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Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Edited and with a Preface by Matthew Pearl

Introduction by Lino Pertile

A literary treasure rediscovered.

Pulitzer Prize winning poet and Dante enthusiast James Merrill praised the rare “priceless fidelity” of Longfellow’s groundbreaking translation of Dante and once commented “Why, oh, why is the Longfellow Comedy not in print?”

Now Longfellow’s translation of Inferno, which has been out of print for over forty years and largely neglected, finds a new life in this authoritative Modern Library edition — not just a reissue, but a rediscovery. This Modern Library paperback is set from the original 1867 Ticknor and Fields edition and includes Longfellow's two "Inferno" sonnets and all of Longfellow’s original “Notes and Illustrations” (selected excerpts and essays about Dante’s poem) from throughout the poet's lifetime, compiled by the editor for the first time as Longfellow intended them.

Dante Alighieri earned a strong reputation as a poet in Florence before political enemies banished him from his native city in 1302. Dante never again saw his wife and home. Under the protection of various patrons across Italy, Dante channelled his pain and loss into his great poem, The Divine Comedy, in which he told the story of a journey he made through the three realms of the afterlife — hell, purgatory and paradise. The poem is a love letter to God, a struggle to overcome personal weaknesses, and a powerful engagement with literature's history and future. Inferno, the portion of the poem dealing with hell, has consistently proven the most shocking and widest read part of The Divine Comedy.

The story behind Longfellow’s translation provides a compelling match to Dante’s own turmoil as a poet and exile. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow composed this powerful translation of Dante’s Inferno as part of his coping process in the aftermath of his wife’s death. He was assisted in his task by the group of prominent poets who rallied around him and christened themselves the "Dante Club." Longfellow’s much-anticipated translation made Dante’s visionary poem of traveling through the afterlife accessible to an American reading public for the very first time.

The two prefatory essays by Matthew Pearl and Lino Pertile provide new scholarly perspective on Longfellow’s personal and literary triumph. Matthew Pearl, editor of this edition, is an award-winning scholar of the reception history of Dante in America. Lino Pertile taught Italian literature at the University of Edinburgh and is now the heir to Longfellow’s position as Dante professor at Harvard University. He is the author of many important articles on Dante and the coeditor of The Cambridge History of Italian Literature.

Robert J. Wiersema in the Vancouver Sun calls this Modern Library edition of Inferno "the most interesting of the new arrivals" related to Dante, and says "it's the perfect companion piece to Pearl's novel The Dante Club."

Read the first “canto” of Longfellow’s translation


"Here at last that much suffering reader will find Dante's greatness manifest, and not his greatness only, but his grace, his simplicity, and his affection... Opening the book we stand face to face with the poet, and when his voice ceases we may well marvel if he has not sung to us in his own Tuscan."

William Dean Howells, The Nation

"As a crown to his literary life, Longfellow combines his exquisite scholarship and his poetic skill and experience in the translation of one of the great poems of the world."

Harper's Monthly

All original materials © Matthew Pearl.
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