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The Divine Comedy – Dante

This is another one of those cases where I feel that a book I aim to review is out of my league. The Divine Comedy is absolutely beyond the scope of my review blog.  So I will attempt to not review it for its contents.

But what I feel is within my purview is a discussion of the performance of the audiobook, since that was how I made it through the somewhat difficult text.

The first time I tried to read Inferno, as a high-schooler, I wasn’t able to penetrate the form. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get past the second canto. It might have been because I was too focused on looking at it as an epic poem, a work of unparalleled religious zeal.

But listening to Edoardo Ballerini’s performance of the book on Audible was a completely different experience. The form—the epic poem—took a back seat to the wild fantasy that is contained in its stanzas. Ballerini brought the sense of the narrator’s fear and awe, his deep love for Virgil and his beatific image of Beatrice, his curiosity and horror and shame to the forefront of the experience. He gave form to the incredible landscapes of the circles of hell, purgatory, and paradise.

But even so, it took me weeks to listen to the 14-hour audiobook. It was a tough thing to commit to doing when I’d sit in the car—was I going to dive back into obscure references to Italians from the Middle Ages on this particular trip to Trader Joe’s?

Typically, when I listen to an audiobook, it’s all I do until the book is done. When I’m cleaning, cooking, eating, commuting—whatever I do, I power through the books. With Dante, though, I felt compelled to finish not by an eagerness to allow the story to unfold, but by a desire to check “Dante” off the list. And for what it’s worth, I’m glad I did. It’s a remarkable work of fantasy, horror, and rapture.

I think that I was only able to finish it this time thanks to the audiobook, so I’ll heartily recommend Edoadro Ballerini’s reading of Clive James’s translation of The Divine Comedy.

This audiobook is available on Audible, through Amazon.

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