Title: The Divine Comedy.
Series: La Divina Commedia #1-3.
Writer(s): Dante Alighieri.
Publisher: Fall River Press.
Release Date: 2008 (First Published in 1320).
Genre(s): Poetry, Classics.
My Overall Rating:
There are fictional creations that are deemed to be the work of gods, pivotal in the evolution of humanity by the sheer impact and repercussions they have had on literature across the world. The mere mention of their title evokes a never-ending swarm of praise and summons an indisputable conviction of its purity from those who have dared crack open these acclaimed masterpieces. Among these titles is the Italian work of poetry by Dante Alighieri known as the Divine Comedy. Unbeknownst to its creator, this piece of literature went on to revolutionize the Italian culture, language, and literature by setting forth a new standard that has yet to be seen in any other work of fiction to this day.
What is The Divine Comedy about? Written between 1308 and 1321, this epic poem, split into three parts (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso), tells the story of Dante Alighieri’s intimate journey into the afterlife, starting from Hell with his guide Virgil where they explore the terrifying punishments kept strictly for the sinful, then ascending to Mount Purgatory where he crosses paths with his dead love Beatrice and discovers the seven deadly sins, and finally arriving in Heaven where he meets Saint Bernard of Clairvaux and comes upon the nine celestial spheres where resides penitents, saints, and angels. Through this odyssey, Dante Alighieri is exposed to questions of faith, desire, and enlightenment, that allow him to reflect on the afterlife.
“All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”— Dante Alighieri
There’s a lesson to be learned here that does not lie in the story, the author, or the cultural impact that The Divine Comedy and Dante Alighieri both had on world literature, and it resides in the translator and the edition of the book. This translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was probably the one translation that no one should get their hands on unless well-versed in this legendary poetic piece. Not only does this edition come with no annotation whatsoever, but the translation is also more often than not incomprehensible, and not just because it is unable to reproduce the terza rima rhyme scheme, but the flow is absent and choppy. Top it off with the fact that there are lines here that make no sense at all and invite confusion more than anything else in the reader, it simply makes for an arduous experience. This sometimes even had me wondering if my English just wasn’t there yet, like some kind of Jedi that didn’t yet master the Force.
Thankfully, this edition does contain over one hundred engravings by Gustave Doré that beautifully capture certain moments throughout Dante Alighieri’s journey through hell. If it weren’t for these drawings, a myriad of iconic moments depicted in this story would’ve remained incomprehensible, a jumble of words straight out of Scrabbles. With that being said, reading through this edition wasn’t entirely pointless, beyond just making one realize how crucial it is to pick your battles, as it does still allow even those who have little to no knowledge in theology and philosophy the opportunity to discover some of the most fascinating ideas of the afterlife that inevitably draw inspiration on known religions and scientific knowledge. While this might have been torture in itself, it won’t be the end of my journey through hell as I scar into my memory tissues to do my due diligence next time around and attempt a superior translation with annotations that will allow me to soak in this beloved masterpiece.
The Divine Comedy is a quintessential poem presenting a mesmerizing vision of the afterlife through Dante’s journey through Hell.