Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Dante Alighieri: 'Hell'

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Dante Alighieri: 'Hell'

Article excerpt

Dante Alighieri: 'Hell', trans. with introduction and notes by Steve Ellis (London: Chatto & Windus, 1994). xxii + 208 pp. ISBN 0-7011-6127-2. L15.99.

Steve Ellis's new version of Dante's Inferno is a bold departure from the many other English translations currently available. In his excellent Introduction, Ellis argues that Dante's 'vigour and directness' (p. ix), his 'concision and economy' (p. xi) and his extensive employment of dialect terms and idiom have been obscured or smoothed over by previous translations, which tend to be over-influenced by the Commedia's status as canonical classic. In order to communicate Dante's concision, Ellis severely compresses the text: no line has more than seven words. What is constantly surprising is how little is lost as a result. He almost causes one category of sinner to disappear altogether by not translating accidioso at vII .-Iz;, but such omissions are rare. Indeed, his additions to the text, particularly in the form of deliberately anachronistic similes and metaphors, though often startling, are seldom inappropriate. In canto xxxII, for instance, the ninth circle is described variously as a `black basin' (IG), a 'freezer' (6o) and a 'sump' (96). Ellis is especially fond of foodrelated imagery: the fire burning the soles of the simoniac popes moves `just like flame on a pudding' (xIx.28); in Dante's description of the seventh bolgia's serpents, questa cruda e tristissima copia (xxiv.gs) is translated as `this awful, savage spaghetti'. No matter how swiftly the translation moves, the structure and coherence of the original are not lost: whilst wisely avoiding any rhyme-scheme, Ellis frequently employs alliteration and internal rhyme, often to robust, comic effect - `see how ragged it is on Mohammed! …

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