For my last post on the Divine Comedy I thought I would share of list of various resources—-translations, essays, books, etc.—that I found helpful and a joy to read along the way.
The Divine Comedy, translated by Robin Kirkpatrick, Penguin: I started out with this translation, but I found it tedious and at times downright inaccessible. But I still list it because the notes that go along with the text are excellent.
The Divine Comedy, translated by Allen Mandelbaum, Everyman’s Library: I have always loved Mandelbaum’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses so I switched from Kirkpatrick to this translation and found it much more accessible. I’ve read that it is also very close to the Italian—he doesn’t take much poetic license, which is the exact reason why I like his Ovid so much.
The Divine Comedy, translated by John D. Sinclair: This was recommended by a fellow reader on Twitter and I am so glad I bought the complete set. I will use this prose translation the next time I do a complete reread of Dante. It also comes with the Italian text.
Dante in English, Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds, eds., Penguin: This book is a nice way to sample different translations of Dante. It also includes selections from different poems that have been inspired by the Divine Comedy
Vita Nuova, translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: This is Dante’s poem about Beatrice and I actually read it before the Divine Comedy. It greatly enhanced my reading of Paradise in particular. This has been reissued recently by NYRB.
Dante: De Vulgari Eloquentia (Cambridge Medieval Classics), translated by Steven Botterill: This is an essay, written in Latin by Dante, on literary theory. It contains the Latin text as well as an English translation. A crazy rabbit hole I followed because I was curious about Dante’s Latin text.
Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity by Prue Shaw: A very informative book in which each chapter is a discussion of a different theme or thread in Dante—Friendship, Power, Life, Love, Time, Numbers and Words.
Reading Dante (The Open Yale Courses Series) by Giuseppe Mazzotta: This was one of my favorite resources, especially for understanding Paradise. It is more like an extended commentary and helps to unpack the historical and theological ideas of Dante. I also bought a copy that was signed and inscribed by the author that said, “May you continue on your own journey” which I thought was a very nice find.
Dante A Very Short Introduction by Peter Hainsworth: Exactly what the title says, a very brief introduction at 115 pages. I especially like his emphasis on how Dante is still relevant in the modern age.
Dante A Brief History by Peter S. Hawkins: An excellent overview of Dante’s life and work. This one has some very good black and white illustrations. I especially appreciated Hawkins’s chapter on Beatrice.
Dante: Poet of the Secular World by Eric Auerbach: An excellent discussion of the overall structure of Dante’s works that argues he was the first great realist writer. This has been reissued by NYRB.
Introductory Papers on Dante: The Poet Alive in his Writings by Dorothy Sayers: This, with the two books listed below, is a three volume collection of lectures given by Sayers on Dante. And excellent, helpful introduction to Dante.
Further Papers on Dante: His Heirs and His Ancestors by Dorothy Sayers: This volume contains essays that compare Dante to other authors who explore similar themes in their writing.
The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement: On Dante and Other Writers by Dorothy Sayers: This one comes with a fabulous bonus essay describing Sayers’s learning Latin from the age of six and why she thinks learning Latin is so valuable. All of her points about learning Latin are still relevant today, I will be sharing this with my own students.
The Cambridge Companion to Dante, Rachel Jacoff, ed.: As with other books in the series, this Cambridge Companion contains essays on a wide variety of topics covering the Divine Comedy, the Vita Nuova, Dante’s Theology, Dante and Florence, Dante and the classical poets, etc.
“Conversation with Dante” by Osip Mandelstam: a beautiful moving essay about the Divine Comedy. The essay is included as part of Mandelstam’s Selected Poems published by NYRB.
“Dante Now: The Gossip of Eternity” by George Steiner: I actually found the Mandelstam essay because Steiner references it in his essay. This essay is included in his book On Difficulty.
Dante: A Collection of Critical Essays, John Freccero, ed.: A nice collection of some of the most famous essays written about Dante in the 20th century. It includes a copy of Mandelstam’s essay.
The Poets’ Dante: Twentieth Century Responses, Peter S. Hawkins, ed.: A collection of essays by some of the most important 20th century poets including Pound, Yeats, Eliot, Auden, and Heaney among many others. (I did a previous post with a couple of quotes from this book.)
Dante Comparisons (Publications of the Foundation for Italian Studies, University College Dublin), Eric Haywood, ed.: I know this is sort of an odd and obscure book to have searched for, but it promised an essay about Dante, Catullus and Propertius! In two previous posts I noted some of the similarities between sections of the Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy and Catullus’s poetry so I was thrilled to find this unique collection of essays that covers this very topic.
The Aeneid, Vergil: As I mentioned in my first post on Dante, an appreciation for the Aeneid will greatly enhance any reading of Dante. I honestly don’t know how anyone could read The Divine Comedy and not be compelled to read Vergil as well. My favorite translations are Robert Fagles, David Ferry and Robert Fitzgerald.
The Metamorphoses, Ovid: Dante actually makes more references to Ovid than to Vergil. The two commentaries I used were very thorough with explaining Dante’s references to Ovid. But reading Ovid’s epic poem will also greatly enhance one’s understanding of many parts of the Divine Comedy. My favorite translation, as noted above, is Mandelbaum.
Achilleid, Statius translated by Stanley Lombardo: I fell down a long, winding rabbit hole by reading and translating Statius, an author whose work I have not picked up in 20 years. The Achilleid is a beautiful, unfinished epic that describes Achilles as a boy before he goes off to fight in Troy. It is really not necessary to read any Statius to understand his role in the Divine Comedy even though this Roman poet guides Dante at the end of Purgatory and into Paradise.
Thebaid, Statius, translated by Jane Wilson Joyce: This poem, about the destruction and havoc that Oedipus’s sons cause one another while battling over who will rule Thebes, is long, lugubrious and dense. Statius likes to go into great detail about obscure mythological names and references. When I first translated this 20 years ago in a Silver Age Epic course in graduate school, I did not have the patience for it. This time around I did find some stunning passages that I truly enjoyed. But there is still a lot of very dense material that, at times, can be incomprehensible.
Pharsalia, Lucan: I also translated this in my Silver Age Epic course and really fell in love with Lucan’s underappreciated work. Since Dante mentions Lucan as being among the ancient poets in limbo I decided to revisit a few of my favorite passages—his description of Pompey and the witch scene. The Loeb translation of this epic is very good.
A series of lectures by Yale Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta. If you don’t want to read his book I cited above, you can watch his series of lectures: http://www.openculture.com/2017/01/a-free-course-on-dantes-divine-comedy-from-yale-university.html
Digital Dante from Columbia University. This was a great resource for looking at the Italian text and commentaries for the Divine Comedy. This site includes illustrations of the Divine Comedy and readings of it as well as a good historical timeline of Dante’s life: https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/
Please let me know in the comments if there are other resources that I should add to my list.
I was feeling lost for several days when I finished Dante. But I have decided on a new reading project that I am very excited about: Kafka!