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Dante, Part Uno

I’m re-reading Dante, for the first time since college. It’s The Inferno—of course!—in the Robert Pinsky translation. Then I’ll move on to the other two books in the Divine Comedy which, for some reason, seem like they’ll be much less interesting. I’d love to be able to read them in the original Italian. For one thing, the use of vernacular is one of the reasons why the books are called “comedy” (the other being the fact that they have a happy ending). But I really just want to get the full force of Dante’s terza rima rhyme scheme: aba, bcb, cdc, etc. Such as, at the beginning of Canto I:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

     mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,

     che la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era e cosa dura

     esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte

     che nel pensier rinova la paura!

It’s a bit agonizing to think of the sheer power of such a rhyme scheme over an extended reading, and realize that I’m missing it. Oh, well—every translation is a compromise, I guess. As Pinsky says in his Translator’s Note,

one way of dealing with the torturous demands of terza rima in English has been to force the large English lexicon to supply rhymes: squeezing unlikely synonyms to the ends of lines, and bending idiom ruthlessly to get them there.

Perhaps Bobbie Noto will be kind enough to read it aloud, and at least provide the auditory experience of the Italian language, while I’ll have to count my blessings, and be happy that at least I can still read Shakespeare in the original English. (Another answer would be to take Bobbie’s Italian class, but could I ever really approach a reading of Dante? Not with my course load, anyway!)

One thing that does come through in translation, though, is the staggering breadth of Dante’s imagination when it came to mapping his Hell and envisioning the full force of medieval Christian justice in all its severe manifestations. The place is fully realized: you can walk it, see it, hear it, feel it, taste it. And even the clumsiest translation couldn’t possibly diminish the power of such images as the monster, Geryon, “swimming” through the poisoned air.

So, what to make of this Dante Alighieri, this famous child of Florence who wouldn’t be half as famous had he not been thrown out of it? I have decidedly mixed feelings, but more on that in a future post…


Dreaming Italy

No, we won’t be going here! (Basilicata is too far south.) But it’s a gorgeous dream of Italy, nonetheless, and says a lot about the country, especially its people. When the narrator says, “I feel at home,” I know exactly what he means: I felt the same way on my last night in Florence many years ago, looking out over the city from the top floor of a building on the Piazza Santo Spirito.

Dreaming It{aly} from Matthew Brown (Matty Brown) on Vimeo.

Venice Struggles to Stay Afloat

Venice continues to battle the very thing that created it.

In an interesting new article at the web site ars technica entitled, “Under pressure: raising Venice above water (using… water?)”, hydrogeologist Scott K. Johnson writes about a new plan to save the city from sinking.

According to Johnson,

Two factors are exacerbating the flooding risk to the city: global sea level rise and subsidence. In short, sea is rising and the city is sinking. Like other cities built on river deltas, the sediment beneath the city is compacting over time. In a natural setting, this compaction would be offset by the deposition of fresh sediment at the surface, but the rivers feeding the lagoon were diverted in the 1500s.

The Italian National Research Council is using seismic data collected from oil companies to research the possibility of injecting water into the compacted clay in order to lift it 25-30 centimeters over 10 years. This would, in turn, alleviate pressure on the gates of the MOSE Project, which were designed to close off Venice’s lagoon from the sea almost 10 years ago.



Ciao, GCC!

“Italy and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” —Bertrand Russell

The first GCC Study Abroad trip to Italy will not take place until the end of May, but we’re too excited to wait. So, keep checking back for trip information, interesting web links, and blog posts on Italian history, art, current events, and anything else that helps us get through the next few months.

The details of the trip have just been posted to the GCC web site. Hope you can make it!


San Gimignano, from

Images of Tuscany

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