Now of that second kingdom I shall sing where human souls are purified of sin and made worthy to ascend to Heaven’ Purgatory is the second part of Dante’s The Divine Comedy ascending the terraces of the Mount of Purgatory inhabited by those doing penance to expiate their sins on earth. There are the proud – forced to circle their terrace for aeons bent double in humility; the slothful – running around crying out examples of zeal and sloth; while the lustful are purged by fire. Though less well-known than Inferno, Purgatory has inspired many writers including, in our century, Samuel Beckett, and has played a key role in literature.
Public Domain (P)2004 Naxos AudioBooks
The pace is a little "stately," to put it politely. But of the many versions of The Divine Comedy available on Audible, the Naxos version has the clearest translation and the best music. (Short musical segments bridge each canto.) I don't know anything about Benedict Flynn as a translator - his work appears to have been done specifically for this recording and is not available anywhere in print, as far as I know - but it is a lucid narrative, and Heathcote Williams gives each line time to sink in.
Purgatory doesn't have the dramatic scenes of torture that fill Inferno, although some of the punishments are enough to make a tender-hearted listener squirm. It's a lighter place to visit than Hell: although there IS suffering to be endured, everyone who reaches its shores is assured of salvation, and Dante's relief as he encounters some of his friends there is palpable. People smile here. They sing songs and they make jokes.
There is poignancy here as well. Near the end, Dante turns to speak to Virgil, only to discover that Virgil is gone: he has returned to Limbo. He is the instrument of Dante's salvation but will never experience it himself. It's impossible for me to get through this part of the story without a sense of profound injustice; but it's Dante's world and it has to be taken as it comes, at least for the duration of the poem.
While the story is lucid and the images vivid, the problem anyone will have coming to this for the first time will be the thousands of allusions to classical mythology and medieval European politics. An audiobook is particularly difficult to get through in this respect: best to have some notes handy while listening (Guy Raffa's "The Complete Danteworlds" is a useful companion, but any annotated translation will do). My advice would be to take the notes lightly, though. Use them sparingly; focus on the words and emotions first. It's a dramatic poem with a spectacular conclusion.
An alternative to this is the Audiobook Contractors production, with Grover Gardner reading. That uses an unusual approach to the annotation problem, weaving short glosses into the text itself. If you do that, though, come back to this one later: the mood, atmosphere, and music of this version make for a great listen.
Many have told me with all the footnotes etc. Dante was not an easy read. Well, have it told to you by THIS Narrator. He is fantastic!
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