Davis—who has translated classics as disparate as Don Quixote, Gilgamesh, and Le Morte d'Arthur—offers only sparse insight, in a brief introduction, into his sources, methods, or choices. One line, though, captures the spirit of this work: “If any explanations or clarifications are needed, they are embedded in the body of the text, so as not to interrupt the flow of the words.” That approach is exemplified by the moment when Dante and his guide, Virgil, enter a forest in Inferno, and Virgil bids Dante to break a twig off one of the moaning trees. Once the tree speaks, in a lament that Davis captures with some pained power, Virgil doesn’t just point out that Dante should have known from familiarity with Virgil’s work that there was a soul trapped inside—here, Virgil fully cites the source: “[I]f this man could only have believed what he had read described in my verses in the Aeneid.”
Readers seeking an accessible, inviting Divine Comedy will find Davis a welcome guide, despite some flat prose and the occasional tautology. (“Do not marvel if the Family of Heaven is still able to astonish you,” Virgil advises.) The lack of explanatory notes, especially concerning textual issues and the many figures from history and literature who populate Dante’s afterlife, limits this translation’s utility for students, but Davis still offers a clean, approachable rendering.
Takeaway: An inviting prose version of the classic journey from hell to heaven.
Great for fans of: Jason M. Baxter’s A Beginner's Guide to Dante's Divine Comedy, Eric Griffiths and Matthew Reynolds’s Dante in English.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B+
Publication date is July 1, 2021