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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hollander’

Recapping Dante: Canto 15, or How to Talk to Your Teacher When You Chance Upon Him in Hell

January 27, 2014 | by


Gustave Doré, Canto XV.

This winter, we’re recapping the Inferno. Read along!

As Dante continues to descend through hell, guided by Virgil, I too read with a guide of my own—Robert Hollander, whose annotated edition of the Inferno I’ve been using to write about Dante every week. I’ve read the Hollanders’ notes on Canto 15 many times over, but I still find myself getting lost in it—Dante’s encounter here is unlike any other.

Pulling at the pilgrim’s hem is a scorched, unrecognizable sinner. After a few moments, Dante realizes the man is his old teacher Brunetto Latini, who is now among the sodomites. Siete voi qui, ser Brunetto? Dante asks. Are you here, ser Brunetto? This warm, perhaps even affectionate question is underscored, Hollander explains, by something else: “I think he is also asking ‘Are you, wonderful man, down here among the scum?’” It seems, at first, a tender scene: Dante asks if Brunetto will sit with him, and for the first time we see Dante speaking to a sinner about himself and his journey, not standing idly by as a sinner tells his story. It even seems as if the two are catching up. For this reason, Hollander says, readers and critics are often charmed by this scene, but they never examine the relationship between Dante and Brunetto as carefully as they should. Dante’s treatment of Brunetto is colder than it appears. Read More »


Recapping Dante: Canto 5, or A Note on the Translation

November 4, 2013 | by


Alberto Martini, Minós (Inferno V) (detail), 1937.

With multiple translations come disagreements—different scholarly notes, interpretations, and even titles. But often what allows a translation itself to become a great work of literature can be determined by something as subtle as the phrasing of a single idea.

Lord Byron, the notorious English poet who died in 1824, at the age of thirty-six, toyed around with his own translation of a passage from the Inferno. The passage is in canto 5, in which Dante enters hell past Minos, and meets the carnal sinners. He comes across Francesca da Rimini, who was killed with her love, Paolo, after the two had an affair. Francesca, like many other characters in the Inferno, identifies herself first by some obscure trait—in her case, the river near which she was born. She tells Dante that she could not resist Paolo because love itself can sway the heart of a beloved. Indeed it is one of the most beautifully agonizing passages in the Inferno, and probably one of the most difficult to translate. After all, Byron picked it for a reason. In a way, Byron even presented readers with a sort of litmus test for determining the quality of a translation; in the way a translator engages such a passage, a reader can observe not only the translator’s precision, but his or her skill as a poet. Read More »