I read The Divine Comedy in an English translation a couple of years ago. I found it fascinating in many ways: the close relationship between Dante and his guide, Virgil, the beautiful epic similes, the breadth of Dante’s knowledge, the synthesis of the classics and Christianity, the attacks on the abuses of the Medieval church, and the sheer imaginative inventiveness of it all.
I’ve recently read A N Wilson’s Dante in Love which gave me an excellent introduction to Dante’s life and world. The last chapter is called “Dante’s afterlife”. It’s a brief excursion through the ways Dante’s work has been interpreted. I turned to the 20th century: “The two great Modernist poets in English, T S Eliot and Ezra Pound, were both – slightly
disastrously for Dante’s later reputation – determined to read him as a proto-fascist and a proto-modernist.” Oh dear. It seems a long way from medieval Italy. Robert Lowell was a Dante enthusiast, as is the Nobel prize-winning West Indian poet, Derek Walcott. Walcott sees the genius of language in Dante when he writes of his desire to do a similar cross-cultural synthesis in the 20th century. Geoffrey Hill gets a mention as does one of my favourite poets, Amy Clampitt. In “At a rest stop in Ohio” Clampitt brings together the Greyhound bus and Dante’s greyhound from the beginning of the Inferno.
And now there is another name to add – Clive James’s recently published translation of the Inferno.
Dante, like Shakespeare, lives on in every generation.