Saturday, August 7, 2010

Summer Reading: Inferno (intro)

Why Dante's Inferno? Lady Hotspur & I plan to visit Florence in October. And I enjoy laying a foundation for trips by exploring the literature of my destination. So it seems like the perfect excuse to read the masterpiece, written c. 1305-20, at the dawn of Florence's Renaissance heyday. I'll be reading and reporting on a canto each day for the next month, at about a 100 words per entry. But first, an introduction.

Narrative poems have a push-pull rhythm that combines the momentum of storytelling with the careful parsing of poetry. The rhyme scheme of The Divine Comedy mirrors this rhythm: ABA BCB CDC DED EFE…. Dante introduces a third rhyme then moves back to resolve the second. The content also shifts constantly between realistic observations, vivid metaphors, emotional self-reflection, mythic/historical allusion, Christian allegory, metaphysical inquiry, & Florentine current events. It makes for an incredibly dense epic, but it's also remarkably accessible.

FYI, I'm reading the Hollander translation,  published in 2000 AD. It prints the original Italian on the left leaf & the English translation on the right. I like the option of breaking down Dante's phrasing to compare it with the translation, and my knowledge of Latin languages is just good enough to recognize some word roots. The Hollanders don't bother to rhyme their translation (I approve, as English isn't nearly as good as Italian for rhyming).

What else should you know? Cantos are about 110-150 lines long, the perfect length for one a day. The Hollanders include notes at the end of each canto rather than at the foot of the page. I read the canto then skim the endnotes for the allusions & political references. Inferno has 34 cantos; the subsequent volumes are 33 cantos, making The Comedy an even 100 cantos.

I hope you enjoy playing Dante to my Virgil as I guide you through the Inferno! See you tomorrow!

No comments: