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That justification involves the expression of some theory as to the translation of Dante’s world-poem, itself implying a criticism, whether expressed or not, of competitors already in the field.
The present translation, which is the result of over twenty years’ work with large classes in “Dante in English” at Brown University, was undertaken and continued with the object of meeting a need, which did not seem adequately met by the well known translations of Cary, Longfellow, Norton, or others more recent; it, therefore, frankly aimed at being in every possible way an improvement on its rivals old and new.
Feeling, then, that blank verse is not merely the best, but the only organically satisfactory, medium afforded by the English language for a translation of the Divine Comedy, I have aimed, in using it, at being loyal, first to the spiritual tone and thought, next to the words, and last of all to the syllables and line dimensions of the Italian text, believing with the poet Spenser that the poem’s soul, if caught to any extent, will somehow make itself a body out of whatever natural material it be afforded; but that, contrariwise, the most perfect imitation of a former body, such as has been achieved in a Dante translation by using feminine rhymes having the same vowel as in the original, will not reproduce the spirit.
Aiming ever at keeping the reader’s attention from being unnaturally diverted, I have tried to avoid the use of any word whose archaic nature would draw an attention to itself, not drawn to its Italian counterpart.
A temperate use of capitals has been made in printing both texts with a similar aim.
In dealing with the title as applied to Virgil by Dante, I have replaced the usual translation, Master, by that of Teacher, which more correctly and unambiguously distinguishes his function as an instructor from that of lord, leader, or guide.
The Italian text is that of the Vandelli edition of 1914, with such changes in individual words, spelling, and punctuation as, in my judgment, seemed warranted in themselves, and justified by having been adopted by one or more of such accredited Italian editors of the poem as Torraca, Casini, Passerini, or, in some instances, by our American Dantist, Dr. In very few cases only have I risked erring heretically on the side of radical boldness in adopting a rejected variant which seemed more Dante-like, or more consistent with its immediate or more remote context, than that of the a given place that was truer, stronger, more beautiful, or more refined, than what was strictly warranted by the words he there used and by their context, have been sternly, though at times regretfully, resisted.
On the English page the reader will see that in the vast majority of cases I have found it possible to have three lines of blank verse match the three lines of each opposite terzina without disloyalty to the interests of either.
Accurate and sympathetic reproduction of its author’s thoughts and moods, good English, and good verse have, therefore, been the triune aim of my long continued work on the poem’s every line and poetic unit, with what result the reader and student must be the ultimate judge, no one realizing more than I how far any achievement is likely to be from its inspiring ideal.This edition contains the English translation only. 1 (Inferno (Hell) describes what happens to the souls of the wicked who are condemned to suffer the torments of Hell. This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc.Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. EVERY new translation of the Divine Comedy, though in itself a fresh tribute, however humble, to the interlingual, as well as to the international claims of “the loftiest of poets,” calls for a word of justification.In other words, a blank verse line cannot be made by applying scissors to indifferent prose.Again, in some such use of blank verse as that suggested, it will no longer be necessary to pad or truncate the words or thought of the original poem, since two lines and a fraction, or four lines, as the case may be, can be made to represent with due spiritual loyalty the poetical matter of the three lines of the Italian terzina.