DANTE: La Divina Commedia.
'The Inferno', 'Purgatory', 'Paradise'.
Read by Heathcote Williams.
Naxos Audiobooks 3 volumes.
9 discs DDD.
Inferno: NA309912 237m Purgatory: NA314312 257m Paradiso NA317912 237m
NA 317912 NA 317914 NA 309912
(Beware some confusion here. You would do well to e-mail Crotchet
before purchasing email@example.com)
Dante's towering contribution to the literary world continues to hold a
prestigious place almost seven centuries after it was written. The sheer
magnitude of imagination and philosophical thought that permeate the narrative
requires a lifetime of study and Naxos have done the world a great service
with the issue of this mammoth translation in three volumes read by the
inimitable Heathcote Williams. The text is punctuated by the at times haunting
sounds of medieval music, Gregorian Chant and other similar strains of sound
that add immense effect to the proceedings. Obviously in a translation of
such scale, Benedict Flynn needed to absorb certain dramatic elements and
changing the overall structure of the cantos but at the same time retaining
the intrinsic effect of the dramatic pathos. The result is a free flowing
storyline that is easily understandable and which also makes use of the rich
English vocabulary, although no real match for its flowery Italian counterpart
but beautiful nonetheless.
'The Inferno' is obviously the most fertile, not just for its bewitching
and at times horrifying imagination but also for the sheer misery that permeates
the souls of the damned. Heathcote Williams is in his element here whether
it is weeping the lament of the 'men become trees', the river of horror and
the roasting of Perillus, the gargantuan horror effects are never short of
surprise. It is difficult to choose a favourite canto from here but it will
suffice to say that the whole process of Hell left this listener distinctly
wary of the next evening! Memorable events such as the plight and lament
of Francesca da Rimini, the final cities of ice and the constantly horrifying
tortures of the damned make this 'Inferno' a hard act to follow especially
with Williams roaring out the lines like a man possessed. One also marvels
at Dante's impressive imagination in describing Lucifer, the true Prince
of Darkness, a gigantic figure of morose evil embedded in the freezing centre
of Cocytus. Fantastic stuff then and truly a great introduction to the journey
of Dante and Virgil.
'Purgatory' puts us in a calmer perspective but is still very enticing. Here
we meet souls who live in constant hope of seeing God and although their
troubles may be great, there is absolutely no comparison with the nether
regions of those eternally damned. Rather here a ray of hope flows through
each soul but their suffering is indeed impressive as they rue the time spent
away from the master with bitter remorse. It is interesting to note that
'Purgatory' is in the form of a swirling cloud and the ascent to Paradise
is simpler. Amongst the most interesting of characters we find are Polycletus,
a legendary carver, Tomyris, a Sicilian Queen and obviously St Stephen, the
first Christian martyr. There is still an element of menace but ultimately
Dante and Virgil are awestruck by the suffering still present in Purgatory
such as eyes sewn shut with threads of iron and similar tortures. The impressive
discussions of each canto add to the descriptive proceedings and the series
of plates at the end of the booklet enhance the descriptions.
'Paradise' is slightly more difficult to comprehend as most of the happenings
are metaphorical and indeed there is much philosophising. As we approach
the greater echelons of spirituality, Heatcothe Williams dazzles and mesmerizes
with his fantastic ability to conjure situations of marvel and awesome
achievement. The final dazzling chapters are truly remarkable for their holistic
brilliance. As Dante gets closer to Beatrice we begin to realize the importance
of her part in the proceedings and the final vision of God is as awesome
as it is perplexing.
A truly great project then, and one to treasure in the audiobook field.