02 May 2011

COOL BOOK: That's "Detective Dante" to You

A couple of weeks ago I posted a slightly worshipful appreciation of Dante's Divine Comedy that included a number of images inspired by the work over the centuries.  My Beloved Spousal Unit recently gave me a gift for my birthday, a copy of Seymour Chwast's Dante's Divine Comedy: A Graphic AdaptationIt was my bedtime reading last night and this morning I am still chuckling.

Dante is portrayed as a kind of pulp, dime novel detective.  His guide Vergil wears the suit and spats of a Mafia Don. 

As a "translation" Chwast's version is hasty and, at best, floats along the very the surface of the plot.  But for all that, after all these years (almost 30) I finally found out what goes on in Book III: Paradiso, when Dante leaves Vergil behind and finds the redemptive light show of heaven; lead ever upward by his saintly former love, the divine Beatrice. Chwast's abbreviated style cuts through the glare of all the holiness and reveals what actually happens.  

Now I want to go back and try reading one of the "official" translations again, right through to the end, to see if I can see the story any better. 

I did something similar after reading Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.  Pullman's work had Milton's Paradise Lost as a primary inspiration.  I took two courses on Milton in grad school and could never manage to penetrate his often florid poetic style.  I tracked down a copy of Professor Dennis Danielson's Paradise Lost: Parallel Prose Edition. On one page is Milton's glorious, melodiously, intensely dense text.  On the opposite is a prose translation by Danielson which rings softly with it's own music and pith. 

What I found, as I found with Chwast and Dante, is a kind of tenderness with  regard for the human condition. People fail; they make mistakes; they are prideful and selfish.  But there is a winsome hopefulness: the last fluttering creature to emerge from Pandora's box.  The delicacy of its wings is misleading.  Hope is quiet but muscular in its effect.

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