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, and well educated there, his cosmopolitanism has such wide roots in world literature that the one stem bears all sorts of flowers. Like Montaigne, who is some kind of spiritual neighbour to Manguel in his present retreat (fortified with 30,000 books) in southwest France, nothing human is outside his