Dethroning Dante: Skopostheorie in Action
Dante’s Commedia has been translated into English more than one hundred times. As a result, there are plenty of opposing opinions on how best to translate Dante’s masterwork. One can mimic Dante’s rhyme scheme (terza rima), utilize a more conventional English metre or rhyme scheme, or resort to a prose translation that abandons any attempt to reproduce Dante’s poetics. It is the purpose of this study to demonstrate that all of these are, in the right context, appropriate translation strategies; no platonic ideal translation strategy exists. To provide a more tolerant approach to translations of Dante’s poetry, I employ a translation theory called Skopostheorie (skopos theory). This theory argues that each translation has its own unique purpose (skopos); there are any number of (valid) strategies available to the translator. This theory is often seen as extreme, providing the translator with too much freedom to manipulate the text. Accordingly, this thesis first makes a case for the application of Skopostheorie in literary translation, attempting to defend it against its critics. Second, this essay exhibits how the theory may be applied in practice. To demonstrate its application, I look at three very different English translations of the first canto of Dante’s Inferno published during the 1990s. These translations are by Seamus Heaney (1993), Steve Ellis (1994), and Robert M. Durling (1996). In doing so, I hope to identify the various approaches of these translators, to demonstrate the breadth of options available to translators of Dante’s capolavoro, and to add to the discourse on the reception of Dante in the English-speaking world.