By Dante Alighieri, Translated by Mary Jo Bang, Drawings by Henrik Drescher
Graywolf Press, $28.00, 338 pages

Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Inferno is truly unique. Although the work unquestionably remains Dante Alighieri’s classic journey through Hell, the translator’s use of modern slang and references to pop culture makes this version of the Inferno a one-of-a-kind reading experience. The allusions and similes have been updated, carts have become cars, jelly has become Jell-o, but Hell itself and the story’s principal characters remain unchanged. Crooked Popes, medieval Florentine nobles and figures from Greek and Roman mythology still fill the circles of Hell, but they are accompanied by references to death metal music, flashing camera bulbs and T.S. Eliot poetry. The combination is sometimes jarring. Readers may smile to find South Park’s Eric Cartman in the circle of the gluttonous, but they may also puzzle that the character talks about dead Italians and the state of medieval Florence. This unusual translation puts the first book of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy into modern language, but remains true to the spirit of the original text. Longtime lovers of the Inferno and new readers alike will enjoy this strange hybrid of medieval and modern literature.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Goss