I have decided to get going with a long-considered project, a slow and meandering line-by-line analysis of the Divine Comedy. Since this is not something I will be doing all at once, or necessarily all that frequently, I decided it would be useful to have a set page to attach the individual posts to, as well as a place for proper citations and bibliography.
Well, the Divine Comedy is possibly the greatest poem ever written, and one of my favourite books. I’ve taught it several times, analysed different levels of its allegory and structure for my doctoral work, and looked at various passages in more thorough detail. I have never worked through the whole thing, however, and have long wanted to. I want to be able to read it knowing the context for its multifarious allusions, as well as the nuances of the Italian, and I would love to work on my understanding of the poetic diction too.
That is, why should you listen to me? Well, you don’t have to! But if you want to know … I have my PhD in Medieval Studies from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. My dissertation (which you can find here, if you are so moved), was titled “Poetry and Philosophy in Boethius and Dante” — which tells you most of what it was about. (There was also a middle chapter on 12th-century Latin prosimetra, particularly focussing on Bernard Silvestris’ Cosmographia.) I am not currently affiliated with a university, and nor do I intend to turn my dissertation into a book just yet. I barely scraped the surface of my topic with my dissertation, and while I am confident my basic argument will stand, I think it can be made a lot better by fuller analysis of both the Consolation of Philosophy and the Divine Comedy.
Editions and Translations:
I am using Italian drawn from either the edition edited by Natalino Sapegno (Florence: ‘La Nuova Italia’ Editrice, 1955) or that found in the edition/translation by Charles S. Singleton (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970). The standard critical edition is that by Giorgio Petrocchi, La Commedia secondo l’antica vulgata (Mondadori, 1966-1968, 4 vols.). I unfortunately do not possess the four-volume edition — something for a future splurge! The text in Singleton is based on Petrocchi’s.
At some point I’ll do a comparative analysis of these different translations, because people are forever asking me what I think the best one is, and I never have a very good answer. I personally use the Singleton translation for academic purposes or to check my Italian, and the Sayers one because it has very useful notes and because it was the first one I read. As you can see from what I’ve already written, I will be comparing different translations of passages to talk about what the poem means, and what each translator is emphasising or diminishing by their choices.
Charles S. Singleton, in the Bollingen Series. Translation and commentary, in six volumes. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1970-1975. This is a good literal translation, for help with the Italian; it is in prose and aims for accuracy, not poetic sensibility.
Dorothy L. Sayers. Penguin Classics. Translation and notes, in three volumes. London: Penguin, 1949-1962.
Mark Musa. The new Penguin Classics version. London: Penguin, 1995.
Clive James. A verse translation. London: Picador, 2013.
Anthony Esolen. New York: The Modern Library, 2007.