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Divina Commedia


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The great work of Dante, comprising the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso, in terza rima.

The Inferno is a description of Hell, conceived as a graduated conical funnel, to the successive circles of which the various categories of sinners are assigned. The Purgatorio is a description of Purgatory, a mountain rising in circular ledges, on which are the various groups of repentant sinners. At the top of the mountain is the Earthly Paradise, where Dante encounters Beatrice. In his visit to Hell and Purgatory, Dante has for his guide the poet Virgil, and there he sees and converses with his lost friends or former foes. The Paradiso is a vision of a world of beauty, light, and song, where the Poet's guide is Beatrice. The poem is not only an exposition of the future life, but a work of moral edification, replete with symbolism and allusions based on Dante's wide knowledge of philosophy, astronomy, natural science, and history.

Dante's name first occurs in English in Chaucer, and that of Beatrice in Sidney; Dante was read and admired in the 17th cent. by Milton, Jeremy Taylor, and Sir T. Browne, among others. The first acknowledged translation was by the artist Jonathan Richardson in 1719, a blank verse version of the famous Ugolino episode (Inferno, Canto xxxiii), which remained a favourite with translators including T. Gray; it was also the subject of one of Blake's illustrations. His reputation rose in the 19th cent. with the admiration of Byron, Shelley, Carlyle, and others. In the 20th cent. he profoundly influenced T. S. Eliot; his essay Dante (1929) and the many references and quotations in his poetry brought Dante to the attention of a new readership.

Among well‐known translations are those of H. F. Cary (1805–14, blank verse); Longfellow (1867, blank terzine); P. H. Wicksteed (1899, prose); H. F. Tozer (1904, prose); G. L. Bickersteth (1932–55, terza rima); L. Binyon (1933–43, terza rima); J. D. Sinclair (1939–46, prose); D. L. Sayers (1949–62, terza rima); and C. H. Sisson (1980, unrhymed verse).

Subjects: Literature.


Reference entries

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Authors

Dante Alighieri (1265—1321) Italian poet


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