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An explanation is certainly due from any one who, at this late day, undertakes to make a contribution, however small, to the enormous mass of Dante literature. Of translations into English there are many; and, if no one of them is absolutely satisfactory, the reason must be that it is impossible to transfer the spirit of the great poem as a whole from one language to another. But it is possible that some parts of the poem suffer less than others by such translation; and, with this idea in mind, I have made a selection of passages that appeared to breathe more of the modern than the mediæval spirit, and for which, therefore, a satisfactory English equivalent might more readily be found.
I do not undertake to say that these are the only passages suited to the purpose.
They appeal to me for various reasons apart from
the possibility of bringing their beauty, their irony, or their pathos within the reach of the reader who is not acquainted with the original. I cannot but think that many such readers, whose enthusiasm might fail to carry them over subtle dissertations on Aristotelian philosophy or Florentine politics, may yet obtain from these selections a very fair idea of the flavor of the poem. On the other hand the ever-increasing number of those who study Italian in order to read Dante may find that this little volume contains all, or nearly all, the descriptions, the similes, the profound reflections that have most vividly impressed them, and may be glad to have in small compass the great thoughts that have become familiar to them.
I have added a few brief notes, chiefly in cases where the absence of context seems to make the meaning obscure.
R. J. C. January, 1901.