We lived through a summer of furnace-like heat, some may even have called it hotter than Hell. Add the social element or "Hell is other people" (Albert Camus) and you get Dante's "Inferno", part of his "Divine Comedy". Mary Jo Bang, professor of English at Washington University in St Louis, read from her translation of it yesterday.
She began by saying there are over 200 translations of "The Inferno" in English already, beginning with Longfellow's in 1862. So why do another one? Her motivation was a poem written in 2000 about the first three lines. Over the space of three years, mostly summers, she consulted Dante's original, 12 English translations of it, a prose version by Charles Singleton, and a good Italian/English dictionary to re-work "The Inferno" by "ironing out its syntax" and "making it of the moment" into modern English.
Ms Bang has long, coal black hair with fashionable bangs which frames her alabaster face. Barely taller than the podium she stood behind, Ms Bang's strong, clear voice thrilled the capacity crowd. She read the first and third Cantos and then took questions from the audience.
If you missed this reading, Ms Bang will read again at Left Bank Books at 7:00p.m. on September 18. Oh, and those first three lines? She writes:
"Stopped mid-motion in the middle
Of what we call our life, I looked up and saw no sky---
Only a dense cage of leaf, tree, and twig. I was lost."