The Inferno of Dante: a New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky (Bilingual Edition)

My Copy: 9780374524524 (image from

I bought this version for one good, simple reason: I wanted to learn Italian that summer and figured once I’d learned a bit, I’d be able to read this one and get the gist of the language.

Well, that was the plan. But I still had the book, the left-side pages with the original Italian script on them, the right in English with a new translation by Robert Pinsky.

The Inferno of Dante is a monumental work (I was shocked that this was only part 1 of a 3 part journey, but I do have the other parts of The Divine Comedy now). Part of me is still struggling with the text–I admit, I’m not the best at reading poetry–but I can understand the magnitude of the work, and why it’s considered by most poets in the world as practically perfect.

The struggle isn’t so much because of the use of language and the style. I made sure to read the introduction to get the gist of the style, and it was very helpful (I’d recommend you do the same). The struggle was with what Dante was saying, in that it made me wish more than anything that I was really up on my Italian history and Greek and Roman poets.

There is a TON of name-dropping in this poem: Dante’s contemporaries, mythical figures, historical figures, religious figures…and it gets a bit overwhelming. I got absorbed in the happenings and the stories as things went and also got a bit lost.

The translation, though, is probably the best I’ve heard of in English. I had to read some of this poem before in school, but the translation didn’t feel as accessible (and I imagine it would’ve been better had we read the whole thing). But if you’ve always wanted to read The Inferno, or want to read it again, I recommend this version. For those lost in the analogies and figures like I was, there are pages of end-notes to help you clarify many of the references and names.

So, if you’ve never cracked open a book or tried to understand western literature, then I wouldn’t bother reading it–seriously, so much name-and-event dropping that it’s crazy. If you have read some of your classical poets, then you’ll be in better shape.

And if you’ve read The Aeneid, you’ll really have a leg-up in the first half because of the many references to Vergil (who is Dante’s guide through hell).

When I brush up on my classical literature and the poets, I’ll be happy to read this one again and get a better understanding. Til then, on to Purgatory.

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