Divine Comedy, or Divina Commedia in the original Italian, the early-14th-century epic poem by Dante, is considered the preeminent work of Italian literature. Not just Italian, though; through its numerous translations, including in English, the book has reached all corners of the world and is considered a classic of world literature.
However, what was missing was a full translation in the world’s seventh most spoken language, that is, Bengali. Now that has been accomplished too, and with an award to boot. The person who is credited with accomplishing this feat is an 83-year-old former Port Trust employee from Kolkata, Shyamal Kumar Gangopadhyay. He also happens to have an illustrious connection, that of being married to the granddaughter of the great painter, Abanindranath Tagore.
Italian literature has always held a special place in his heart. So much so that, to get the real flavour of the literature, he learnt the language in his spare time. Translating the greatest work of Italian literature to Bengali had been one of his dreams. However, working a regular job left him with little time to do that. To start his dream project, he had to wait until after his retirement. And now, after 16 years of unrelenting work, he has finally achieved his biggest dream. Divine Comedy has been fully translated into Bengali.
And love’s labour’s certainly not been lost; for the Italian government has gracefully accepted the importance of his achievement and as a symbol of that recognition, has conferred on him the Laurel of Dante award.
Gangopadhyay had recently gone to the Italy to receive the award. It was handed over to him at a grand reception in the city of Ravenna, where Dante is buried. There he also gave a speech on the topic, ‘Influence of Italian literature and Dante on Bengali literature.’ A large number of people had gathered to hear him recite his Bengali translation, which they heartily appreciated (Dante is considered a national icon in Italy).
Italians, like Bengalis, are known for their love of good literature, which isn’t surprising considering Italy was one of the centres of the Renaissance. With this award, the little-known Shyamal Kumar Gangopadhyay has not only achieved his lifelong dream but has also made a permanent place for himself in Bengali literature.
Thanks for bringing attention to the new translation.
Translating medieval Dante is daunting enough as also his terza rima meter. The Italian epic can be approached in two ways: in full verse translation or in faithful prose. In English both are common, although blank verse is often the standard bearer. Luckily and unusually for Bengalis we already had an earlier prose translation by Sudhangshu Ranjan Ghosh (Tuli-Kalam), and now a verse translation in terza rima by Shyamalkumar Gangopadhyay (Sahitya Akademi). The book has in art papers several Gustava Dore illustrations, and a very famous portrait of Dante by Botticelli. Enjoy reading.
November 23, 2015
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