The Divine Comedy
February 8–April 12, 2022
Tuesdays • 6–8PM
*Space is limited
Join Fr Bob Sprott as a pilgrim on the journey as he leads this 10 week seminar on Dante’s Divine Comedy. Participants will accompany Dante through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven and discover the real geography covered in the Divine Comedy, that of the human mind and heart while simultaneously delving into the historical philosophical and theological background of the Middle Ages.
Fr. Bob Sprott
Fr. Bob Sprott, OFM, is a member of the Franciscans. He pursued doctoral studies in Linguistics at the University of Chicago, receiving his Ph.D. in 1992.
His work with the Franciscans has led him to the American Southwest, working with Pueblo and Hispanic villages, the Canadian Arctic, working in the Diocese of Churchill-Hudson Bay, and Guatemala, teaching and providing spiritual direction at a minor seminary run by the Benedictine monks near the city of Quetzaltenango, and also serving as an auxiliary chaplain at the regional medical center.
In 2000 he returned to the U.S. and began ten years in Chicago, all but two of which were spent at St. Peter’s in the Loop, the Franciscan service church in the center of the city. He now resides and serves in Michigan City.
Fr. Bob is a dedicated Dante enthusiast and has taught the Divine Comedy at the Newberry Library, as well as leading reading groups through the work on various occasions.
which translation of the Divine Comedy should you use?
There is no definitive English translation of the poem, and no single version of the work that is required for this course. There is one I have found to be the most serviceable in my teaching. The best thing to do is take a look at several of them, compare how the different translations treat the same passage, and go with the one that sounds best to you. If you get serious about Dante –you will end up with several translations, as well as a rudimentary knowledge of Italian, and at that point it will not matter much which version was your first.
Allen Mandelbaum’s translation in the one-volume Everyman’s Library edition with forty-two drawings by Sandro Botticelli, notes by Peter Armour, and an introduction by Eugenio Montale. This translation has an excellent chronology. Published by Alfred A. Knopf in the years 1980-84. Make sure what you’re ordering is the Mandelbaum, Knopf has recently replaced the Mandelbaum translation with one by John Ciardi. Type “isbn 0679433139” into Amazon’s search field. It is 798 pages long. Fr. Sprott prefers the Mandelbaum translation to the Ciardi. If you cannot find the Mandelbaum, the Ciardi will do nicely. Both are blank verse translations.
Dorothy Sayers and Barbara Reynolds
The translation with the top notes and introductory material. Penguin classics edition by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds. Fr. Sprott’s first ever reading of the Comedy was with this translation. The translation was used by Penguin until it was replaced by one done by Mark Musa. This is a terza rima translation and it appears in three separate volumes. The ISBNs for each volume are:
Volume 1: Hell 0140440062
Volume 2: Purgatory 0140440461
Volume 3: Paradise 0140441050
Robert and Jean Hollander
The new standard. Robert Hollander and Jean Hollander are a husband and wife team. Robert taught Dante for years at Yale, his former students are an army of Dante enthusiasts and experts. Both of them worked on the translation; the notes and introductory material are his. This is a free verse translation that relies heavily on the earlier work of John D. Sinclair and Charles Singleton. The notes are very thorough. If you continue your studies of Dante’s comedy, you are bound to read this version. The ISBNs for each volume are:
Volume 1: Inferno 0385496982
Volume 2: Purgatorio 0385497008
Volume 3: Paradiso 140003115X
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
One of the greatest American poets of the 19th century, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, did his own translation of the Comedy that was published in 1867. He kept it very close to the Italian original, it moves and flows. It is in the public domain, and there are many versions available, one of which has as its ISBN 1420951661. Most editions of the Longfellow translation have little explanatory notes or introductory material.
- Help participants adopt an approach to the work that places primacy on the original text versus explanatory materials
- Help participants to take delight in what is from start to finish a delightful work of literature. Although the term “commedia” in 14th century Italian is not quite the same as “comedy” in 21st century English, they have much in common. It’s a fun read and should be treated as such!
1st Session: Introduction
2nd Session: Inferno, Cantos II-XII.
3rd Session: Inferno, Cantos XIII-XXIII.
4th Session: Inferno, Cantos XXIV-XXXIV
5th Session: Purgatorio, Cantos I-XI
6th Session: Purgatorio, Cantos XII-XXII
7th Session: Purgatorio, Cantos XXIII-XXXIII
8th Session: Paradiso, Cantos I-XI
9th Session: Paradiso, Cantos XII-XXII
10th Session: Paradiso, Cantos XXIII-XXXIII