Translated by Robert & Jean Hollander
Doubleday, $40, 944 pp.
Some editions of the Divine Comedy bravely attempt to forego having any notes at all, or to keep them to a minimum. Their hope is to let the poem speak for itself. The aim is noble, but with Dante the difficulties of this approach are insuperable. From the start, readers of this poem have sensed a need for help. Boccaccio’s lectura Dantis unleashed a commentary tradition that now has nearly seven hundred years of depth.
The Dartmouth Dante Project (dante.dartmouth.edu) gives us access to more than seventy scholarly commentaries from across these centuries. The founder of that project, Robert Hollander, and his wife, Jean Hollander, have now completed a translation that benefits from this scholarship. The blank verse is hers, his the introduction and a set of notes that is about thirty times the length of Dante’s text. The result is beauty and accuracy. The decision not to reproduce the rhymes of the Italian original allows the translation to stay very close to the structure of Dante’s own phrases and sentences. Yet the poetry here sings with the joy that marks the Paradiso, much as the couple’sInferno (2000) dazzled us with the terrors of hell’s tortures and their ...