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ITALIAN BOOKSHELF

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ITALIAN BOOKSHELF

     & REVIEWS NOTES

    Dante Alighieri, Rime, a cura di Domenico De Robertis, voll. 5 (“I documenti”, voll. I-II, pp. IX-LX, 431; 435-991; “Introduzione”, voll. III-IV , pp. 9-722, 723-1237; V,

    “Testi”, pp. 9-595), Firenze, Casa Editrice Le Lettere, 2002.

    Credo di essere un privilegiato per avere sullo scrittoio, ricevuti in omaggio, i cinque volumi delle Rime di Dante curate da Domenico De Robertis: mi ritengo tale perché questa monumentale opera vient de paraître (è stata pubblicata alla fine di giugno) e forse

    è appena arrivata in libreria, per cui sento il dovere di segnalarla a tutti i dantisti e agli italianisti in generale, assidui lettori degli Annali d‟Italianistica. Dico ―segnalare‖ e non

    ―recensire‖ perché lascio questo compito a chi ha maggiori compentenze per farlo, e se

    anche le avessi non ci sarebbe materialmente il tempo di esaminare le 2800 e più pagine complessive di questi volumi, pagine in cui, se ne può essere certi, non v‘è una riga superflua.

    Grandi erano le aspettative, perché la meritoria edizione di Barbi, poi l‘aggiornamento di Pernicone e in seguito l‘edizione di Contini, impegnata sul versante del commento e non su quello ecdotico, avevano fatto il loro tempo: anche in filologia il tempo passa per erodere, benché sembri procedere con maggior lentezza che per altri lavori umani. E l‘attesa è venuta crescendo per circa mezzo secolo, cioè fin da quando nel 1957 Domenico De Robertis ebbe l‘incarico dalla Società Dantesca di censire i manoscritti delle rime dantesche in vista di un‘edizione, e specialmente da quando

    cominciò ad annunciare i primi risultati di questo immenso lavoro nel Censimento dei

    manoscritti delle rime di Dante, pubblicato negli ―Studi Danteschi‖ tra il 1960 e il 1970. Imprese del genere hanno elementi da ―scommessa‖, non solo per dominare una materia

    così vasta e complessa ma anche per vivere il tempo necessario per portarle a termine, e purtroppo non è facile fare piani di longevità. Il curatore ha avuto la buona fortuna di vincere entrambe le difficoltà, e con quest‘opera ci invita a partecipare di essa.

    I primi due volumi offrono il regesto e la descrizione dei manoscritti e delle stampe fino alla ristampa della Giuntina del 1532. Il primo volume de ―I documenti‖ copre le sedi Austin-Firenze (Collezione del Marchese Paolo Ginori Venturi Lisci); e il secondo volume le sedi Genova-Wien. Segue una sezione dedicata ai manoscritti perduti o irreperibili, e quindi la sezione per le stampe. Chiudono il volume gli indici, curati da Giuseppe Marrani: indici dei nomi e delle opere anonime, dei copisti, e delle rime non dantesche, dei manoscritti non descritti, e infine delle rime di Dante e dei suoi corrispondenti ―secondo l‘ordine di Dante ‘21‖ (ossia del testo critico pubblicato dalla Società Dantesca nel 1921). Inutile dire che la completezza del censimento e la descrizione dei manoscritti costituisce uno strumento di lavoro fondamentale per chi si occupa della poesia del Due e del Trecento, e sarà decisamente il lavoro più affidabile venendo da uno studioso unanimemente ritenuto il massimo esperto in materia.

    Il secondo volume in due tomi costituisce la ―Introduzione‖ in cui viene esaminata la tradizione dei testi. Il primo tomo contiene un solo capitolo dal titolo ―La grande tradizione‖, in cui si stabiliscono i rapporti genetici e di parentela tra i manoscritti in

    famiglie e delle famiglie tra di loro. È il lavoro più delicato dell‘ecdotica sul quale poi si Annali d‟italianistica 20 (2002)

460 Annali d‟italianistica 20 (2002)

    costruisce l‘edizione. Il secondo tomo contiene otto capitoli: II) ―le canzoni del ‗Convivio‘‖ ; III) ―Le rime sparse‖; IV) ―La tradizione estravagante delle rime della ‗Vita Nova‘‖; V) ―Problemi di attribuzione: certezze, accertamenti, dubbi‖; VI) ―La tradizione editoriale‖; VII) ―L‘ordinamento delle rime‖; VIII) ―Criteri generali d‘edizione e veste formale‖; IX) ―I codici descritti‖. Si tratta della parte più importante di tutta l‘opera perché l‘edizione dipende dalle conclusioni raggiunte in questa sede. De Robertis non costruisce alcuno stemma, essendo impossibile mettere sullo stesso piano tradizioni unitarie così diverse come quella della Vita nova e del Convivio rispetto a quello delle

    Rime; ciò non significa che l‘edizione di ogni componimento non sia ―critica‖.

    Il terzo volume è dedicato all‘edizione. Intanto l‘ordine dei componimenti è quello discusso nel cap. VII dell‘Introduzione, ed è diverso da quello proposto da altri editori. Ogni componimento ha una premessa filologica e gli apparati, pur essendo ―strettamente negativi‖, sono di facile consultazione. Non sono pochi i componimenti ―restituiti a Dante‖, a cominciare dalla canzone ―Aï faus ris‖. Manca il commento propriamente letterario, ma a prepararlo attende lo stesso De Robertis: lo attendiamo.

    Una recensore impegnato troverà illuminazioni, conferme e potrà anche dissentire su qualche decisione, come accade per tutti i lavori di questa mole e che più si avvicinano alla perfezione; ma è sicuro che da questo lavoro nessuno potrà prescindere. Il tempo dirà, ma per il momento si ha l‘impressione d‘avere sul tavolo di lavoro un‘opera di importanza epocale per gli studi danteschi. Per questo gli Annali d‟Italianistica hanno

    voluto segnalarlo tempestivamente.

    Paolo Cherchi, University of Chicago

Dante and His Translators: Dante Alighieri, Inferno, translated by Robert

    Hollander and Jean Hollander; introduction and notes by Robert Hollander, New York: Doubleday, 2000, pp. 634.

    Not one single year goes by, or so it seems, without the publication of a new English translation of one of Dante‘s works. Let us just make very brief references to some of the translations of the so-called minor works of Dante: Dante‘s lyrics poems (Joseph Tusiani, Brooklyn: LEGAS, 1992; 2000); the translation of Dante‘s Vita nuova with facing Italian

    text (Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1995); the two translations of Monarchia (Prue

    Shaw, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995; Richard Kay, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1998); and the Fiore (Christopher Kleinhenz and Santa Casciani,

    Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 2000).

    As far as the Comedy is concerned, counting only what I have in my personal library, I can list the following: 1993, Dante‟s Inferno: Translations by Twenty Contemporary

    Poets (Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press), with notes (169-99) but no Italian text; 1994, The

    Inferno of Dante, A Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky, illustrated by Michael Mazur,

    with Notes by Nicole Pinsky (377-427), foreword by John Freccero (xi-xix; New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux), with facing Italian text; 1996, The Divine Comedy of Dante

    Alighieri, vol. 1, Inferno (New York: Oxford UP), edited and translated by Robert M.

    Durling, notes by Ronald L. Martinez and Robert M. Durling (a massive volume of 654 pages); 2000, Purgatorio, a new verse translation by W. S. Merwin (New York: Knopf), with facing Italian text and notes (333-59). Finally, at the conclusion of the second

    Annali d‟italianistica 20 (2002) 461

    millennium of the Christian era, there appears Robert and Jean Hollander‘s new translation of Dante‘s Inferno, with an introduction, facing Italian text, and notes.

    One can easily understand the motivations that prompt recognized poets such as Pinsky and Merwin to put themselves to the test in rendering in English what Kenneth Clark called humankind‘s greatest philosophical poem and what has become the greatest best-seller ever right after the Bible. At the same time, one cannot help but ask what reasons might prompt accomplished Dante scholars not only to provide a commentary to the Comedy, which is obviously the scholar‘s task, but to embark on a journey as perilous as that of rendering in English Dante‘s Comedy, which let us not forget has been

    called Divine for longer than four centuries (by Ludovico Dolce in 1555), thus making its translation in any language, as it were, rank among one of the many human impossibilia.

    Unquestionably, what spurs poets and scholars to confront themselves with Dante‘s

    Comedy is neither hubris nor humility but rather their devotion to and their love for the great poet. And to all such poets and scholars all readers are much indebted.

    The genesis of the new translation, with commentary, by Robert and Jean Hollander is sufficiently described at the book‘s beginning (―Note on the Translation‖ vii-ix).

    Making their own what Montaigne says of his Essays, the two translators state: ―Reader,

    this is an honest book‖ (vii). Such straightforwardness is so unusual and striking that the

    readers who are not immediately won over by it may be at least disarmed by whatever prejudices they might have at first. The readers‘ benevolence is further conquered by the additional disclaimers that follow: ―This is not Dante, but an approximation [...]‖; ―Every translation begins and ends with failure‖ (vii); and finally, at the conclusion of the ―Note‖: ―It is our hope that the reader will find this translation a helpful image to the untranslatable magnificence of Dante‘s poem‖ (ix). In brief, the translation is viewed as a means to approach Dante himself in the Italian text, available to the reader next to the English version.

    The two translators‘ ―Note‖ provides further information worth the readers‘ attention: ―The accuracy of the translation from the Italian text established by Giorgio Petrocchi [...] has been primarily my [Robert Hollander‘s] responsibility, its sound as English verse primarily that of the poet Jean Hollander [...]‖ (vii). That the two translators view their translation as poetry, in fact, is reiterated shortly below in the same introduction (―a new verse translation‖ vii); the same epithet (―A verse translation‖) also appears on the volume‘s dust jacket, although it does not appear as part of the book‘s title.

    Further comments in the ―Note‖ emphasize the introductory statement concerning the book‘s honesty. Thus credit is given to several Italian commentaries, especially that of Francesco Mazzoni and Bosco/Reggio, to the paraphrases provided by H. E. Tozer (1901), and to an earlier translation begun by Patrick Creagh and Robert Hollander. Moreover, the Hollanders profess their debt not only to Singleton‘s but also to Sinclair‘s translation (New York: Oxford UP, 1939). Such a straightforward avowal cannot but be much appreciated; at the same time, the two translators take it upon themselves to make Singleton recognize what he failed to do in his translation of the Comedy, as we read at

    the end of the first volume of Singleton‘s six-volume translation and commentary: ―[...] I

    have constantly kept before me a considerable number of other English translations [...]. I have incurred a great debt which, regretfully, cannot be acknowledged in any detail‖ (Inferno 1, ―Note‖ 372). What no honest teacher and no honest scholar would consider

    permissible namely, consulting and borrowing without quoting Singleton thought

    he could do, and in fact he did without being faulted by his few reviewers. (E.g.: Morton

462 Annali d‟italianistica 20 (2002)

    W. Bloomfield, Speculum 48 [1973]: 127-29; Speculum 51 [1976]: 116; Speculum 52

    [1977]: 644-45; also: C. B. Beall, Comparative Literature 28 (1976): 164-65.)

    Strengthened by a temporal perspective, a review essay of Singleton‘s six-volume Divine

    Comedy appeared in Annali d‟italianistica 8 [1990]: 104-14, penned by Rocco Montano,

    who, among many other comments, reflects negatively on Singleton‘s prose rendering of Dante‘s masterpiece: ―[...] una prosa preoccupata della fedeltà ma del tutto incurante di rendere le sfumature formali, ritmiche, le variazioni del linguaggio, che pur fanno parte della poesia di un‘opera [...]‖ 105.)

    What is surprising and also refreshing, therefore, is that the Hollanders state categorically Singleton‘s debt to Sinclair‘s translation, although Singleton never acknowledges any of the borrowings he admits to in general terms. The Hollanders write: ―To his [Singleton‘s] credit, his changes [of Sinclair‘s translation] are usually for the better; to his blame is his failure to acknowledge the frequency of his exact coincidence with Sinclair‖ (viii). The paragraph concludes with a forceful statement: ―Let there be no mistake: the reason our translation seems to reflect Singleton‘s, to the extent that it does, is that ours, on occasion, and Singleton‘s, almost always, are both deeply indebted to

    Sinclair‖ (viii).

    Before verifying Singleton‘s and the Hollanders‘ debt to Sinclair, one might find it worthwhile trying to determine whether Sinclair, whose translation appeared in 1939, is indebted to any of his many predecessors. The fact is that Sinclair recognizes his ―indebtedness to the commentaries‖ of many Italian, American, and British scholars, including the Temple editors (Sinclair‘s 1977 reprint, Inferno, ―Preface‖ 11-12); as to his

    translation, however, although he acknowledges borrowing ―an occasional phrase from

    one or other‖ of his predecessors (Inferno, ―Preface‖ 9), Sinclair singles out none, thus

    giving the impression that he hardly owes any debt to anyone, and regrettably proposing the same strategy of concealment to be followed a few decades later by Singleton.

    And yet, Sinclair‘s indebtedness to the previous translators of Dante has already been recognized and outlined by scholars, primarily Gilbert F. Cunningham. In his two-volume study titled The Divine Comedy in English: A Critical Bibliography, vol. 1, 1782-

    1900; vol. 2, 1901-1966 (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1965 and 1967), Cunningham

    establishes Sinclair‘s debt to (just to name a few of Dante‘s prose translators) Charles Eliot Norton (―Sinclair‘s version is nearer to Norton‘s [1891-92] than to any other [...]‖

    2:164) and the Temple Classics‘ translators (2:166). At the same time, Cunningham reminds us that Norton himself ―praises the prose versions of Carlyle, Dugdale [Purgatorio 1883], and Butler [Purg.1880; Par. 1891; Inf. 1892], and acknowledges his

    indebtedness to the latter [...]‖ (1:160). Thus, as far as the Inferno translation is concerned,

    the ancestral lineage links, in very broad lines, Singleton not only to Sinclair but also to Norton, Dugdale, Butler, and ultimately to John Aitken Carlyle (1801-1879), the younger brother of Thomas Carlyle. J. A. Carlyle‘s translation first appeared in 1849 and then in 1867 with some revisions and corrections (Cunningham 1:56); finally, with ―less than a hundred changes‖ by H. Oelsner, Carlyle‘s translation ―now forms the first volume of the Temple Classics edition [first appeared in 1900] of the Divine Comedy‖ (Cunningham 1:51). Cunningham‘s concluding lines on J. A. Carlyle‘s translation should be etched in stone: ―Like Cary [Inf. 1805-07; The Vision 1814] and Longfellow [1867], Carlyle has

    earned the right to have his name permanently linked with that of Dante among the English-speaking peoples‖ (1:51).

    Annali d‟italianistica 20 (2002) 463

    This same very illustrious ancestry, whether acknowledged or unacknowledged, can thus be claimed, at least to a certain extent, by Robert and Jean Hollander‘s translation of the Inferno. The following quotation of the beginning of the Inferno (1:1-9) will help the

    reader understand the extent to which four translators, spanning two centuries, are inextricably linked together.

    Carlyle:

    In the middle of the journey of our life I came / to myself in a dark wood where the straight / way was lost.

    Ah! How hard a thing it is to tell what a wild,/ and rough, and stubborn wood this was, which / in my thought renews the fear!

    So bitter is it, that scarcely more is death: but / to treat of the good that I there found, I will / relate the other things that I discerned./

    [In the above quotation, the slash indicates the end of the line, which equals the width of the page; in Carlyle‘s translation available in the Temple Classics, each terzina,