Sunday, February 22, 2009

Book Bleg

Rome has a lot of very good bookstores both new and second hand and antiquarian, and quite a lot of outdoor book stalls where you can sometimes find very interesting stuff. Went to the Porta Portese market this morning and there were quite a few book stalls, both new and used. Some beautiful 18th century, calf-skin bound volumes of St. Alphonsus Liguori's moral theology in there. Didn't buy, but am keeping all in mind. (What I really wanted to spend a hundred Euros on was the portable Victrola).

I mention this only in passing because I am no longer in the market for books. It is an odd thing for me because treasure hunting in second hand book shops has been a pass-time for me all my adult life. The problem, of course, is that for the first time I am living in a country where the dominant language is not one I know well enough to read comfortably. Now you will say that the solution is to get off one's duff and learn the language. Lots to recommend that solution, I admit, and I am working on it. But I'm still at the Fun with Dick and Jane stage (or, more precisely, "uno di tè caldo e un cornetti di cioccolato, per favore...") and it will be a while.

I brought with me about twenty boxes of English language books and am going through a Jane Austen phase. I figure I've got to the end of my English books to learn enough Italian to start buying new ones.

But I would really like to revisit Dante. Of course, like everyone else, I read Inferno as a teenager. But that was rather a while ago, and Dante is a great part of the culture here, so it is time to go and have another look. And this time, the whole thing.

I've been told many times that the one to start with is the Dorothy Sayers translation. It has the best poetry and the best notes. Especially about the notes.

Then, once I've become more familiar with it, I thought I'd have a go at the Italian. One. Canto. At. A. Time.

It's not just any Italian I want to learn, it's good Italian. So I figured Dante would be a good place to start. Like starting English with Shakespeare (or more properly, Chaucer). Why not? Got to do something with myself when I've not got the internet at home.

The trouble with this brilliant plan is that I can't find a copy of the Penguin edition of the Sayers translation of Dante anywhere in the English language section of the Rome bookstores. There's lots of Dante, but no Sayers. There's this new guy, Mark Musa. Don't trust him. He sounds Newfangled. I like Sayers.


Anyone out there got a spare copy they want to post to Rome?


John said...

Sure. Drop me a note and tell me where to send them. They're a bit old and yellowy; Penguin editions were not printed for the ages. Dorothy Sayers didn't actually finish the translating before she died. The final bits were done by. . . hmmm. Barbara Somebody. I'll find them again and I can tell you who.

It's interesting that Montague Summers ( a very odd duck in his own right ) had no use for Sayers and used to claim that her translation was a scandal and that she didn't even know Italian. Don't know anyone else who ever thought that.

Anthony Esolen did the current Modern Library edition and it got wonderful reviews but I haven't seen it myself. (And to anticipate that next question, no I don't remember who the reviewer was but it was a name that impressed me at the time.) And "from my own knowledge" Esolen is a wonderful writer when he's not translating.



Anonymous said...

quite apart from the accuracy of translations (which I can't comment on), the explanatory notes in Sayers' edition are really helpful