Rogue Wave: College
52 Movies: Week 34 - Tokyo Story

Dante Update

Several months ago I asked for recommendations for a Dante translation. Since then I've taken a look at Esolen, Musa, and James, and have settled on Esolen. I would have looked at Sayers, too, but it would have required inter-library loan, which I didn't want to bother with, since there seems to be general agreement that her translation is a little flaky. I may try to get hold of it at some time in the future, because I read her Inferno many years ago and thought the notes were really fine (on which there also seems to be general agreement, at least among Christian readers). 

James's translation is the one that in the pursuit of poetic vividness plays somewhat loose with the original, and eschews the heavy annotation and commentary that usually go with a translation.  It is an interesting effort, and it does seem to be lively. But I know it can't be Dante, and if I can't have Dante's poetry I want to at least have his vision and theology, for which I need the assistance of notes and commentary. Also, I wanted the Italian text, even though I don't know Italian.

Esolen and Musa seemed, at a brief look, more or less comparable poetically, so I chose Esolen because I know from various other writings of his that his commentary will be sound and insightful. 

So I picked up reading the Purgatorio with Esolen at about Canto 27. In Canto 30, where Dante encounters Beatrice, I looked at the Italian on the facing page, and saw

Guardaci ben! Ben son, ben son Beatrice.
(Look at me well! I'm Beatrice, I am she.)

And even though I only have a rough idea of what that should sound like, it gave me a thrill, and I think I heard a few notes of the real Dante there. It made me wonder if I could possibly learn enough Italian in a short time to read along in the original with the translation. 


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I tried Dante in Italian after translating an Italian book and itwas still impossible

I know I would never be able to just sit down and read him, but seems like with a little knowledge, and with the original and an English translation side-by-side, it might be possible to get the poetry as poetry, a few lines at a time. I used to be able to do that with German and to some extent French poetry, even though I could not possibly have read either language in isolation. But then that was many years ago and I've probably forgotten what little I knew of them.

Perhaps when you're done with Dante you can move on to Inferno, by Dan Brown in time for the movie premiere.

Good idea. I think most of western culture has been sort of a prelude to Dan Brown. We are privileged to be living at this moment.

Acting like the Dan Brown aberrations are not there and replying to the 11:10 PM comment--I have learned more Spanish from that side-to-side comparison and desperation than I ever did in a classroom. You can probably get some good results substituting desire for desperation.

I think that in the case of someone, like Grumpy, who knows Italian, it might make it more difficult because what you know gets in the way of what you are seeing in the text. (This has been a problem for me with Spanish.) You wouldn't be translating from Dante's Italian to Italian to English. You would just be going from Dante's Italian to English. And it might be fun, especially because you don't HAVE to do it.


I think it could be fun, especially if I could get some fairly quick reward. I don't do well with dull tasks with distant rewards. The reality, though, is that with all the things I've either definitely undertaken to do or am obliged to do, I don't have time to pursue this now. That puts it in the "maybe someday" category, which I have to accept at my age is likely to mean "never".

I always remember my Greek teacher telling us about a man who learned Greek in his 70s and translated Homer, and it was published. This gives me hope that I might get to some of that stuff if I actually get to retire before my 70s.


I still have the Selections from Homer's Iliad, With An Introduction, Notes, A Short Homeric Grammar, and A Vocabulary which I bought around the time I took one semester of introductory Greek in the early '70s. That soon turned into a "maybe someday" which is now an "almost certainly never."

I have half a shelf at least of Greek books.


Ancient, Attic, Koine, even a bit of modern. I have it all.


Gosh, Janet. Where and when did you get all those Greek books?

"I don't do well with dull tasks with distant rewards."

Me neither. Actually, I don't do well with tasks.

:-) Nor I, but better with some than others.

I hope you learned something from those books, Janet. And retained something. All I remember from my Greek class is that the prof told us that "Istanbul" is a corruption of something like "hays tain polis"--"to the city".

I had Greek in school for 5 years and remember almost nothing. Apart from the alphabet, all that's really stuck with me is translating a few lines of Sappho and what seemed a large chunk of Homer (probably in the range of 12 or 14 lines) – and not the words themselves, only the associated mental images. Which perhaps says something about the power of poetry, but maybe more about my poor head for languages.

A poor head for languages is an odd qualification for a translator.


Louise, Twenty years ago, I took a short course at a local Greek Orthodox Church which was more fun than work. I wanted to learn more so I found an enormous textbook from a university in the bookstore where my daughter work. It was ancient Greek. I studied that diligently for a good while and then motherhood intervened in one way or another. Don't remember what.

Then I found an Attic text/workbook at a homeschool book sale and that was easy and helpful.

Finally, I took two semester of Koine at the seminary. I was very good, but, alas, I hardly remember anything, which might be good because if I did, it would probably be interfering with the Spanish I have to speak at work.


There are people who can read and think in foreign languages fluently. I have to translate everything into English in my head anyway, so getting it down in writing is only slightly less effort. And my English is pretty good. That's the main thing: a translator only has to understand the source language; they have to produce the target language.

I've always felt a slight sense of grievance that I don't have a better head for languages, since grammar, spelling, etc. always came very easily to me, and I thought I sort of deserved it in compensation for being so bad at math.

I had two years of Latin in high school and remember almost nothing. I also had two years of German and it stuck with me more. It was reinforced by taking a year more in college, but the disparity seems greater than is explained by that.

I may be wrong, but I think that German is grammatically more like English and has a lot of cognates. Of course, there are lots of Latin cognates, too, but the grammar makes a big difference.

And then, the German would be talking about things that you talk about all the time, where my Latin was all dead bodies in the rivers and the Gauls losing their swords.

Did you speak the German a lot more in class?


When can we get a Homer update?

When you write one.


Touché, Janet!

I don't recall finding Latin any more difficult than German. And I have no idea at all what we read. In either class, actually. I think I did find German a little more interesting, though, so that, plus the extra year, might account for the retention. I found a lot of German words amusing, e.g. "krank" for "sick" and "krankenhaus" for "hospital."

Ich bin krank, Mac.

Gehen zie sum krankenhaus.

I didn't mean Latin is harder to learn only harder to remember maybe.


I know, but I thought there might be a connection. The cognates etc in German would also make it easier to learn. Although Latin has a good many cognates I guess they tend to be more distant.

I've not studied German, but I have a good friend who learned it as part of his philosophy studies. He said that one of the entertaining things about it, for an English speaker, is that, unlike English, German does not have two registers for "everyday" (for us, Germanic origin words) and "academic" (for us, Greco-Roman origin words) use. So German philosophers discuss their high-brow notions using what sounds to English-speakers like slightly crass or rudimentary diction.

I wish I knew an example to illustrate the point. Perhaps the 'sick' (Germanic) and 'hospital' (Latin) example is not a bad one. 'Krankenhaus' doesn't sound very refined to us.

Don't Austrians use Spital rather than Krankenhaus?

That does ring a faint bell but I don't know.

Yes, that is an entertaining thing about German. If you need a word for, say, the specific quality of being flexible and spheroid, you just jam some words together and get something like das Flexenspherichqualitat. Capitalizing it just makes it funnier.

Are y'all familiar with Mark Twain's The Awful German Language?

You're closer than we are, Marianne, you should go see.


Wilhelm, where is the turnip?

She has gone to the kitchen.

Where is the accomplished and beautiful
English maiden?

It has gone to the opera."

Oh, Bill and I have conversations like that. I think it's a matter of hearing loss.


Janet, I think it's about 5,000 miles between the East Coast of the U.S. and Austria, but about 11,000 miles between New Zealand and Austria.

It's a fur piece, down here.

Ha. I read Austrians as Australians.

See, I closed that html command. I can do it if I try.


I wondered about that "closer." Decided just to wait and see if it was cleared up.

"Oh, Bill and I have conversations like that. I think it's a matter of hearing loss."


I studied some Ancient Greek about 20 years ago too. Good times!

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