Kathleen Verduin

title.none: de Rooy, ed., Divine Comedies (Kathleen Verduin)

identifier.other: baj9928.0406.001 04.06.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Kathleen Verduin, Hope College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: de Rooy, Ronald, ed. Divine Comedies for the New Millenium: Recent Dante Translations in America and the Netherlands. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003. Pp. 143. ISBN: $35.00 90-5356-632-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.06.01

de Rooy, Ronald, ed. Divine Comedies for the New Millenium: Recent Dante Translations in America and the Netherlands. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2003. Pp. 143. ISBN: $35.00 90-5356-632-5.

Reviewed by:

Kathleen Verduin
Hope College

This volume commemorates an unprecedented surge of Dante translation in the Netherlands between 1999 and 2002, remarkable in a country that, as one of the contributors points out, could boast no previous tradition of significant Dante scholarship. Preceded by Frans van Dooren's prose rendering of the entire Commedia in 1987, Jacques Janssen's prose Inferno appeared in 1999; Ike Cialona and Peter Verstegen's terza rima Commedia in 2000; and Rob Brouwer's Commedia, in blank hendecasyllables, between 2000 and 2002. The essays assembled here, arising from a seminar at the University of Amsterdam organized by Professor de Rooy (who also wrote the introduction to Brouwer's translation), contextualize "this fortunate and historic moment in Dutch Dante studies, unique in all the world," by comparison with contemporary translation activity in the United States.

Professor de Rooy's introductory distinction between translational strategies of scholarly restraint versus poetic inspiration pervades the collection. Paolo Cherchi's "The Translations of Dante's Comedy in America" briefly surveys early translations by Parsons, Longfellow ("accurate and elegant"), and Norton, along with the "stream" of new translations by Americans between 1904 and 1948--all reflecting a principle of "literalism," Cherchi acknowledges, derived from a nineteenth-century aesthetic and challenged by a newly emergent formalism that encouraged experiments with terzine and diction. Cherchi's evaluation of Ciardi (creative "transposition" rather than translation), Singleton (in prose, with a massive commentary ignoring issues of poetic form), Musa ("functional," but conveying something of Dante's stylistic range), Pinsky ("boldest of the experimental versions" but fixated on Dante's "narrative speed and brevitas"), and Durling (in cautious prose but attending "to the Muses as well as the philosophers") terminates at the appearance of Robert and Jean Hollander's blank verse version of 2000, in Cherchi's words "the fruit of wedding Philology and Poetry." The Hollanders then describe their collaboration, Robert ("Translating Dante into English Again and Again") as a scholar and teacher long engaged with Dante's text, Jean ("Getting Just a Small Part of It Right") as a poet concerned with the sound and shape of words. De Rooy's essay, "The Poet Translated by American Poets," traces a history of debate over adoption or rejection of terza rima.

Dutch translation of Dante is addressed in the last two essays, Paul van Heck's "Cio che potea la lingua nostra: One Hundred and More Years of Dante Translations into Dutch" and Pieter de Meijer's "Translating Dante's Translations." Noting that the modern Dante revival dates back no earlier than the 1760s, van Heck (with extensive charts) considers Dutch translations from A. S. Kok (1863-64) through Frederica Bremer (1941), paying close attention to material presentation, paratext, and illustration. I found this the most informative piece in the collection, sedulously researched and certainly new for most American readers. In nearly every case, Dutch translators worked outside the academy: Kok, a collector and enthusiast, taught in the secondary schools; Hacke van Mijnden, van Velzen, and ten Kate belonged to the ministerial class; Bohl, though creator of a Dante periodical, De Wachter, was primarily a legal scholar; neither the Bohemian Rensburg (his translation "doomed to become much less than modest") nor the classicist Boeken achieved much success. Probably most important was Christinus Kops (1876-1951), a Franciscan priest whose translation, according to van Heck, "still is capable of stirring up genuine emotions in the reader"; while the efforts of Betsy van Oyen-Zeeman vanished without a trace, Bremer's version remained widely read for half a century.

Finally, de Meijer speculates about cultural reasons for the sudden burst of Dante interest in the Netherlands, proposing Dante's paradoxical attraction for "a society that wants to free itself from any aesthetical and ethical rigidity, that refuses any transcendental point of view, and that speaks of standards and values mostly as objects of research"; de Meijer cites Janssen's clearly personal engagement, as a Roman Catholic, with Dante's spiritual journey. De Meijer examines also contemporary Dutch translators' artistic decisions regarding form, diction, and linguistic register (unlike Janssens, Cialona and Verstegen and Brouwer resist confinement to contemporary spoken Dutch; Janssen and Brouwer retain the Latin of Dante's biblical references, Cialona and Verstegen quote the authorized Staatenbijbel of the seventeenth century).

One notices a recurrent strain of modesty in this book, an awareness of the relative insignificance of Dutch interest over against the prodigious achievement of Dante scholarship and translation in the United States. I confess that it is mildly startling, even when (or perhaps because) Dutch is the language of one's ancestors, to find, for example, Dante's "come la mosca cede alla zanzara / vede lucciole giu per la vallea" (Inf. 26) rendered "als voor de mugger 't vliegenleger zwicht / glimwurmpjes ziet, die in het dal ronddwalen"; one recalls that no less an authority than Longfellow considered Dutch the ugliest language in Europe. But Dante himself invoked the Frisians honorifically (Inf. 31), and collections like van Rooy's serve to jolt the isolationism too often characteristic of the American academy, reminding us to our profit of the ongoing and reputable scholarly enterprise beyond our shores.