Robert Hollander: Scholar-Translator

Robert Hollander with his wife, Jean Hollander, in his Princeton University office in 2001. On the desk is their translation of “Inferno,” the first volume of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” In the foreground is a bust of the writer to whom Professor Hollander devoted much of his life. Credit… Laura Pedrick.

Robert Hollander, Princeton Dante scholar and translator, died in April, 2021. The translation of “The Divine Comedy” which he produced in close collaboration with wife Jean Hollander (d. 2019), herself a poet, is said to be among the “smoothest” and most accessible of the English versions.

Jean Hollander provided the spark for the translation project in 1997. Peering over her husband’s shoulder as he studied a 1939 translation of “The Divine Comedy,” she pronounced the text to be “awful.” Challenged by Mr. Hollander to do better, she returned two days later with a “free-verse rendering of the text in current English idiom.” “That’s not bad,” he said.

Their role-based collaboration is evoked in a tableau of tropical bliss:

On trips to the beach during a family vacation on the Caribbean island of Tortola, Professor Hollander would don his clip-on sunglasses, Ms. Hollander would put on a sun hat and bring a picnic — and then the two would spend all afternoon debating cantos. They adjudicated microscopically fine distinctions, like whether sinners were hurled “down” or “below.”

(Alex Traub, “Robert Hollander, Who Led Readers Into ‘The Inferno,’ Dies at 87,” NYTimes, 6-8-21)

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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