Micó and Acantilado’s Dante

Acantilado has published a translation of Dante’s divine ‘Comedia’ into Spanish by José María Micó (Barcelona, 1961), who tries not to distort the original poetic language, respecting the internal structure of the work woven from the renowned hendecasyllabic tercets, but without obsessing with the rhyme. In this way the story maintains its Dantesque style without having to resort to footnotes
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e are not always aware of the cultural and humanistic wealth that Barcelona offers as a literary capital, both in Catalan and in Spanish. Our city not only hosts the headquarters of one of the world’s largest publishing groups, Planeta, as well as the head office in Spain of the Random House group—both of which incorporate a substantial number of formerly independent publishers established in the capital of Catalonia—but our singular quadrangular grid of the Eixample district  hosts the headquarters of dozens of independent publishers such as  Anagrama, L’Altra Editorial, Libros del Asteroide, Página Indómita, Comanegra, Salamandra, Plataforma Editorial and Acantilado among many others. Each with its particular profile and its unique catalogue, the soul of every publishing house.

The latter, Acantilado, is responsible amongst other things for recalling from time to time the importance of reading the classics: Montaigne, Seneca, Lord Chesterfield, G.K. Chesterton, Shaftesbury, who are but some of the many masters published by the Barcelona house, distinguished for its conscientious editions. A catalogue of outstanding personality which includes the works of great figures of modern literature such as Georges Simenon or Stefan Zweig. The imprint, established by Jaume Vallcorba and carried on today under the same tenet and values by Sandra Ollo, is closely linked to the idea of high culture, the best tradition of European literature and, increasingly, the broad realm of erudition with the incorporation of more and more essays covering the different branches of knowledge: from physics and mathematics, to history and philosophy. A thematic variation that reinforces the vocation of European and Renaissance humanism of the house.

It would be wiser to recognize that the classics never come back because they are always there. Reading the classics is to read about ourselves, about our ondoyant nature, as Montaigne would have it, and which perhaps only poetry is able to capture

This healthy Renaissance spirit is reinforced by the inclusion in their catalogue of a new translation of the Comedia by Dante Alighieri  (1265-1321), with a rendering by the professor of literature, José María Micó (Barcelona, 1961). A rendition of Dante’s verses—written during exile—that means to offer a conversant but simultaneously faithful version. Translating poetry is always an ambitious undertaking, especially when it comes to stanzas so widely read and well known as those of the Florentine author. Micó has opted for a translation which tries not to distort the original poetic language, respecting the internal structure of the work woven from the renowned hendecasyllabic tercets, but without obsessing with the rhyme. In this way the story maintains its “Dantesque” style without having to resort to footnotes.

Dante’s incunable has achieved the purpose for which it was written: to endure, to overcome the barrier of time that wears everything away. Everything, that is, except the classics, to which each generation is destined to return again and again. Why return to Dante? Why return to the classics? Surely it would be wiser to recognize that the classics never come back because they are always there. Reading the classics is to read about ourselves, about our ondoyant nature, as Montaigne would have it, and which perhaps only poetry is able to capture.

In his verses, Dante traces the complex contours of the human condition. Approaching the Comedia—as when approaching any classic—is approaching life. Dante reveals to the reader the disenchantments  and injustices to which men on Earth are subjected, and also reminds one that there is always room for salvation; a salvation that the author always associates with great acuity to the individual. The reading of the successive canticles through hell, purgatory and paradise remind us of how our existence is harsh, but always harbours hope.

For Micó, the Comedia is the zenith of perfection in the European literature of the time: an example of a work of an enclosed structure, perfectly planned, where there is also room for humour. A book that highlights the meaning and strength of the imagination. Through the different concentric circles of Dante’s work, the different archetypes of the human condition take place, as with Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a powerful ethical and moral manual. As Micó pointed out during the presentation of the book, we are all represented in Dante’s verses, in which while he talks of his own experience, he manages to capture the essence of the whole human experience.

This edition has also considered this same line of approach making the Comedia accessible reading. That is why the publisher has opted for a compact edition using the highest quality onionskin—the book almost resembles a prayer book—making it possible to include the 14,233 hendecasyllables of the work in a single volume; a manageable edition, designed to be read, not to be contemplated in a bookshop. The translation by Micó has placed emphasis on making the story accessible to any reader, allowing reading without footnotes, orderly, though it does include a useful list of characters in the work, and a timeline of Dante’s life, as well as a brief introduction to each of the players. A deluxe edition for an eternal work that delves into the human soul and makes us explore those corners of our fragile and fickle condition by nature, which we can only access though the writings of the masters of literature.