Frederic Raphael

Rich Pickings

Curiosity

By

Yale University Press 377pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

On his deathbed, after doctors confirmed that there was no hope, Lope de Vega said, ‘In that case, I can say it: Dante bores me!’ Might it be that, for all his prodigious output and national renown, the celebrated Spanish dramatist had a sense that the Florentine refugee would outlive him in literary fame? The Divine Comedy, tedious or not, has been translated many more times than any of Lope de Vega’s prolific output. The recent, chatty version by Clive James has been criticised for the author’s insertion of his own explanatory glosses into Dante’s text without apology or annotation. To my mind, James’s interstitials render invaluable service to any reader without easy access to the original. Going along similar lines, Alberto Manguel’s generously plump Curiosity makes Dante the pretext for diversions, decorations and literary fancies.

Manguel himself is an exile, although of a comfortable, now sedentary and uncomplaining order. A Jew born in Argentina,

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