Purgatorio (Bantam Classics)

Purgatorio (The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Volume II) - Dante Alighieri, Allen Mandelbaum, Laury Magnus, Anthony Oldcorn This is the second part of Dante's Divine Comedy. The first took us through Hell, and this part takes us through Purgatory--the realm where Catholics believe those souls not saints spend time purging their sins before entering Heaven. And that's the key difference: Hope. Dante famously has the gateway into Hell read "Abandon All Hope." The punishments in Hell are purposeless and its denizens are without hope they'll ever see an end. So Purgatory is less dark, less grotesque, and alas, less memorable. There is beautiful poetry to be found here and gorgeous imagery and use of classical and biblical materials. But the fact is that without refreshing my memory with a reread there is so much of Hell I remember. The eternal scorching wind of the first part with Francesca Rimini and her lover. Gianni Schicci in the Circle of Impersonators, Dante's friend who is eternally condemned for being a homosexual, Mohamed among the schismatics, and Judas, Brutus and Cassius in the lake of ice in the lowest circle being chewed on by Satan. With Purgatory I did remember Dante's architecture--the seven ledges in the Mountain each dealing with punishing and purging one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But I didn't remember the people, outside of Dante's guide Virgil and the wrench I felt when he was replaced with Dante's love Beatrice. Dante's Hell admittedly has the advantage of being echoed in both popular and elite culture. Gianni Schichi and Francesca di Rimini both have operas of that name; I can remember a book--I think it was by Piers Anthony--where Mohammed complains about winding up in a Christian Hell. And haven't we all heard of the Ninth Circle? Dante's Purgatory doesn't have that advantage. Don't get me wrong. This is still amazing and worth the read. Recently I read Moby Dick and though it had powerful passages I found it self-indulgent and bloated and devoutly wished an editor had taken a hatchet to the numerous digressions. There is no such thing as digressions in Dante. I don't think I've ever read a more carefully crafted work. The number of cantos, the rhyme scheme--everything has a meaning. Nothing is incidental or left to chance here. All in all, like Dante's Hell, this is an imaginary landscape worthy of Tolkien or Pratchett, both in large ways and small details. I found it fitting how Dante tied both sins and virtues to love--a sin was love misdirected or applied. Then there are all the striking phrases, plays of ideas and gorgeous imagery that comes through despite translations. I loved The Divine Comedy so much upon my first read (I read the Dorothy Sayers translation) I went out and bought two other versions. One by Allen Mandelbaum (primarily because it was a dual language book with the Italian on one page facing the English translation) and a hardcover version translated by Charles Eliot Norton. Finally, before writing up my review and inspired by Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club, I got reacquainted by finding Longfellow's translation online. Of all of them, I greatly prefer Mandelbaum's translation. The others try to keep the rhyming and rhythm of the original and this means a sometimes tortured syntax and use of archaic words and the result is forced and often obscure, making the work much harder to read than it should be.