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Dante's Divine comedy: The Inferno. A literal prose translation with the text of the original collated from the best editions, and explanatory notes online

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& literal JJroec ^/translation,



O degli altri poeti onore e lume,

Vagliami il lungo studio e il grande amore,
Che m' ban fatto cercar lo tuo volume.

Infern. i., 82-4.






THE object of the following Prose Translation is
to give the real meaning of Dante as literally and
briefly as possible. No single particle has been wit-
tingly left unrepresented in it, for which any equiva-
lent could be discovered ; and the few words that
have been added are marked in Italics. English
readers, it is hoped, will here find a closer, and there-
fore, with all its defects, a warmer version than any
that has hitherto been published for them.

The Italian Text, carefully collated from the best
editions, is printed beneath, in order to justify and
support the Translation, which is perhaps too literal
for standing alone ; and likewise to enable those who
have any knowledge of Italian to understand the Orig-
inal itself more easily, and with less obstruction enjoy
the deep rhythmic force and beauty of it, which can
not be transferred into any other language.

New Arguments or explanatory introductions, in-
tended to diminish the number and burden of indis-
pensable notes, are prefixed to the Cantos. The Notes
themselves are either original, or taken directly, and
in no case without accurate reference, from the best
Italian commentators and historians ; and, above all,
from Dante's own works, wherever any thing appro-
priate could be met with. Illustrative or parallel
passages are quoted in them, from the Bible, and
from Virgil and other ancient authors, to show the
way in which Dante used his materials ; and more
sparingly from Chaucer and Milton, both of whom


had read the Divina Commedia with poetic warmth
and insight, before producing any of their own great
works. The endless passages which might have been
quoted from Italian writers, are excluded for the sake
of brevity, and as being far less near and less inter-
esting to us.

Finally, the doubtful, difficult, or obsolete words
are explained between the notes and the original text,
or in the notes themselves. A brief account of the
most remarkable Editions, Comments, and Transla-
tions, is given at the commencement, together with
a sketch of Dante's Hell and his journey through it.
And the volume concludes with a complete Index of
the Proper Names that are mentioned or alluded to.

Now this simple statement will sufficiently show
that the present undertaking is upon a plan quite dif-
ferent from that of the other English translations ; and
therefore enters into no competition with them, and
requires no apology. I am persuaded that all who
know any thing of the manifold significance of the
Original, or of its old and recent history, will be glad
to see another faithful effort made to bring the true
meaning of it nearer to English readers. But, for
several purposes, and more especially for the guidance
of younger students, it may be useful to state also, in
a few words, the reasons that have gradually led to
this new experiment, and the feelings and convictions
under which it was begun. They are as follows :

In the year 1831, being called to Italy by other
duties, I first studied the Divina Commedia, under
guidance of the most noted literary Dilettanti of Rome
and other places. I heard them read it with wondrous
gestures and declamation, and talk of it in the usual
superlatives ; learnt by heart the stories of Francesca,


Ugolino, &c., and could speak very fluently about
them. But, as a whole, it took little serious hold of
me at that time. The long, burdensome, incoherent
jumble of contending notes in the Paduan edition of
1822 recommended as the best had helped to
darken and perplex every part of it that required
any comment.

During the seven years which followed, I often
studied it again, at leisure hours, along with the other
works of Dante ; and got intimately acquainted with
various Italians of different ranks, who, without mak-
ing any pretensions to literature, or troubling them-
selves with conflicting commentaries, knew all the
best passages, and would recite them in a plain, sober,
quiet tone now rapid, now slow, but always with
real warmth like people who felt the meaning, and
were sure of its effect. To them the Divina Commedia
had become a kind of Bible, and given expression and
expansion to what was highest in their minds. The
difference between them and the Dilettanti seemed
infinite, and was all the more impressive from the
gradual way in which it had been remarked.

The contemporary Historians, or Chroniclers, of
Florence and other parts of Italy, were afterward
studied, in connection with Dante and his earliest
commentators ; and here the meaning of the great
Poem first began to unfold itself in detail, and apart
from its mere literary merits. It became significant
in proportion as it was felt to be true to be, in fact,
the sincerest, the strongest, and warmest utterance
that had ever come from any human heart since the
time of the old Hebrew Prophets. Diligent readers
of those contemporary historians will find that the
Poet, among other things, took the real historical
facts of his age, and took them with surprising accu-


racy and transcendent impartiality, extenuating noth-
ing, exaggerating nothing, though often rising into
very high fervor and indignation. And they will also
find that there was enough in those old times to excite
a great, earnest, far-seeing man, such as Dante ; and
send him into the depths and heights of Prophetic
Song. Those times had already produced Sicilian
Vespers, and tragedies enough ; and carried within
them the seeds of Bartholomew Massacres, of Thirty-
Years' Wars, and French Revolutions, and the state
of things that we now see over the whole continent of
Europe and elsewhere. They were times of transi-
tion, like our own the commencement of a New
Era, big with vast energies and elements of change ;
and " the straight way was lost." It is only the
phraseology, the apparatus, and outward circum-
stances that are remote and obsolete; all else is the
same with us as with Dante. Our horizon has grown
wider than his : our circumnavigators do not find that
Mount of Purgatory on the other side of the globe ;
the Continents of America stand revealed in his West-
ern Hemisphere of Ocean ; the Earth is no longer the
" fixed and stable" Center of our Universe : but the
great principles of truth and justice remain unalter-
ed. And to those among ourselves, who, with good
and generous intentions, have spoken lightly and un-
wisely concerning Dante, one has to say, not without
sadness : Study him better. His ideas of Mercy, and
Humanity, and Christian Freedom, and the means of
attaining them, are not the same as yours : not the
same, but unspeakably larger and sounder. He felt
the infinite distance between Right and Wrong, and
had to take that feeling along with him. And those
gentle qualities of his, which you praise so much, lie
at the root of his other heroic qualities, and are in-


separable from them. All anger and indignation, it
may safely be said, were much more painful to him
than they can be to you. The Dante you have criti-
cised is not the real Dante, but a mere scare-crow
seen through the unhealthy mist of your sentimental-
isms. Why do you keep preaching your impracticable
humanities, and saying, Peace, peace; when there is
no peace ? Is there nothing within your own daily
observation or experience to make you seek for surer
footing, and prevent you from trying to heal the foul-
est ulcers by merely hiding them, and talking mildly
about them ? Have you not this very year beheld
the whole of a great nation, franticly, and with world-
wide re-echo, proclaiming universal Brotherhood, and
Freedom, and Equality, on hollow grounds ; and then,
within four short months, as a natural and inevitable
consequence, slaughtering each other by thousands ?
The humanest men of all countries are beginning to
grow sick and weary of such expensive sham hu-

But to return. Having thus acquired a clearer
idea of the Poem, and got fairly beneath the thick en-
cumbrances of Dilettantism and other encumbrances,
which hide its meaning, I began to be convinced that
the quantity of commentary, necessary to make the
substance and texture of it intelligible, might be com-
pressed into a much smaller space than had been an-
ticipated ; and that conviction was confirmed by a
minuter examination of the most celebrated modern
commentators, such as Venturi, Lombardi, Biagioli,
&c., from whom those notes in the Paduan edition,
above mentioned, are chiefly taken. A practical
commentator, whose main desire is to say nothing
superfluous, has got to study them all in the way of
duty ; and then feels it to be an equally clear duty to


pass over the greater part of what they have written
in perfect silence. All of us want to know something
of Dante ; but not one in a thousand could endure to
read long discussions which generally end in nothing,
and which surely ought to be allowed to die a natural
death as rapidly as possible.

It was under such impressions as these that I first
thought of publishing a correct edition of the Original
Text, with English Arguments, and Notes explaining
all the difficult passages, allusions, &c. But this plan,
I was told by the best authorities I had an opportu-
nity of consulting, would " make a piebald, monstrous
Book, such as has not been seen in this country ;" and
therefore, not without reluctance and misgiving, I re-
solved to attempt the Literal Prose Translation at the
same time, and send forth this first volume complete
in itself by way of experiment. The process of
breaking in pieces the harmony and quiet force of the
Original, and having to represent it so helplessly and
inadequately in another language, has been found as
painful as was anticipated, and the notes as hard to
compress ; but from beginning to end, all the difficul-
ties of the task have at least been honestly fronted ;
and readers who are already familiar with Dante and
his commentators, will be able to estimate the quan-
tity of labor required for the performance of it.

In conclusion, I have to acknowledge the kindness
of one highly accomplished friend, whose name I am
not allowed to mention : he read over the proofs of
the first eight Cantos, and suggested some useful ad-
ditions and amendments.

J. A. C.


THE Manuscripts of the Divina Commedia, found in
different parts of Italy, and described by various Italian
writers who had seen or examined them, were estimated by
Ugo Foscolo (Edition of 18423, torn. iv. p. 49) as amount-
ing in all to some Two Hundred. Our British Museum,
our Oxford and other libraries public and private, also con :
tain several that are not mentioned by those writers ; and
doubtless there are many more in the libraries of France,
Germany, &c. The number of them is indeed very re-
markable, considering that printing was introduced into Italy
nearly four centuries ago. And valuable readings have been
obtained from some of them ; but none of ours have as yet
been thoroughly examined ; and the terms in which most
of the Italians speak of theirs are extravagant, vague, and
incredible, as Foscolo justly observes ; so that one is forced
to wait for further evidence, before giving any opinion on the
subject of their relative merits. The second volume of the
Bibliografia Dantesca 1 of M. de Batines, if it equals the
first, will furnish the sober and accurate account of them
which is still wanted.

The number of Editions hitherto published is upward of
Two Hundred and Fifty. Of these, at least fifteen authen-
tic editions, besides five of doubtful authenticity, were printed
within the last thirty years of the fifteenth century ; forty-

1 BIBLIOGRAFIA DANTESCA, ossia Catalogo delle Edizioni, Traduzioni,
Codici Manoscritti e Comenti della Divina Cbmmedia e delle Opere Minor!
di Dante, seguito dalla serie de' Biografi di lui, compilata dal Sig. Visconte
Colomb de Batines. Traduzione Italiana, fatta sul Manoscritto Francese
delP autore. Tom. i. S TO ,pp. 769. Prato, 1845-6. I have quoted the title
of this very useful and meritorious work at full length. The second volume
is still unpublished. The first, in two parts, contains an account of the
Editions, Translations, and Comments printed and unprinted; and through-
out the whole of it, the author carefully distinguishes what he has himself
seen from what is reported by others.



two in the sixteenth ; four in the seventeenth, or poorest
century of Italian literature ; forty in the eighteenth ; and,
in the present century, more than one hundred arid fifty.
Ample details, concerning all of them that were published
before the year 1845, will be found in the work of M. de
Batines. Only a few of the most remarkable can be men-
tioned here in the order of their dates.

1472. The earliest edition is that of lohanni Numeister,
printed at Fuligno in 1472, with very brief arguments and
no comment. It is printed in clear type, and upon strong
paper ; not paged or numbered. There are almost no
points ; and no capital letters, except at the commencement
of the Terzine, and in a very small number of the proper
names. In the British Museum there is an excellent copy
of it, to which I have often referred, and not always with-
out profit, 1 when perplexed by different readings. All the
Bibliographers speak of it, and also of two other editions
that were printed later in the same year. In particular,
the account which M. de Batines gives of it is very accu-
rate. I shall content myself with quoting one or two pas-
sages, to show the curious way in which the words flow to-
gether, without points or capitals, more especially when the
line threatens to be long. Thus :

Perme siua nellacipta dolente
perme siua neleterno dolore
penne siua tra laperduta gente

Inferno, iii. 1-3.

Come dautunno seleuan lefoglie

luna apresso dellaltra finchel rarao
rendalla terra tutte lesue spoglie

Ibid. iii. 112-4.

Noi leggiauamo ungiorno perdiletto
dilancialotto come amor lostrinse
soli erauamo et senzalcun sospetto

Ibid. v. 127-9.

1477. The next remarkable edition that I have had op-
portunities of examining, also in the Museum, is that of

1 Thus, in canto i. ver. 48, I found : Si die parea cfie laere ne TREMASSE,
though Foscolo says, " all the printed copies" have TEMESSE ; and, in canto
xvii. ver. 124 : Et uidipoi eke WO/UEDEA davanti, instead of Foscolo' s UDIA
davanti. I find TREMESSE also in the very rare Neapolitan edition, printed
about 1475. An exact reprint of the Fuligno edition, with the different
readings of the other earliest editions, would he very acceptable ; and the
Museum now possesses good copies of them all.


Vendelin da Spira, printed at Venice in 1477. M. de Batines
gives to it the title of La DIVINA Commedia, apparently
through inadvertency, as he also does to editions printed in
1473, 1484, 1487, and 1491. The epithet DIVINA occurs
in no edition of the fifteenth century ; but at the end of this
of Yendelin, in some vehement helpless verses, we find the
expression, INCLITO et DIUO dante alleghieri Fiorentin poeta;
and later editions speak of the EXCELSO, GLOEJOSO, DIVING,
or VENERABILE poeta Florentine, long before they begin to
apply the title 1 of DIVINE to the poem itself. The text is
in general more accurate than that of Numeister ; and is
accompanied by a long comment, which the title -falsely,
as we shall see attributes to Benvenuto da Imola. I shall
give one specimen. The initial letters of the Terzine stand
wide apart from the lines, thus :

A mor chanullo amato amar perdona

miprese dicostui placer siforte

che come uedi ancor non mabandona
A mor condusse noi aduna morte

chain attende che uita cispense

queste parole dalor cifur porte
D achio intesi &c.

Inf. v. 103-9.

1478. The Milanese edition of 1477-8, called Nido-
beatine from the name of its editor, is the best of all the
early editions. There are at least two copies of it in the

1 In the Letter to Can Grande, Dante himself, speaking- of the Title,
TINI NATIONS, NON MORIBUS." He then gives the derivation of the terms
Comedy and Tragedy thus : ." Comasdia dicitur a ACW//?/, villa, et &&?, quod
est cantus, unde Comasdia quasi villanus cantus. . . . Tragcedia a rpayof,
quod est hircus, et hdf/, quasi cantus hircinus, id est foetidus ad modum
hirci." And after a'dding that Tragedy " speaks in a style elate and sub-
lime, and at the beginning is admirable and quiet, at the end or exit fetid
and horrible ;" while " Comedy begins with the asperity of a subject, and
ends prosperously, and speaks in a remiss and humble style ;" he says it
will be easy to see " why the present work is called a Comedy. For if we
consider the subject thereof, at the beginning it is horrible and fetid, being
Hell ; at the end prosperous, desirable, and grateful, being Paradise. And
if we consider the style of speech, that style is remiss and humble, being 1
the vulgar speech, in which even the women talk with one another.
"Wherefore it is evident why the work is called a Comedy." See also
Vulg. Eloq. ii. 4, where Dante again says : "In Tragedy we assume the
higher style, in Comedy the lower," &c.

The earliest and most other editions of the fifteenth century translate the

The Letter to Can Grande, as given in the London edition of 1842-3
(torn. iii. p. 269-284) is miserably incorrect, a,n<J quite unintelligible. I
quote from Fraticelli's edition.


Museum : one beautifully printed on parchment, the other
on the strong paper of those times. A long commentary,
generally attributed to Jacopo della Lana of Bologna, a con-
temporary of Dante, accompanies the text, which runs thus :

Costni non cibera terra ne peltro

ma sapienza & amore euirtute

e sua nation sara tra feltro efeltro
Diquella hamil Italia fia salute

per cui mori lauergine Camilla

eurialo etumo e niso diferute
duesti lacaccera Sec.

Inf. i. 103-9.

1481. The earliest Florentine edition is that of 1481,
with the comment of Landino. It is magnificent both in
size and form ; but greatly inferior to the Milan edition in
point of correctness. In the best copy of the Museum I
find no fewer than fifteen instances in which verses or whole
Terzine are left out, besides other errors. In all the copies
I have seen, there are at least Two Engravings, heading the
first and second cantos of the poem, while large blank spaces
are left above all the other cantos ; and in some rare copies
as many as Twenty are found, the last seventeen or eighteen
of which seem to be glued upon those blank spaces. On
the whole, this edition is a decided and very expensive fail-
ure ; but shows the ideas which the Florentines had learnt
to entertain of their great Poet. The comment of Lan-
dino, though reprinted more than fifteen times at Venice
and elsewhere, was never again printed at Florence. It is
the last edition from which I shall quote a specimen. The
words, as will be seen, begin to stand more regularly apart
from one another :

Incontinente intesi et certo fui

che questera la secta de captiui

a dio spiacenti et animici suoi
duesti sciagurati che mai non fur niui

erono ignudi et stimolati molto

da mosconi et da uespe cheron iui

Inf. iil 61-6.

1502. After these folio editions of the fifteenth century
comes the first Aldine, printed in 1502 ; and one is glad to
see so perfect a little volume. It bears the simple title of
LE TERZE HIME DI DANTE, in front ; and on the reverse,


ALAGHIERI. The text is said to have been taken from " a
manuscript copy of Cardinal Bembo, now in the Vatican."
Batines, torn. i. p. 60. The second Aldine edition, DANTE
DESCRITTIONE DEL POETA, printed in 1515, is of the same
size and form in every respect, page for page ; and has
woodcuts at the end, representing the position and shape of
the Inferno. I have had these two editions constantly at
hand, and have found the last of them even more correct
than the other.

1506. The second Florentine edition, COMMEDIA DI
MISURE DELLO INFERNO, published by Philippo di Giunta in
1506, is of the same small octavo size as the Aldine, and
in similar type ; but is much rarer than either of them, and
has many different readings. It is also very correct. My
copy contains Seven woodcuts, along with the Dialogue at the
end, though only Six are spoken of by M. de Batines, p. 65.

1507. The JUante aligljieri ^Florentine Ijislariaba,

with the comment of Landino, printed at Venice in 1507,
by Bart, de Zanni da Portese, is a rare and curious edition
with singular woodcuts, but of little practical value. The
words flow together in it, as in the editions of the fifteenth
century, though the text seems mainly taken from the

1516. The first edition with the title of DIVINA Corn-
media is said to be the one printed at Venice in 1516, by
Bernardino Stagnino de Monferra. It has become very
scarce ; and I have not been able to get sight of it to verify
the assertion. But in the neat and rare little Venice edition
of 1555, by Gabriel Giolito di Ferrarii, of which there is
a copy in the Museum, I do find that title.

1564. The three Venetian editions of 1564, 1578, and
1596, all in folio, with the comments of Landino and Vel-
lutello and many useful woodcuts, published by Giovambat-
tista Sessa and his Brothers, are simply and beautifully, and
on the whole very correctly printed. They are called Edizi-
oni del Gatto, from the printer's mark of a Cat with prey,


at each important stage of the work ; and then of a grave
larger Cat, sitting at the end of it : or Edizioni del Gran
Naso, from the striking portrait of Dante on the title-page.
The text of them is very nearly the same as the Aldine,
only a little modernized in spelling and punctuation. I have
used the edition of 1578.

1595. In 1595, the Academicians della Crusca, taking
the Aldine edition and comparing it with about one hundred
different Manuscripts, gave out their text of the Commedia,
in a somewhat shabby and very incorrect little volume.

Two of the four incorrect editions published in the sev-
enteenth century have the title : LA VISIONE, Poema di
Dante, &c.

1727. The text given by the Cruscan Academy was first
thoroughly corrected in 17267, by G. A. Volpi, professor
of philosophy at Padua ; and the edition of that date, su-
perintended by him, and printed at Padua by Giuseppe Co-
mino (hence called Edizione Cominiana), is much and de-
servedly noted for its accuracy, and has been more frequently
reprinted than any other.

1757. Zatta's large Venetian edition of 17578, rather
celebrated in this country, takes the text of Volpi with more
or less fidelity. It is gaudy, pretensions, and on the whole
decidedly ugly " with abundant engravings."

1791. No edition of the Divina Commedia had been
permitted at Home, till Lombardi's appeared in 1791, con
licenza de* Superiori. It is in three volumes quarto, with
long comment ; and is a good, faithful, honest edition, the
result of many years' labor. The text of it is taken from
the Nidobeatine of 14778 ; or rather, the Cruscan text,
as given by Volpi in the Edizione Cominiana, is altered on
the authority of the Nidobeatine, and of various MSS. to
which Lombardi had access in the Vatican and other libra-
ries at Rome. The worthy Friar gives only his initials, F.
B. L. M. C. (Fra Baldassare Lombardi, minor conventu-
ale) on the title-page.

1795. The magnificent folio edition of Bodoni, edited by
G. F. Dionisi a learned, but perverse and quarrelsome,
admirer of Dante was printed at Parma in 1795.


1807. The Leghorn edition by Gaetano Poggiali (IA-
vorno, Tommaso Masi et C\ 1807-13, 4 vols. 8 VO ) is in

Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriDante's Divine comedy: The Inferno. A literal prose translation with the text of the original collated from the best editions, and explanatory notes → online text (page 1 of 29)