Renowned poet and critic Clive James presents the crowning achievement of his career: a monumental translation into English verse of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.
The Divine Comedy is the precursor of modern literature, and this translation - decades in the making - gives us the entire epic as a single, coherent and compulsively listenable lyric poem. Written in the early 14th century and completed in 1321, the year of Dante’s death, The Divine Comedy is perhaps the greatest work of epic poetry ever composed.
Divided into three books - Hell, Purgatory and Heaven - the poem’s allegorical vision of the afterlife portrays the poet’s spiritual crisis in terms of his own contemporary history, in a text of such vivid life and variety that modern readers will find themselves astounded in a hundred different ways. And indeed the structure of this massive single song is divided into a hundred songs, or cantos, each of which is a separate poetic miracle. But unifying them all is the impetus of the Italian verse: a verbal energy that Clive James has now brought into English.
For its range of emotion alone, Clive James’s poetic rendering of The Divine Comedy would be without precedent. But it is also singled out by its sheer readability. The result is the epic as a page-turner, a work that will influence the way we read Dante in English for generations to come.
The Divine Comedy is performed by Edoardo Ballerini (2013 Audie Award winner, Best Solo Narration - Male), who had this to say about the book and his experience narrating it: "There are literary classics, and then then are those few books that serve as the cultural foundation for all of western civilization. Dante's Divine Comedy is one of those rarified titles. Being asked to narrate such a monumental work was an honor, and one of the highlights of my career, across film, TV, stage and audio. It was a humbling experience, and I only hope this recording inspires listeners to experience this profoundly beautiful work of art in a new, accessible and playful way."
©2013 Clive James (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"Narrator Edoardo Ballerini takes Clive James's translation of Dante's classic and breathes fresh life into it.... One particular benefit of Ballerini's performance is that his pronunciation of the very little untranslated Italian vocabulary is spot-on, giving listeners the feeling that their experience is both authentic and impressive." (AudioFile)
I try very hard not to write a review till I've listened to the whole thing. But I have to make an exception for this one. So far I've listened to The Inferno; but since I've already read the translation itself in its entirety, I'm going to stick my neck out.
This is brilliant. I'm in Heaven, so to speak. Clive James has created an unusual but consistently effective translation: rather than trying to reproduce Dante's terza rima, he plays to his own strengths by translating into quatrains, a verse form at which he is particularly adept. The result is a subtle but ever-present drumbeat of rhyme. There are better versions of individual passages in other translations, but I've never read one where the whole thing hangs together and flows together so smoothly.
James also adds clarifying phrases here and there throughout the translation to reduce the need for footnotes. (A good thing: the printed book doesn't have any.)
These clarifying phrases are not as extensive as those in the Audiobook Contractors version, read by Grover Gardner; but they serve the purpose, and they make it possible to listen without constantly feeling the need to look things up.
The result is a translation that demands to be read aloud. Edoardo Ballerini does a terrific job with the narration, capturing the Pilgrim's sense of wonder and letting the poetry unfold in its own effortless way. Ballerini is one of those narrators who conveys dialogue by suggestion rather than outright imitation of different voices. But the voices are there anyway, partly because of Dante's skill and partly because Clive James does such a good job conveying them. When passion is called for, Ballerini gives voice to passion; likewise when the speaker is giving voice to shame, anger, or pride.
Get it. Listen to it. Enjoy it. Learn from it. Treasure it.
Caveat: I've read the Comedy several times, in several different translations, with several different sets of footnotes. I couldn't claim to be a master of the allusions in the poem, but I'm comfortable with them. (When the wind is southerly I can tell a Guelf from a Ghibelline.) As such, it's hard for me to imagine the viewpoint of someone coming to this material for the first time. I THINK this would be anyone's ideal introduction to Dante, and I hope first time listeners will tackle this version and leave their reactions.
For myself, all I can say is that it will be a cold day in Hell (so to speak) before I re-read, or re-listen, to this masterpiece in any other format. There is no question in my mind that this is hands down the best audiobook version of Dante's masterpiece available.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
I should give a quick intro and say that I rarely EVER, EVER re-read a book. I should also mention that 3 years ago I had never cracked Dante's Divine Comedy. Now, I am finishing the Divine Comedy for the 3rd time. I've read Pinsky's translation of the Inferno. I've read Ciardi. I've flirted with Mandelbaum and danced with Hollander, but from Canto 1 of Inferno/Hell to Canto XXXIII of Paradiso/Heaven, I can't say I've read a better version than the Clive James translation.
He replaced the terza rima (**A-B-A, B-C-B, C-D-C, D-E-D-E-E** a measure hard to write without poetic stretch marks in English) with the quatrain, and in doing so made the English translation his own. It gives the Divine Comedy the verbal energy and the poetry that makes inferior translations a slog and makes Dante so damn difficult to translate well. A mediocre translation might capture the stripes but lose the tiger. Clive James pulled off a master translation of one of the greatest works of art in any medium -- ever.
I have only experienced this in audio
I have read the John Ciardi translation of this monumental work. James' translation is by far the more beautiful and startling, bringing forth the pathos and horror of Hell and purgatory with a vividness that left my brain singing for days after I had finished it. This will be one I come back to time and again to enjoy the elegance and lyrical ferocity of the language. The narration is a fitting complement to such a magnificent text.
I read it as a kind of bucket list obligation. Always meant to read it. So I did. But it was a little like work to stick with it. Paradise, as many readers know, is not nearly as interesting as hell.
I can't help but wish Audible had a Divine Comedy in the original meter of terza rima, that by Dorothy L. Sayers being I suppose the most famous. After all (as I believe Sayers points out), terza rima can hardly be called more difficult to carry off in English than ottava rima or Spenserian stanzas, at which several great English poets have conspicuously and copiously excelled. But I will stipulate that this version in the quite different medium of quatrains is unlikely to be surpassed in readability (or listenability) and poetic merit. Kudos to both the translator and the narrator for a job splendidly done, despite an arguably eccentric choice of meter.
Any fool can know something the point is to understand!
The reading was great and the story still is thought provoking. Highly recommend this title and this version of the production.
I'm not an English Lit. mayor and had a hard time following this. Had to listen to a couple of spots over and over to get it but it is a good story premise. If you are Catholic, this is a must read at some point in your life. Dante lays out a map of the afterlife and leaves it up to you to decide what to do with the information.
One has to bear in mind that this was written 700 years ago in another language, and represents a long-gone world view quite foreign to our own. This is the second time I have attempted Dante. The first time was not a great success. This time is better, due to Clive James and his narrator. In the context of this long poem, the voice of Edoardo Ballerina is quite marvelous; not American, not Italian, certainly not English, but a rounded voice with a distinctive accent unlike any other, and perfect articulation, perfect for this task. I cannot judge the quality of a translation, but what Clive James has written sounds effortlessly right as it comes out of the narrator's mouth. Dante's work is second only to Shakespeare, but accessing it is not easy due to its age and strangeness. Clive James has pulled off a great triumph, and Edorardo Ballerini has brought it to life in a way I doubt any other narrator could have.
It was more interesting to tease out the cultural touchstones that originated with this work than it was to follow the work itself. The local Italian politics that were raging all around when Dante wrote this are unfamiliar to most of us now, so many of the in-jokes are lost.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.