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4.4 out of 5 stars
Dante: Inferno (Penguin Classics)
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 12 December 2009
For anyone who may not be familiar with the plot of Dante Aligheri's Inferno, in brief, it involves the narrator's descent, while still alive, into the circles of Hell where he witnesses the grotesque punishments of many people including his own contemporaries, from corrupt popes to soldiers. The book is an allegorical journey of humankind's redemption, at the same time casting a critical glance over the politics of Italy and Florence, all portrayed in beautiful verse.

There is a lot of speculation about the exact reason for this descent into Hell, confusion which results in immediate differences in translation from the very first chapter of the book. So the question for most people would be which book has the best translation?

Well, that depends on what you are looking for. This book does have some wonderful translations; in particular I enjoyed Canto 33. And if you are looking for an edition for studying, line by line, then this is a very good version - the introduction and commentary are worth the price of the book alone, though the notes are in the back of the book which can be a little annoying. This version also has the Italian and English side-by-side, one of the main reasons for me buying it. But, I think, if you are reading it purely for pleasure, I probably prefer the Mark Musa or Robert Hollander versions.

That said, when choosing between the various translations, I would say that it really is down to personal taste; I like aspects of pretty much most translations and I enjoy having various translations available to scrutinise. But I would recommend this to anyone studying Dante's Inferno.
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86 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2005
Dante is a must. The Divine Comedy is fascinating, incisive and reads like a real adventure.
About this edition:
* Allen Mandelbaum's translation is simply wonderful.
* Top marks for accessibility: The book reads very easily and is very well annotated (some 250 pages of notes)
* This edition is highly practical (it contains all three parts), durable and aesthetically pleasing.
* Contains 42 of Boticelli's 15th century illustrations
Simply great value for money
If you want to get acquainted with this masterpiece then this is the edition to go for!
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 2007
Dante was an exile in his own time. In his great work, he descends to the underworld where he encounters his poetic hero Virgil who guides him through the circles of Hell, up Mount Purgatory, and to the gates of Paradise, where his role is taken by Dante's vision of the Ideal, Beatrice. In Paradise Dante meets the spirits of the blessed.

This is a magnificent work, considered by some the joint centre of the Western Canon along with Shakespeare. It is peerless among works of literature, offering a lifetime of deep reading. Mandelbaum is to be congratulated on producing a direct, lively, musical translation which leads the eye and the mind ever onward. The presentation is first-rate, pleasing to the eye and hard-wearing, and comes with many of Boticelli's illustrations. I have tried and failed with other translations, but Mandelbaum's is eminently readable.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 13 October 2012
This Clothbound Classic from Penguin is beautifully bound and enjoyable to read. The quality of the paper and the fact that each double page has the Italian and English text displayed, makes this a real treat. The notes on the text offer some insight into the political climate that Dante was writing and give the lay reader an important context for the work to be set against.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2009
Reading Dante is never going to be easy. The book is 500 years old, written in a world very different from ours and for a very specific purpose and audience. Considered by many scholars to be the most brilliant book ever, bar none, it has a lot to live up to. And Dante delivers. His incredible knowledge of the classics and contemporary Florence mean you will have to look up many names and references in the notes at the back, and elsewhere -thank the lord for Wikipedia with all its faults. His erudite style and profound subject matter force you to take it slow, and this translation which appears both scholarly and artistic to someone unfamiliar with Italian or Latin has all rthe hallmarks of an almost impossible job well done. So yes, if you want to know why this work is ranked up there with Da Vinci and Michelangelo: take the time to find out. You will not be disappointed as you improve your acquaintance with heaven, hell and purgatory. And this particular edition is well presented, nicely bound and very fairly priced.The Botticelli drawings that are also included deserve better paper but are a welcome extra. For anyone with more than a passing interest in the renaissance, Dante is a must-read, and this edition should provide hard-back enjoyment at a paperback price.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Firstly -the physical book: It's hardback, with crisp, clean paper and a bookmark sewn into the spine. Good production.

Secondly -the story: Before boring you with how much I treasure this book (and the epic twin visions of the march of history and life in the afterlife it constructs) I want to look at some of the things that other reviewers might miss.

This book will lead you to other classical works. It is heavily referential i.e. it refers to the works of other writers before Dante, many of them writing thousands of years before Dante wrote. Virgil, Homer, Augustine, Cicero -the author refers to the theories and mythologies laid down by these earlier writers, so that a close read will bring you on a mini-tour of classical and pre-classical writing. Some is scientific, some is mythological, some religious, some historical -the breadth of literature that Dante draws upon to construct his own epic is vast. I found that by the time I had finished, I had resolved to read a half dozen or so other books which I thought would interest me. It has cemented my interest in the classics.

Also, though Dante sets out a very precise blueprint for what the afterlife is like, the state of religion etc.: That does not mean that the reader cannot interact with the story to play with these questions today. Dante's story demands that the reader reflect on the great questions -Dante offers some answers, poses some questions, but most importantly is engaged with the key issues. His vision of the development of the world is at times absurd and parochial, and at other times majestic, but at least he did not back away from the big questions.

Finally, I want to simply state that I find the vast struggle with competing ideas of science, religion, history etc to be a rousing read. This is one man's vision of what underpins the world -it is not mine, it is probably not yours, but it is Dante's answer to the questions we all ask.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2014
I've read a couple of Dantes and to my ear Kirkpatrick's version is the best yet. It gives a "feel" for medieaval Europe somehow; obviously (and rightly) the rhymes aren't maintained - Kirkpatrick considers accuracy of meaning more important - but the metre and rhythms work well; the imagery is brought to life by very careful word choice.

However - this is the Kindle edition, ASIN B002RI9HHU Inferno: The Divine Comedy I - and there's a problem. The print edition includes the original Italian text on facing pages. While great for study, the differing lengths of English text versus Italian mean no amount of formatting reliably delivers a Kindle pageful of Italian followed by a pageful of English; everything is in one long column making the book virtually unreadable. The edition includes Real Page Numbers, which in future versions of Kindle software may allow page-by-page flickthroughs or side-by-side layouts as the formatters intended, but the technology isn't there yet, making this a much less enjoyable read than it should.

I'm a Kindle nut, but if you want this excellent work, buy it in paperback.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 25 May 2009
I am not a classics expert but wanted to read the Divine Comedy because it is referenced so much i wanted to be able to understand the references. The explanation notes are great and for the most part understandable. Lots of references to mythological figures with whom I am not familiar however the book is easy to read and understand and that's what i was looking for.
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on 10 May 2015
This is the famous first section of the 1307 `trilogy' poem Commedia by Dante. The Inferno being the Hell first part is told in 34 `Cantos'. This is an absolute classic for its graphic depictions of the tortures that await as a hierarchy from bad to the worst sins, famous in its day to even now and a must read given all the varied modern references we get e.g. "Surrender as you enter every hope you have' on the entry gates. But of course the Inferno is so very much more than a graphic titillation it's history, religion, innovation and yes 14th century poetic entertainment.

Dante (amazingly writing only 80 years after St Francis and 30 years after Thomas Aquinas, and after being exiled from Florence after a political coup) has himself led by Virgil to the very devil himself. I like the way Dante is almost an `on site' news reporter interviewing some of his contempories, ancients and mythical characters. He develops the ideas of falling from grace, his scale of sinning and that hell exists because of the very demands of Divine love!

This poem is a clear example where the translation in English can never match the original. The Penguin edition had the original Italian on the opposite page - giving the clear sense how the language can create rhythms, rhyming, changes of pace and music in the narrative lost in English. The poem is very difficult in places; required a very long and detailed commentary and notes; map of hell and a very long introduction to the history.

It was a struggle to flick between the Canto and the associated notes (resulting in two bookmarks). I tried reading the Canto then the note, reading the note then the Canto. I decided to, in the end, just read the Cantos and give up on the notes altogether (around number 20) with only looking up a particular reference if I was bothered. You can tell then that the Penguin edition was more equivalent to a higher education `set text' reference book (and what you really need to know to get the most out of the poem). It was fortunately after number 20 anyway that the narrative actual took off and flowed a lot easier and more enjoyably.

I took most from the poem that Dante ironically has the Devil's feet the very closest to God. The devil is painted trying to endlessly flee the divine, flapping his wings (and chewing on traitors like Judas) generating the rest of hell above him. And therefore for all those who so easily and `apathetically' say they believe in God but do the least about it (i.e. the souls Dante meets first on entering the Gates) are therefore the very furthest from the centre of divine love (but the least physically punished).

Some quotes:
"You will from this be able to deduce, that our knowledge will be wholly dead, when all the doors of future time are closed'

"What I, once living, was, so dead I am"

"I saw there people circling round that trench. And on they came in silence, weeping still - as slow in pace as litanies on earth. Then, as my gaze sank lower down these forms, each was revealed (the wonder of it all!) twisted around between the chin and thorax. The face of each looked down towards its coccyx. And each, deprived of vision in the front, came as it must, reversed along the way" (me - this is the soothsayer's punishment)

"Between his legs his guts all dangled down, innards and heart on show, and that grim bag that turns s*** whatever gullets swallow'

Maybe I got the wrong and overly scholarly translation and recognising the mammoth and worthy nature of the poem, for me for enjoyability only 3 stars. But I'm no Philistine so of course 5 stars.
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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful
"Midway life's journey I was made aware/that I had strayed into a dark forest..." Those eerie words open the first cantica of Dante Alighieri's "Inferno," the most famous part of the legendary Divina Comedia. But the stuff going on here is anything but divine, as Dante explores the metaphorical and supernatural horrors of the inferno.

The date is Good Friday of the year 1300, and Dante is lost in a creepy dark forest, being assaulted by a trio of beasts who symbolize his own sins. But suddenly he is rescued ("Not man; man I once was") by the legendary poet Virgil, who takes the despondent Dante under his wing -- and down into Hell.

But this isn't a straightforward hell of flames and dancing devils. Instead, it's a multi-tiered carnival of horrors, where different sins are punished with different means. Opportunists are forever stung by insects, the lustful are trapped in a storm, the greedy are forced to battle against each other, and the violent lie in a river of boiling blood, are transformed into thorn bushes, and are trapped on a volcanic desert.

If nothing else makes you feel like being good, then "The Inferno" might change your mind. The author loads up his "Inferno" with every kind of disgusting, grotesque punishment that you can imagine -- and it's all wrapped up in an allegorical journey of humankind's redemption, not to mention dissing the politics of Italy and Florence.

Along with Virgil -- author of the "Aeneid" -- Dante peppered his Inferno with Greek myth and symbolism. Like the Greek underworld, different punishments await different sins; what's more, there are also appearances by harpies, centaurs, Cerberus and the god Pluto. But the sinners are mostly Dante's contemporaries, from corrupt popes to soldiers.

And Dante's skill as a writer can't be denied -- the grotesque punishments are enough to make your skin crawl ("Fixed in the slime, groan they, 'We were sullen and wroth...'"), and the grand finale is Satan himself, with legendary traitors Brutus, Cassius and Judas sitting in his mouths. (Yes, I said MOUTHS, not "mouth")

More impressive still is his ability to weave the poetry out of symbolism and allegory, without it ever seeming preachy or annoying. Even pre-hell, we have a lion, a leopard and a wolf, which symbolize different sins, and a dark forest that indicates suicidal thoughts. And the punishments themselves usually reflect the person's flaws, such as false prophets having their heads twisted around so they can only see what's behind them. Wicked sense of humor.

Dante's vivid writing and wildly imaginative "inferno" makes this the most fascinating, compelling volume of the Divine Comedy. Never fun, but always spellbinding and complicated.
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