Scholars at Wright




Dante's Inferno

Dante Alighieri's Inferno is widely hailed as the greatest Christian poem ever written. While the trappings and some of the characters are indeed Christian, though, the philosophy of punishment and justice espoused in the work owes more the the ancients and the Old Testament than anything in the New. The wayward traveler is guided through the circles of hell by an ancient poet and shown the myriad schemes of punishment extant in the afterlife.

Dante's work was also scathingly autobiographical. His poetic avatar in the work mentions his military service at the battle of Caprona, as well as containing numerous echoes and citations of his earlier poetry.

The edition of Dante's Inferno used in the Scholars at Wright course is a new 'verse translation' by Poet Laureate of the United States Robert Pinsky. He states regarding his translation that "Italian is rich in rhyme, while English-despite having a far greater number of words-is relatively poor in rhyme. Therefore, the triple rhymes of the original can put tremendous strain on an English translation. One response to this strain ... 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. This translation rejects that solution and instead makes a more flexible
definition of rhyme..."

Pinsky's efforts were widely viewed as successful. in Edward Hirsch's review for the New Yorker,
he states that "Robert Pinsky's verse translation is fast-paced, idiomatic and accurate. It moves
with the concentrated gait of a lyric poem... It maintains the original's episodic and narrative velocity while mirroring its formal shape and character... Pinsky succeeds in creating a supple American equivalent for Dante's vernacular music where many others have failed." 

Professor Edward Mogul, Wright College, began his discussion of Inferno by looking at the environment surrounding the primary characters (Dante and Virgil) at the beginning of the novel. Issues of darkness, confusion and savagery surround Dante as a starting point to his journey in the exploration of not just where he is the world and but also who. The contemporary context of the original writing is also examined in the course of Professor Mogul's lecture: Marco Polo's journies to China, the powerful influence of the Catholic Church, widespread illiteracy and the reputation of poets as somehow "divinely mad." In addition, the recurring theme of circles, or levels, where the variety of historical characters whom Dante encounters inhabit, is explored in terms of the consequence of behaviors during their lives.

Professor Rocco Blasi, Wright College, also began by looking at the symbolism of the environment of the beginning of the Inferno. However, Professor Blasi discussed the idea of embedded cultural meaning behind the multiple images - such as the animals - and how they were used to represent ideas in Dante's culture at the time. Gifted with the ability to speak seven languages, Professor Blasi also talked about the way in which translations can affect meaning. To this end, he compared a short passage in two texts: the original Italian in which the novel was written and the modern translation used by the class. It was shown that given the interpreted meaning by the modern translator, mulitple realities could be inferred from Dante's writing. The result in this case was that a common respectful bow from the time of Dante was omitted in favor of a more evocative movement of the eyes. Professor Blasi went on to field questions from the class for the second half of his lecture and ended by praising Dante's poetic prowess with his neglected Italian of the time.

To register or for inquiries, email Professor Edward Mogul at 


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Scholars at Wright