This week CMS Professor Markus Stock joins the Toronto Salutes Dante project to read Inferno 29 in German. Stock is principal of University College and professor of German medieval literature.
Stock reads from a special German edition of Die göttliche Komödie published exactly 100 years ago in 1921. The edition features a translation by Karl Witte, a nineteenth-century jurist and scholar who holds the world’s record as the youngest doctoral recipient in history (at age 13). Witte also founded the German Dante Society and translated the Divine Comedy into German blank verse. Prof. Stock notes that Witte did not try to mimic the formal rhyming structure of Dante's original, but at the same time he did not fall back on prose. In what Prof. Stock calls a “beautiful compromise,” Witte used unrhymed metrical lines to invoke the poetic aura of the original but still preserve precision in the translation.
Regarding canto 29, Prof. Stock remarks on the role of alchemy and the subtle connection between the poet in his creativity and the souls that are in the inferno because they tried to mimic nature by being (too) creative. The canto also concerns memory and the role of poets in memorializing those who were before them, even their failings.