When you think of Dante, do you think of Longfellow too?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882) was an American poet and educator whose works include “Paul Revere’s Ride“, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline. He was also the first American to translate Dante Alighieri‘s Divine Comedy.
Longfellow spent several years translating Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. To aid him in perfecting the translation and reviewing proofs, he invited friends to weekly meetings every Wednesday starting in 1864. The “Dante Club”, as it was called, regularly included William Dean Howells, James Russell Lowell, Charles Eliot Norton and other occasional guests. The full 3-volume translation was published in the spring of 1867, though Longfellow would continue to revise it, and went through four printings in its first year.

He was also important as a translator; his translation of Dante became a required possession for those who wanted to be a part of high culture. He also encouraged and supported other translators.

Is Longfellow’s translation of Dante the best?

 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s translation finds a new champion in Joseph Luzzi, in “How to Read Dante in the 21st Century” in the online edition of The American Scholar:

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… one of the few truly successful English translations comes from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a professor of Italian at Harvard and an acclaimed poet. He produced one of the first complete, and in many respects still the best, English translations of The Divine Comedy in 1867. It did not hurt that Longfellow had also experienced the kind of traumatic loss—the death of his young wife after her dress caught fire—that brought him closer to the melancholy spirit of Dante’s writing, shaped by the lacerating exile from his beloved Florence in 1302. Longfellow succeeded in capturing the original brilliance of Dante’s lines with a close, sometimes awkwardly literal translation that allows the Tuscan to shine through the English, as though this “foreign” veneer were merely a protective layer added over the still-visible source. The critic Walter Benjamin wrote that a great translation calls our attention to a work’s original language even when we don’t speak that foreign tongue. Such extreme faithfulness can make the language of the translation feel unnatural—as though the source were shaping the translation into its own alien image.

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Longfellow’s English indeed comes across as Italianate: in surrendering to the letter and spirit of Dante’s Tuscan, he loses the quirks and perks of his mother tongue. For example, he translates Dante’s beautifully compact Paradiso 2.7

L’acqua ch’io prendo già mai non si corse;

with an equally concise and evocative

The sea I sail has never yet been passed:

Emulating Dante’s talent for internal rhymes laced with hypnotic sonic patterns, Longfellow expertly repeats the s’s to give his line a sinuous, propulsive feel, which is exactly what Dante aims for in his line, as he gestures toward the originality and joy of embarking on the final leg of a divinely sanctioned journey. Thus, Longfellow demonstrates the scholarly chops necessary to convey Dante’s encyclopedic learning, and the poetic talent needed to reproduce the sound and spirit—the respiro, breath—of the original Tuscan.

Read the whole essay here – it’s fairly short and very interesting.

https://bookhaven.stanford.edu/2016/03/is-longfellows-translation-of-dante-the-best-one-writer-makes-the-case/

Italy is a place where retirement is welcome

But it is rare for [Italians] to view work as anything but a necessary evil. A survey commissioned by the weekly newsmagazine Panorama in 2006 found that two-thirds of Italians would give up their work if they could be guaranteed the relatively modest sum of € 5,000 a month.

In the same way, retirement is usually seen as entirely positive. There seems to be none of the fretting that goes on in Anglo-Saxon societies about how to cope with a loss of identity.

I have known plenty of Italians who have gone into retirement, and sometimes I have bumped into them in the street or when they have made a return visit to the offices where they worked. Not once have I heard any of them express anything but unmitigated delight at no longer having a job.

Silvio Berlusconi was still prime minister at the age of seventy-five. Mario Monti, who replaced Berlusconi in 2011, took over as head of government when he was sixty-eight. His cabinet, which was brought in as a new broom that would sweep clean and introduce wide-ranging reforms, had the highest average age of any in the European Union at the time.

And after the election that followed the fall of Monti’s government, the new parliament reelected a president, Giorgio Napolitano, who was eighty-seven. For truly untrammeled “gray power,” however, nothing compares with the universities. A study published as Monti and his ministers were settling in behind their highly polished desks found that the average age of Italy’s professors was sixty-three and that many were still clinging to their positions and the vast patronage they were afforded when they were well over seventy. Their average age was the highest anywhere.

It means that young Italians are not just imbibing the theories and attitudes of the previous generation, which is natural, but of the one before that, and in extreme cases even the one before that. The appointment of two younger prime ministers, Enrico Letta in 2013 and Matteo Renzi in 2014, has led to a rejuvenation at the highest levels of government. Renzi became Italy’s youngest ever prime minister at the age of just thirty-nine. And he set about naming a cabinet that included a party colleague who was only thirty-three at the time of her appointment.

But it remained to be seen whether the process would extend to other areas of Italian life, and particularly higher education. The role played by the elderly in the formation of Italy’s future elite continued to represent a formidable obstacle to innovation, modernization and the rethinking of established ideas. This may have some link to the enthusiasm with which so many young Italians embrace the culture of their parents. Perhaps the most striking example of this is to be found in the area of rock music: currently the ages of three of the most popular singers are fifty-two, fifty-six and sixty. Aging rock stars have kept going.


Hooper, John. The Italians, Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

The Marshall Plan

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FROM JUNE 1947 to its termination at the end of 1951, the Marshall Plan provided approximately $13 billion to finance the recovery and rehabilitation of war-torn and postwar weary Western Europe.

In today’s dollars that sum equals roughly $100 billion, and as a comparable share of U.S. Gross National Product it would be in excess of $500 billion.

It was a mammoth sum, more than the United States spent to govern itself in the first fifteen years of the twentieth century.

More than the provision of dollars and aid, the Marshall Plan was the cornerstone of American foreign policy for much of those formative and consequential postwar years.

It was a monumental undertaking and—echoing Walt Whitman’s famous lines—it contained multitudes and contradictions.

For, after the war, Europe increasingly found itself looking across the Atlantic to the United States. The United States was the only power whose economy had flourished during the war. Europe needed the goods and natural resources abundant in the United States to fuel its recovery.

But, at the same time, Europe was not able to offer the United States goods or resources in return, nor could it draw on stores of investments or invisible earnings (like shipping or insurance).

Europe had a balance-of-payments problem with the United States: in 1946 Europe’s overseas trade debt was $5 billion and growing. It was known as the “Dollar Gap.” It was the key problem looming behind Europe’s incipient recovery and it was becoming dire.

From 1941 to 1945, American industry had mobilized its prodigious production capacity for the war effort.

By the end of the war, thirteen rationing programs were in effect, covering scarce commodities ranging from gasoline and shoes to sugar and red meat. Consumer goods such as refrigerators and automobiles were largely unavailable. Women were asked to leave the home and enter the workforce. By one count more than a quarter of American wives worked for pay during the war.

Americans were asked to save as never before. In 1940, personal savings amounted to around $4 billion. By 1945, it was $137.5 billion. All of this sacrifice was summoned after a decade-long economic depression.

 

from Behrman, Greg. The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Time When America Helped Save Europe. Free Press. Kindle Edition.