The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

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Even in Heaven, notoriously hard to animate, James keeps things clear and easy to follow...
-Publishers Weekly


“Under James’s uncanny touch, seven long centuries drop away, and the great poem is startlingly fresh and new.”—Stephen Greenblatt

The Divine Comedy is the precursor of modern literature, and Clive James’s translation—decades in the making—gives us the entire epic as a single, coherent, and compulsively readable lyric poem. For the first time ever in an English translation, James makes the bold choice of switching from the terza rima composition of the original Italian—a measure that strains in English—to the quatrain. The result is “rhymed English stanzas that convey the music of Dante’s triple rhymes” (Edward Mendelson). James’s translation reproduces the same wonderful momentum of the original Italian that propels the reader along the pilgrim’s path from Hell to Heaven, from despair to revelation.

About Dante Alighieri

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Born Dante Alighieri in the spring of 1265 in Florence, Italy, he was known familiarly as Dante. His family was noble, but not wealthy, and Dante received the education accorded to gentlemen, studying poetry, philosophy, and theology. His first major work was Il Vita Nuova, The New Life. This brief collection of 31 poems, held together by a narrative sequence, celebrates the virtue and honor of Beatrice, Dante's ideal of beauty and purity. Beatrice was modeled after Bice di Folco Portinari, a beautiful woman Dante had met when he was nine years old and had worshipped from afar in spite of his own arranged marriage to Gemma Donati. Il Vita Nuova has a secure place in literary history: its vernacular language and mix of poetry with prose were new; and it serves as an introduction to Dante's masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in which Beatrice figures prominently. The Divine Comedy is Dante's vision of the afterlife, broken into a trilogy of the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Dante is given a guided tour of hell and purgatory by Virgil, the pagan Roman poet whom Dante greatly admired and imitated, and of heaven by Beatrice. The Inferno shows the souls who have been condemned to eternal torment, and included here are not only mythical and historical evil-doers, but Dante's enemies. The Purgatory reveals how souls who are not irreversibly sinful learn to be good through a spiritual purification. And The Paradise depicts further development of the just as they approach God. The Divine Comedy has been influential from Dante's day into modern times. The poem has endured not just because of its beauty and significance, but also because of its richness and piety as well as its occasionally humorous and vulgar treatment of the afterlife. In addition to his writing, Dante was active in politics. In 1302, after two years as a priore, or governor of Florence, he was exiled because of his support for the white guelfi, a moderate political party of which he was a member. After extensive travels, he stayed in Ravenna in 1319, completing The Divine Comedy there, until his death in 1321.
Published April 15, 2013 by Liveright. 560 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, History, Travel. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Divine Comedy
All: 5 | Positive: 3 | Negative: 2

NY Times

Reviewed by Joseph Luzzi on Apr 19 2013

It lets Dante’s poetry shine in all its brilliance even in those technical patches closer to Aquinas’s syllogisms than to Virgil’s hexameters.

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Above average
Reviewed by Nicholas Lezard on Jul 20 2013

It's slightly tautologous, in that there are no stars below, and if you can't end with the word "stars" you might have ended it with "love", as that's what the whole poem is about...

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Publishers Weekly

on Apr 15 2013

Even in Heaven, notoriously hard to animate, James keeps things clear and easy to follow...

Read Full Review of The Divine Comedy | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

Financial Times

Below average
Reviewed by Ian Thomson on Aug 30 2013

Cumulatively, the additions make for a Comedy a third longer than Dante’s original. This is all the more unfortunate in a translation of a writer like Dante, for whom accuracy, precision and concision were sovereign virtues.

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National Post arts

Reviewed by Michael Lista on Jun 07 2013

She haunted his life, his poems, his dreams, and he gave her the exalted seat in his masterpiece, humanity’s masterpiece, what the author simply called The Comedy, something too sacred to devote to the divine.

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Malinda Charter

Malinda Charter 27 Jan 2014

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