on 15 March 2014
Dorothy L Sayer's translation is gorgeous. I'd been meaning to read it for years (I'd be in the mood and then lose the mood before I could get my hands on a copy). I finally bought a copy and the next time the mood struck I sat down and absorbed one or two cantos a day until I finished it.
Here's a sample of her translation from Canto IX ( page 55)
Then o'er that dull tide came the crash and roar
Of an enormous and appalling sound,
So that the ground shuddered from shore to shore;
A sound like the sound of a violent wind, around
The time of opposing heats and the parched weather,
When it sweeps on the forest and leaps with a sudden bound
Shattering and scattering the boughs hither and thither;
Superb with a tower of dust for harbinger
It goes, while the wolves and herdsmen flee together.
Outside of the wonderful prose, the thing that really makes the translation extra special (to me) is Dorothy's Introduction, her notes at the end of each Canto and at the end a brilliant short illumination on Dantes Universe. Dante wrote for his fellow Medieval Italian readers who would have easily picked up on the underlying insinuations/humour as well as identified the un-named sinners. The information she offers brings all the characters to life (including Dante himself). I read a different translation of The Divine Comedy when I was younger (and I did enjoy it), but this version made me think far outside the story (which is what Dante intended). Like all Medieval fiction it's an allegory with various layers. At the end of each Canto Dorothy offers two sections; The Images and Notes.
Remaining with Canto IX, this was something I underlined in The Images -
Medusa was a Gorgon (see Glossary) whose face was so terrible that anyone who looked upon it was turned to stone. In the allegory, she is the image of the despair which so hardens the heart that it becomes powerless to repent.
Skipping to Canto XXVIII - from The Images
The Sowers of Discord. Three types are shown; formenters of 1) religious schism, 2) civil strife, 3) family disunion. They (the sowers of discord) appear in the Circle of Fraud because their sin is primarily of the intellect. They are the fanatics of party, seeing the world in a false perspective, and ready to rip up the whole fabric of society to gratify a sectional egotism.
There are many reasons to read this translation, but I think for me it was the way Dorothy brought Medieval Italy and Dante to life. He was real man who poured out his anger, humour, frustration, pain, remorse, joy, love, art and heart into this spiritual journey. When I finished I felt like I'd been climbing behind him and Virgil down through the circles...feeling the heat and the cold. It's a powerful story and Dorothy does it supreme justice.