In order to read significant pieces of literature from the past, we almost always need it to be translated from the original language. We often see a lot translations of popular text, for example there are countless translations of Dante’s Inferno that are widely available. How can we be sure that the translation we are reading is the closest to the original text? The simple answer is: we don’t know. Unless one is equipped with the ability to read medieval Tuscan Italian then the reader isn’t getting the full story.
While translations can greatly change the original text it’s an important part of continuing the texts legacy. Due to the translations we have today the translations have opened up important stories to new audiences that wouldn’t have been able to read the original text. This opens up an entire culture that wouldn’t have been available before; it gives the reader a chance to see into the past. The reader must keep in mind that the author’s background, or beliefs may influence the text. In this paper we will be focusing on two authors: Robert M.
Durling, and Ciardi’s translations on Dante’s inferno Canto 10-12. Robert M. Durling was an American scholar, and professor emeritus of Italian and English literature at the University of California. He attended Harvard College and earned at Ph. D. in comparative literature from Harvard University where he studied Dante’s works. Robert Durling was recognized by the Modern Language Association along with the Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione prize for his work on the translation. He was a well-respected professor, and his translation was very well received.
John Ciardi was a pretty well known American poet and he also came from an Italian background. He begun translating Dante for his class at Harvard and then continued with the work throughout his time there, there are mixed opinions on his translation. Once the reader is aware of the author’s backgrounds it can give them a better sense of why the text is translated in a certain way. I preferred Durling’s version of the text, I believe that it was it was clear and precise in the re-telling of Dante.
Ciardi’s translation is affective because of his background as a poet, and changes the original text all together. Joan Acocella, a well-respected writer for the New Yorker, said “The constant stretching for a heartier, more modern and American idiom not only vulgarizes; it also guarantees that wherever Dante expresses himself by implication rather than by direct statement, Ciardi will either miss or ignore the nuance. ” A direct comparison between the two translations will show the differences in approach that both authors took.
In Canto IV, line 30 from Ciardi: “The marsh from which the stinking gasses bubble lies all about this capital of sorrow whose gates we may not pass without trouble. ” In Durling’s translation: “This swamp that breathes forth the great stench, grids the grieving city all about, where now we cannot enter without wrath. ” Not only is Durling’s diction much harsher than Ciardi’s, it also paint a vivid picture in your mind. The author’s diction, tone, and overall writing style cause each translation to greatly differ.
As discussed earlier Durling’s diction was much harsher but made the text much more alive. Words like “Stench, grieving, shattered, disdain, and grievous” jump off the page and truly portray Dante’s experiences. However I do believe that Durling’s text is slightly harder to read because of his word choices, that enhances the text. Ciardi’s text reads much more like a poem,“ With their palms they beat their brows, with their nails they clawed their bleeding breasts. And such mad wails broke from them that I drew close to Poet, overawed.
Durling’s translation reads much more than like a story that goes from one line to the next. To compare the two, the same line from Ciardi’s translation versus the same line from Durling’s: “With her nails each was tearing at her breast; they beat themselves with their palms and shrieked so loudly that for fear I drew closer to the poet. ” Durling’s seems much more direct than Ciardi’s. This could affect the reader and the way that the reader feels about Dante. It is important to look at different translations because each one can vary from the original text.
One of the main things that can influence the translations are the authors background, because where they come from, believe in, and writing styles. Ciardi career was mainly as a poet, so it makes sense that his translation reads more like a poem than a story. Durling had a much more academic career and his translation was very literal, and received awards for his translation. Not only does Durling create more vivid picture in your mind with his translations, its much more like a story. Tone and diction are expected to differ between translations because each author is going to inject his own writing style into the original text.