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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 28 October 2013
Having read many translations of this masterpiece I have often tried to compare them with each other for both beauty and clarity. Often this is not always the case as the 'Victorian' English mindset and language are at variance with the Italian spirit.
Mr James has however done a exquisite rendering of such a task.
If you ever read only one English translation then this is a good place to start
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on 26 February 2014
James translation flows well as one would expect from a poet and word smith of his standing. However, I found that he easily loses focus and can drift so far from the original rhythm and meaning that perhaps the book should be described as By Clive James after Dante rather than as a Translation of the Divine Comedy. It will perhaps appeal to first time readers but so do several rival versions, for example the classic terza rima of Dorothy Sayers, the superb blank verse translation of Mark Musa and the recent finely balanced version of JG Nichols. Another reviewer said that she found the Victorian translations beyond her. I agree but there are much more enjoyable and approachable recent ones.
James makes a strong case for his quatrains. However, craftsman though he is, he cannot always avoid the restrictions and infelicities of a verse translation. These are always difficult to forge in English and often can strain the meaning. Here the un-rhymed versions definitely score. Strangely, James is strongest in some of the more theological passages early in Paradiso but the great closing canti of Purgatorio fall strangely flat.
Finally, why is he so against notes? Good notes cf those of Mark Musa, are often necessary and often add a great deal to the reading experience. Surely anybody prepared to take the time and effort to read the Comedy will be prepared to go a little further in order to understand Dante and his environment better?
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on 24 November 2013
It's a most readable translation and it's great to see an edition with no notes. Most reading of Dante requires one page of text to a frightening ten of notes, but Clive James's translation manages to be quite readable without them.
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on 6 January 2016
If you are new to the Divine Comedy and looking for a classical grounding then I suggest that you acquire the Oxford World Classic. This has all the essential notes and background which the James version does not.
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on 5 March 2014
I have loved the poem for a long time and I am always impressed by Clive James' use of language, so this was a 'no brainer' for me and it has lived up to my expectations. It is epic in all senses so I dip into sections rather than read extensively and the translation is always fascinating and, often, has the 'wow' factor too. Highly recommended for the 'serious' reader of poetry.
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on 3 October 2013
Brilliant job of verse-translation - fluent, technically adroit, rhythmically varied, linguistically inventive, scholarly, witty, altogether hugely impressive. A really terrified of work.
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on 10 June 2016
Still only reading my way through Inferno but Clive James makes Dante's great poem very approachable so I have high hopes of reaching Paradiso in good order. There is a book of Botticelli's sketches (an RA exhibition catalogue I believe) which I have found very useful in following the action, the visual images augmenting James' translation. So, thank you Mr James, My other copy of The Commedia is the Cary translation, you give me confidence that one day I shall be able to tackle that!
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on 10 October 2015
This is a bravely successful attempt to render Dante's genius into rhyme. The verse seems so natural and unforced that it is a joy to read. I just feel that it would have been even better with footnotes to help explain the many historical references in this epic poem.
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on 18 June 2014
It's unconventional, dividing Dante's terza rima into a 4-line verse structure, but it works very well indeed. This version is readable, lively, full of characters who stay in your mind long after the book is closed. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it will have a well-earned place on my bookshelf.
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on 27 April 2014
Clive James is right about the disparity between the English and Italian languages - the equivalent word, calzolaio, in English, cobblers, is about five vowels short.

James translates The Inferno with ease and assurance, and brings the babbling quality of Italian to English literature.

James's mission to demystify one of the great works of literature may not endear him to high circles of scholarship; but it brings Italian literature to the masses which is surely a good thing.

The text itself is good value for money - Dante has been a favourite of writers for years and it's easy to see why with lines like: "and the insane applauds himself." Hell is the most fun bit and there is great philosophy here. A great primer for the real thing - if you're lucky enough to speak Italian!!!!
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