The life, times, and poetry of the poet Dante

Comparison of some translations
of Dante's 'Comedy'

Translations into English of Dante's The Divine Comedy, ranked with most recent translation at the top:

Clive James' 2013 translation
of Dante's 'Comedy'


Ciaran Carson's 2002 translation
of The Inferno of Dante Alighieri


Robert Pinsky's 1994 translation
of The Inferno of Dante


John Ciardi's translation
of Dante's 'Comedy'

Some quotations from his seven-page Translator's Note:
In looking at other translations I was distressed by the fact that none of them seemed to be using what I understood to be Dante's vulgate. They seemed rather to fall into literary language, the very sort of thing Dante took pains to avoid...
I began to experiment out of curiosity. I rendered a number of Cantos in terza rima and satisfied myself that it could not do ... I tried blank verse. But there the language and it movement went askew on another characteristic of English verse ... blank verse pauses to complete its sub-thoughts about once every fourteen lines. But Dante sets his pauses ... every three lines, and I take that fact to be, above all else, what determines the pace and sparseness of Dante's writing. [p. xxi]

Robert Hollander's Dante: A Life in Works

Biography of Dante Alighieri. Very informative.


It is the Comedy that directs our attention to all the rest. And yet ... it is clear that when he undertook them, the other works were in his eyes not 'minor' in any sense at all. All of them are marked by the signs of his considerable excitement at assuming a new role in the nascent history of Italian letters, whether as a poet or commentator, apologist or polemicist. And each of them begins either with an unblushing announcement of its importance (Convivio, De vulgari Eloquentia, Monarchia) or with an absorbed self-awareness that has a similar effect (Vita nuova).


  • Preface.
  • Chronology. Some data are used for the timeline below.
  • Introduction.
  • Dante's Life.
  • First Lyrics.
  • Vita nuova.
  • Later Lyrics.
  • Convivio I.
  • De vulgari Eloquentia.
  • Convivio II and III.
  • Convivio IV.
  • Commedia.
    • Truth and Poetry
    • Allegory
    • The Moral Situation of the Reader
    • The Moral Order of the Afterworld
    • Virgil
    • Beatrice
    • Bernard
    • Politics
    • The poetry of the Comedy [sic]
  • Monarchia.
  • Late Latin Works.
  • Notes.
  • Biographical Notes.
  • Index.

CliffNotes: On Dante's Divine Comedy

Three separate books, one for each of the three sections:

  1. James Roberts and Nikki Moustaki's CliffNotes: On Dante's Divine Comedy: Inferno.
  2. CliffNotes: On Dante's Divine Comedy: Purgatory.
  3. CliffNotes: On Dante's Divine Comedy: Paradise.

Helpful to review after reading Dante's Divine Comedy. Includes:



Much information gleaned from Robert Hollander's Dante.

Early and mid-12th century
Flourishing Provençal vernacular (and specifically non-Latin) love poetry that would later influence Dante.

Birth of Dante.

Dante's first meeting with his muse, Beatrice Portinari.

Dante's marriage contract with Gemma Donati.

Approximate year when Dante (age 18) begins writing poetry. Both his parents are now dead.

Death of Dante's muse, Beatrice Portinari.

Approximately 1290-93
Vita Nuova written: " a theory of poetry and poetics" ["Introduction to Dante's Rime" by Giuseppe C. Di Scipio].

Dante's begins his political career.
His name already inscribed in the guild of doctors and apothecaries.

Financial troubles.

The year in which the Commedia is set.
Became one of six governing Priors of Florence.

Approximately 1300-1308
Inferno (part 1 of Commedia) written.

Dante banished from Florence for two years, with a fine on his return. Sentence later increased to death-by-burning should he return.

Approximately 1303-1305
De Vulgari written.

Approximately 1304-1307
Convivio written.

Approximately 1308-1312
Purgatorio (part 2 of Commedia) written.

Dante's residence in Verona.

Approximately 1316-1321
Paradiso (part 3 of Commedia) written.

Dante's residence in Ravenna.

Death of Dante, of malarial fever, on return from mission as ambassador to Venice.

Vita Nuova's first printed edition appeared in Florence ["Introduction to Dante's Rime" by Giuseppe C. Di Scipio].

Publication of John Ciardi's translation of The Divine Comedy of Dante.

Publication of Robert Pinsky's translation of The Inferno of Dante in a bilingual edition.

Publication of Ciaran Carson's translation of The Inferno of Dante Alighieri.

Publication of Clive James' translation of The Divine Comedy: Dante.

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