So, which translation of Dante’s Inferno is best?

Further specification: for practical use in an undergraduate class.

If we have time, maybe we could also discuss why on earth a new translation of Dante seems to come out approximately every two months.

Posted in Help. 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “So, which translation of Dante’s Inferno is best?”

  1. simon Says:

    Mark Musa’s (the second-to-last Penguin edition) is very clear and has good notes.

  2. ovaut Says:

    Binyon’s and Kirkpatrick’s.

  3. Adam Kotsko Says:

    ovaut: What is especially good about those translations?

  4. Hill Says:

    I really enjoyed reading the Musa translation in college. Read all three.

  5. Aric Says:

    Singleton. (Read with commentaries if able.) Singleton doesn’t force the Italian into an English terza rima. He’s a brilliant scholar and does a fantastic job conveying Dante’s meaning. It’s a translation especially helpful for those with little to no knowledge of Italian (language, culture or history). Of course, I wouldn’t stop at the Inferno. One of the most engaging elements of the Divine Comedy is learning that much of what Dante thinks and says in Hell is misguided until his intellect is enlightened as he progresses towards Paradiso.

  6. Jason Goroncy Says:

    Adam, I’m no expert on Dante, but I am currently reading Clive James’ recent translation, and finding it brilliant. Are you familiar with it?

  7. Adam Kotsko Says:

    I just read a review in London Review of Books that claims it’s really terrible.

  8. David Says:

    Don’t know if you’ve seen this, but is a pretty good resource for this kind of question. The Hollander translation is also readable for free here (, with parallel Italian text. Also, about the Singleton, while I’ve heard very good things about his translation, it’s a prose rendering, and it’s also quite relatively expensive, especially if you’re also assigning the commentaries, so that might be a factor for class use.

  9. Jason Goroncy Says:

    Adam, there are many reviews to challenge Colin Burrow’s appreciation – or lack thereof – of James’ work. I plan to do a post on these sometime soon.

  10. Hugh Thomas Says:

    I like Esolen’s. I think it manages to get a nice flow in English, which also respects the movement of the Italian. This might sound like a minor accomplishment, but I really think it isn’t.

  11. mwerntz Says:

    I’ve used Esolen several times. Readable and provides helpful notes for the who’s who.

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