Welcome Intrusions: Capturing the Unexpected in Translators’ Prefaces to Dante’s Divine Comedy

  • Marella Feltrin-Morris


As part of an ongoing research project, this essay examines a number of translators’ prefaces to Dante’s Divine Comedy, summarizing recurring patterns and then focusing on deviations from the norm. The majority of these prefaces tend to follow a script, particularly in the case of retranslations of classical texts, which require an acknowledgment of past translations, a homage to the authority of the source text and a display of the translator’s expertise. However, occasional detours from the predictable constellation of themes deserve closer scrutiny, since they give a more authentic voice to the individuals who engaged with the text in its deepest form, not merely within the confines of a prescriptive formula, but expanding the potential of this unique space towards new avenues of discovery.


Biancolli, Louis. Translator’s Note. The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri, Washington Square Press, 1966, pp. xx-xx.

Carlyle, John A. Preface. Dante’s Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, Harper & Brothers, 1849, pp. iii-viii.

Carson, Ciaran. Acknowledgements and Introduction. The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, by Dante Alighieri, Granta Books, 2002, pp. ix-xxi.

Dimitriu, Rodica. “Translators’ Prefaces as Documentary Sources for Translation Studies.” Perspectives – Studies in Translatology, vol. 17, no.3, 2009, pp. 193-206. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09076760903255304

Famula, Christine. “Translators’ Prefaces in Canadian Literary Texts.” Beyond Comparison – Au-delà des Comparaisons. Proceedings of the 5th Annual Comparative Canadian Literature Conference, 2004, Université de Sherbrooke, edited by Roxanne Rimstead, Michelle Ariss, Simon Gilbert and Suzanne O’Connor, Les Éditions Topeda Hill, 2005.

Feltrin-Morris, Marella. “Persuasive Spaces: Translators’ Prefaces to the Divine Comedy.” Forum Italicum, vol. 50, no. 1, 2016, pp. 38-49. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0014585816636339

Friederich, Werner Paul. Dante’s Fame Abroad 1350-1850. Edizioni di Storia e di Letteratura, 1950. Genette, Gérard G. Paratexts: Thresholds of interpretation. Translated by Jane E. Lewin, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Hartama-Heinonen, Ritva. “Translators’ Prefaces – A Key to the Translation?” Folia Translatologica, no. 4, 1995, pp. 33-42.

Havely, Nick. Dante’s British Public. Oxford University Press, 2014. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212446.001.0001

Langdon, Courtney. Preface. The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno, by Dante Alighieri, Harvard University Press, 1918, pp. viii-xvii.

McRae, Ellen. “The Role of Translators’ Prefaces to Contemporary Literary Translations into English.” Dissertation, University of Auckland, 2010.

Merwin, W. S. Foreword. Purgatorio, by Dante Alighieri, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, pp. vii-xxix.

Oktar, Lütfiye and Neslihan Kansu-Yetkiner. “Different Times, Different Themes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover: A Diachronic Critical Discourse Analysis of Translator’s Prefaces.” Neohelicon, no. 39, 2012, pp. 337-364. Paloposki Outi. “The Translator’s Footprints.” Translators’ Agency, edited by Tuija Kinnunen and Kaisa Koskinen, Tampere University Press, 2010, pp. 86–107. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11059-012-0142-0

Peabody, J. C. Preface. Dante's Hell: Cantos I to X, Ticknor & Fields, 1857, p. vii.

Sayers, Dorothy Leigh. Introduction. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Hell by Dante Alighieri, Penguin Books, 1949, pp. 9-66.

Sisson, Charles Hubert. On Translating Dante. The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, Carcanet New Press, Ltd., 1980, pp. i-ix.

Toledano Buendía, Carmen. “Listening to the Voice of the Translator: a Description of Translator’s Notes as Paratextual Elements.” Dissertation, University of La Laguna, 2013. DOI: https://doi.org/10.12807/ti.105202.2013.a09

Volpi, Odoardo. Preface. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri, by Dante Alighieri, Wakeman, 1836, pp. v-xxxiii.