Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) wrote his great poem, 14,233 verses in rhymed
tercets, between 1307 ca. and 1321. He called it "The Comedy" (the adjective
"Divine" was added by a Venetian editor in 1555 and has "stuck"). Its
narrative is based on a journey through the afterworld at Easter time in the
year 1300 undertaken, at Heaven's prompting, by our narrator himself -- or so
he would have us believe. In almost precisely one week he visits hell (the
72 hours recorded in the first part of the poem, "Inferno"), purgatory, where
saved souls cleanse themselves of the memory of their former sins (precisely
3.5 days spent on the mountain of Purgatory, situated at what we would call
the South Pole), and paradise, visiting the nine "starry spheres" above the
earth and culminating in the Empyrean, beyond space and time, where God and
all the blessed souls exist in continual bliss (approximately 1.25 days--the
time-telling function is much reduced in this part of the poem).

This week we are going to look at some words from "Inferno," drawn from a new
English verse translation done by my wife, the poet Jean Hollander, and me
and published three weeks ago by Doubleday. These words are not "key words"
in Dante's text, for these are generally words in common use, for instance,
"justice," which I would argue is as important as any other word in the
poem, but, like all the words collected by Anu for AWAD in recent years,
words that we are less likely to recognize. They all appear in an excerpt
from our translation, to give the reader some sense of their context and of
Dante's way of writing. -Robert Hollander, bobh@princeton.edu

(This week's guest wordsmiths: Robert is a professor of European Literature
at Princeton University, and his wife Jean is director of The Annual Writers'
Conferences at The College of New Jersey. They will appear in an online chat
on Jan 16, 2001. Details at http://wordsmith.org/chat/hollanders.html. -Anu)