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A fine translation
on 13 May 2014
I have made one previous attempt to read the Divine Comedy in English, using Longfellow's translation of 1867. This foundered somewhere in the middle of Purgatorio (i.e. the second of the three sections), largely as a result of trying to read it in too-large chunks with too-long gaps in between (and consequently losing the plot).
My current read-through, using this Penguin Classics edition translated by Robin Kirkpatrick (c. 2007), has been more successful and I am now nearing the end of Paradiso (the final section). This is partly due to my newer strategy of reading (aloud) one canto every day, but this wouldn't work if the translation didn't flow well. Fortunately it does.
Kirkpatrick's translation is in iambic pentameter blank verse, which works much more naturally in English than trying to force the original Italian poem's terza rima to work in translation. He uses a variety of registers, from exalted to earthy (which probably mirrors the original text, although my grasp of Italian isn't good enough to know for sure - if it was I probably wouldn't bother with a translation anyway). There are fairly frequent quotations in Latin, which are left untranslated in the text with a translation given in the end-notes.
The notes are extensive and give a lot of useful background information about the many classical allusions and references to Dante's contemporaries and the politics and culture in which he was writing, as well as a few nice maps and diagrams. There is also a very comprehensive looking introduction which I haven't read yet (I decided to plunge straight into the text and then go back to the introduction when I've finished).