The Divine Comedy: I. A riveder le stelle

The Divine ComedyI’m finally starting to read “The Divine Comedy” (translated by Allen Mandelbaum) with my GR group. Departing from my usual practice of writing one review at the end, I’ll be jotting down my thoughts, findings and impressions as I read along, in a running series of posts, starting with this one.

Mandelbaum translated both Aeneid and Divine Comedy, and received awards for both. No other translator of DC has that distinction. More importantly, as a devout Jew who was familiar with Christianity and Greek mythology, he had a good all-around perspective on Dante’s work. According to many critics, Mandelbaum’s translation is a good balance between accuracy and readability. I read his translation of Aeneid and liked it. Unfortunately, by the time I finished the book, he had already passed away, though he was still alive when I started.


Mandelbaum wrote this inscription, which is the last verse of the first book “Inferno”. I think it captures the spirit of the whole book in a few words, just like his inscription in Aeneid. Others render it as “to see again the stars.” Mandelbaum, “to see–once more-the stars”, which I like better. Because “once more” conveys a sense of cherished hope and longing, as opposed to “again”, a sense of commonplace familiarity. It also reminds me of a few biblical passages (quoted below), which I believe Mandelbaum was familiar with. For devout Jews and Christians, “to see (once more) the stars” is not to daydream, or merely to contemplate the beauty of nature, but to remember the calling of God and His promise, the greatness of His power which matches that of His promise, and the hope of eternal glory. Mandelbaum reminds his reader, “A RIVEDER LE STELLE”, when he journeys through inferno and purgatory. As pious Aeneas cherishes the plain of Troy in his heart, so shall we see the stars as we journey on, in fiction, but much more so in life.

“Stars” in the Old Testament

Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”
Genesis 15:5

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
Psalm 8:3-4

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Those who are wise shall shine Like the brightness of the firmament,
And those who turn many to righteousness Like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:3

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