Translating Dante


In literature classes, we often turn back to study "classics" that are hundreds of years old, and while the core message of these works remain intact, the once-contemporary references to politics, the snide remarks about rivals, and the nuances of a word that has since taken on another meaning can go whizzing past our heads unless we are given notes and annotations to explain. How, then, can we make these texts as funny and engaging for modern audiences as they were for the original readers? Or should we allow these texts to become literary artifacts? Mary Jo Bang, poet and professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis, explores the process she undertook in her recent translation of Dante Alighieri's Inferno, while Jessica Rosenfeld, medievalist and associate professor of English, explains why the Middle Ages are the origins of literature as we know it.