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on 6 June 2009
This was a brilliant edition of the masterpiece and before buying it I was apprehensive that I wouldn't understand half of it but the translation is simple and there is a wealth of notes at the back for further understanding. Would recommend this to anyone interested in reading The Divine Comedy.
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on 30 May 2001
This has to be rated as one of the best and most approachable translations of the Divine Comedy available today. Mr Sisson has retained the true lyricism of Dante's original Italian verse as well as the sense of 'terza rima' so important in this work. I highly recommend this edition to students and to those first time explorers of Dante and his great poem. The notes are extensive and detailed, a great aid to the uninitiated. In three years of University study this edition has never let me down, It is always at my side.
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on 23 April 2006
After seeing movies and TV shows with references to The Divine Comedy, I thought it about time to see what all the fuss was about.

There are times when the pace of the poem slows. However this never distracts from the narrative epic adventure from hell to heaven via purgatory. It has stunning descriptive visuals and excellent social comment of the time.

This is a brilliant study of human morality and religion. However I would recommend a little study into ancient mythology and the bible to easier understand this book. Also having not studied the social history of the time I did find it best to read a canto at a time and then read the study notes for that canto to aid my understanding.

This is a once in a lifetime experience to be had by all.
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"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 "Divine Comedy," the legendary poem that takes its author through the eerie depths of hell, heaven and purgatory. It's a haunting, almost hallucinatory experience, full of the the metaphorical and supernatural horrors of the inferno, and joys of paradise.

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.

Well, that was fun. But after passing through hell, Dante gets the guided tour of Purgatory, where the souls of the not-that-bad-but-not-pure-either get cleansed. He and Virgil emerge at the base of a vast mountain, and an angel orders him to "wash you those wounds within," then lets them in.

As Virgil and Dante climb the mountain, they observe the seven terraces that sinners stay on, representing the seven deadly sins -- the angry, the proud, the envious, the lazy, the greedy, the lustful and the gluttons. It's a one-way trip, and you don't even get to look back.

The road up the mountain leads to the gates of Heaven, and soon Dante has been purified to the point where he's allowed to go inside. Virgil doesn't get to enter Heaven, so he passes Dante on to the beautiful Beatrice, the woman he loved in his younger years.

She whisks him up to the spheres of those who are now pure of soul -- the wise, the loving, the people who fought for their religion, the just, the contemplative, the saints, and finally even the angels. And after passing through heaven's nine spheres, he passes out of the physical realm and human understanding -- and sees God, the incomprehensible, represented by three circles inside each other, but all the same size.

Needless to say, it's a pretty wild trip.And admittedly "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso" aren't quite on the writing level of "Inferno," which has the most visceral, skin-crawling imagery and lines ("Fixed in the slime, groan they, 'We were sullen and wroth...'"), and a wicked sense of irony. It makes the angels and saints seem a bit tame.

But there's plenty of power in the second two books, particularly when Dante tries to comprehend God, and almost blows out his brain in the process -- "my desire and my will were turned like a wheel, all at one speed by the Love that turns the sun and all the other stars." It's haunting, and sticks with you long after the story has ended.

More impressive still is his ability to weave the poetry out of symbolism and allegory, without it ever seeming preachy or annoying. Even at the start, Dante sees lion, a leopard and a wolf, which symbolize different sins, and a dark forest that indicates suicidal thoughts. Not to mention Purgatory as a mountain that must be climbed, or Hell as a Hadesian underworld.

Dante's vivid writing and wildly imaginative journey makes the "Divine Comedy" a timeless, spellbinding read, and hauntingly powerful from inferno to paradiso.
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on 21 January 2011
Having developed an interest in all things Italian recently I wanted to acquaint myself with this masterpiece of Italian, and indeed world, literature, but as I do not know Italian sufficiently well to read it in the original, I was looking for a scholarly translation which would help me. While I cannot claim to have read the whole of Dante's great work as yet, I can say that this edition is very good value. It is beautifully presented and there is a superb introduction which explains the background and the intricacies of Dante's poetry. I can thoroughly recommend this edition to anyone who, like me, wishes to accompany the great Italian poet on his journey through the Inferno to Purgatory and then to Paradise.
Margo
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on 1 July 2003
It is certain that Dante's inferno is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written, and though purgatory and paradise are not as brilliant, tending to drag in places, they are also well worth reading. This translation is excellent, keeping the rhythm of the orginal, as well as keeping meanings close to their originals. The notes in the back are also excellent, helpful and informative.
Most worthy of 5 stars.
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"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 "Divine Comedy," the legendary poem that takes its author through the eerie depths of hell, heaven and purgatory. It's a haunting, almost hallucinatory experience, full of the the metaphorical and supernatural horrors of the inferno, and joys of paradise.

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.

Well, that was fun. But after passing through hell, Dante gets the guided tour of Purgatory, where the souls of the not-that-bad-but-not-pure-either get cleansed. He and Virgil emerge at the base of a vast mountain, and an angel orders him to "wash you those wounds within," then lets them in.

As Virgil and Dante climb the mountain, they observe the seven terraces that sinners stay on, representing the seven deadly sins -- the angry, the proud, the envious, the lazy, the greedy, the lustful and the gluttons. It's a one-way trip, and you don't even get to look back.

The road up the mountain leads to the gates of Heaven, and soon Dante has been purified to the point where he's allowed to go inside. Virgil doesn't get to enter Heaven, so he passes Dante on to the beautiful Beatrice, the woman he loved in his younger years.

She whisks him up to the spheres of those who are now pure of soul -- the wise, the loving, the people who fought for their religion, the just, the contemplative, the saints, and finally even the angels. And after passing through heaven's nine spheres, he passes out of the physical realm and human understanding -- and sees God, the incomprehensible, represented by three circles inside each other, but all the same size.

Needless to say, it's a pretty wild trip.And admittedly "Purgatorio" and "Paradiso" aren't quite on the writing level of "Inferno," which has the most visceral, skin-crawling imagery and lines ("Fixed in the slime, groan they, 'We were sullen and wroth...'"), and a wicked sense of irony. It makes the angels and saints seem a bit tame.

But there's plenty of power in the second two books, particularly when Dante tries to comprehend God, and almost blows out his brain in the process -- "my desire and my will were turned like a wheel, all at one speed by the Love that turns the sun and all the other stars." It's haunting, and sticks with you long after the story has ended.

More impressive still is his ability to weave the poetry out of symbolism and allegory, without it ever seeming preachy or annoying. Even at the start, Dante sees lion, a leopard and a wolf, which symbolize different sins, and a dark forest that indicates suicidal thoughts. Not to mention Purgatory as a mountain that must be climbed, or Hell as a Hadesian underworld.

Dante's vivid writing and wildly imaginative journey makes the "Divine Comedy" a timeless, spellbinding read, and hauntingly powerful from inferno to paradiso.
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on 7 February 2008
Italy in the late 13th century. A poet writing in the modest sonnet form on themes of love in his younger days, meditates on a higher less personal love. To express the love of God for the universe, rather than the love of an individual for a woman, he devises a means of extending and enlarging the sonnet into the Canto.

While the Vita Nuova is a sequence of sonnets forming a story of private mystical love, the Divine Comedy is a sequence of massive sonnets manifesting the story of God's love for society and the earth.

Dante belonged to Italy, what he saw as the centre of the world. In the dream of making it perfect, he joined the struggles of the political factions to realise the best human polity. He was exiled. A brave and homeless man thereafter, he took revenge on his enemies in his poem. Note that he reserves his most fierce scorn for the money lenders and those who took possession of the Empire and Church for private gain.

Today, such a thing could also be written - perhaps by a dissident, as he was.

TS Eliot could not determine whether Dante actually saw what he says that he did. Did Dante really see Hell underground, then Purgatory, and finally Paradise? Are you willing to deny that the spiritual world is real? A lot of people today deny that other worlds, fully formed, after death, exist.

But I can imagine a 'dissident', exiled, outcast, who is exiled because he could see the other world with his own eyes, and because he held in the highest contempt those who use the creations of God (i.e., people) for their own private ends, and have perverted the Church and the Empire for their private ends.

Dante will always be the poet of resistance and truth - his work was neglected or denied veracity even by the Catholic Church until recently. He is not the poet of Catholicism, but freedom and the power of the unchained mind, fortitude in the face of mute power and enslavement by the establishment.
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on 26 January 2014
Once I heard about The Divine Comedy, I was always intrigued by it's bold story and even more so after seeing Gustave Dore's illustrations for the poem. When I finally got round to reading it, I was surprised at it's more narrative based text and autobiographical, highly personal way of reading. It amazes me that such an imaginative, personal, emotional, metaphysical, innovative and controversial work could be written in this time (c.1308 - 1321), especially when concerning the political & social context and political rivals of his time that Dante implicates in the poem.

With both the illustrations and the poem itself there is something very mystical, ethereal, surreal, dreamlike and yet realistic about the way it reads (which is a great credit to C. H. Sisson's translation & David Higgins notes, diagrams and maps in this edition). It's as if you as the reader has discovered or been given Dante's personal diary after his passing, which has been left, written from the spiritual world for you to find and be read as a guide and preparation for the afterlife in itself. The first line speaks to you immediately, with no introduction of who, where, how or why; just Dante's personal expression of waking up and finding himself lost in an unknown world, yet accepting of his own death.

I have currently only finished reading Dante's Inferno, which was at times an intense read in itself and a lot to take in and understand at times when concerning the political subtext especially, but in this edition there is plenty of historical context, appendix and notes that help you to understand and appreciate the text more so. I also found it effective to read the poem alongside Gustave Dore's superlative illustrations for the poem, which seem to capture the atmosphere perfectly from the prose.

I would highly recommend this Oxford World Classics edition to any newcomer; as Sisson's translation and Higgins notes help you to greatly understand and appreciate this epic poem for what it is; a metaphysical study, political / social commentary of it's time and literary, artistic masterpiece.
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VINE VOICEon 20 October 2009
Having read the Oxford World's Classic's Paradise Lost, I was worried that their Divine Comedy would be equally dense with archaic language. I need not have worried; Charles Sisson's translation leaves a very readable text, which I found to be much more penetrable than Milton's great work. Fantastic Job and very enjoyable.

The Notes & Commentary and Introduction sections are also very well put together by David Higgins. In fact the book is excellent all round.
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