“Imagine, in an Oriental library, a panel painted many centuries ago. It may be Arabic, and we are told that all the legends of The Thousand and One Nights are represented on its surface; it may be Chinese, and we learn that it illustrates a novel that has hundreds or thousands of characters. In the tumult of its forms, one shape – a tree like an inverted cone; a group of mosques, vermilion in color, against an iron wall – catches our attention, and from there we move on to others. The day declines, the light is wearing thin, and as we go deeper into the carved surface we understand that there is nothing on earth that is not there. What was, is, and shall be, the history of past and future, the things I have had and those I will have, all of it awaits us somewhere in this serene labyrinth…. I have fantasized a magical work, a panel that is also a microcosm: Dante’s poem is that panel whose edges enclose the universe.”
That’s how Borges vividly introduces The Divine Comedy in a collection of nine essays on Dante. Borges thought that The Divine Comedy was the “best book mankind has ever written.”
These days most people don’t read long epic poems for the fun of it, but it’s worth giving Dante an attempt if you haven’t already. And if you’re a lover of literature, then you must.
In English an entire industry has developed around the translations of The Divine Comedy. The one that seems most popular now is by Ciardi. There are some older, now free, translations on the net but the language and syntax is dated and probably shouldn’t be one’s first encounter with Dante.
I’m not sure about the translations in Spanish. Even the first president of the Argentine republic Bartolomé Mitre translated Dante into Spanish during the 19th century. But, I’m sure that there are better versions but I’m not able to recommend a specific one in Spanish. It seems likely that the original Italian translates better into Spanish than English.
Regardless of the language, try to select a version in verse since The Divine Comedy is a poem. If possible, it’s good to have a version with both the Italian and the translation on facing pages but it’s not a necessity.
Tomorrow, I’ll continue with some more comments by Borges on The Divine Comedy.