--has some problems.

The biggest flaw of the translation is that it's just not literal enough, due mainly to Sayers's attempt at rhyming. Dante invented terza rima ("threefold rhyme") for his Comedy, and trying to use the same rhyme in English is a noble effort but ultimately hopeless. She frequently strays from the original or, worse, obscures something very clear in the original so that she can fit the lines into her rhyme scheme. Her English is also littered all over with strange syntax and archaic words, some of which worked while others left me scratching my head and, in at least one case, laughing out loud.

But for all that, her translation is entertaining and still allows Dante to speak, if through an imperfect medium. There were some sections in which the wording and rhyme worked so well I was thrilled as I read it--most of the work, however, is not up to that standard.

As I said at the beginning, though, this translation's greatest strength is its notes. Sayers shows years of dedicated study in the introduction, notes, and appendices she prepared for this work. One of the most helpful parts of her work are the breakdowns of difficult sections, which she analyzes in the four levels of interpretation at which Dante wrote. These sections are very good and offered even a seasoned reader of Dante like me something to sink my teeth into.

Some of her notes are misguided or flawed, but the book is still worthwhile to the new student of Dante for the wealth of good information they contain. I give one star for the translation and three for the notes.

If the notes are not what you're after and you want to read something more literal the first time around, check out the Mark Musa translation, also available from Penguin Classics, or that of Anthony Esolen from the Modern Library.