I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Single Volume Bound by Love

A Single Volume Bound by Love

The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, translated by Clive James, Picador, £25, ISBN: 978-1447242192 In 1509, Pope Julius II commissioned Raphael to paint the frescos which decorate the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. The result was the series of conversation pieces we know today, involving the great men (and a very few great women) of western civilisation arranged according to their own particular species of genius: the philosophers of the School of Athens; the poets clustered around Apollo on Mount Parnassus; the theologians at a heavenly altar for the Disputation of the Eucharist. In this exalted company, Dante Alighieri is unique in appearing twice. On Parnassus, he can be seen standing at Homer’s right hand; but the same aquiline profile and laurel crown is also visible on the adjoining wall, where, in the company of Thomas Aquinas and Gregory the Great, he can be seen playing his part in theological debate. Raphael’s twin portraits are a tribute to the poet’s range as it appeared at the beginning of the sixteenth century – canonical writer, honorary saint. But he was shortly to be reinvented. The new Protestant reformers, busily gathering material, noticed that Dante’s hell was well populated with popes being punished for their misdeeds. This was a coup for the anti-papal cause. Dante was deemed a Protestant avant la lettre and was duly co-opted to appear in polemical texts like the bestselling Catalogue of Witnesses to the Truth (1556) in the pages of which he rubbed shoulders with Martin Luther and Jean Calvin. The Vatican, meanwhile, was not to be deflected from its own opinion. Certain inflammatory passages were recommended for excision from the Commedia, but Raphael’s vision of the sanctified poet held true. In the Stanza della Segnatura, Dante continued to stand undisturbed among the saints at their centuries-long holy hour. This potential for radical reinvention has served Dante well. It has certainly kept his translators busy. In the late eighties, Theodore Cauchey calculated that we had forty English translations of the whole Commedia, all fourteen thousand lines of it; twenty of the Inferno; eleven Purgatorios; six Paradisos. His numbers are already out of date: there are at least five new accounts of hell, including those by Ciaran Carson (2002) and Sean O’Brien (2006); and the list does not include translations of shorter excerpts or works showing a looser influence. That catalogue would start with Chaucer, and would rapidly spool from the compiler’s grasp under the weight…



Dublin’s Oldest Independent BookshopBooks delivered worldwide