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The pace is a little "stately," to put it politely. But of the many versions of The Divine Comedy available on Audible, the Naxos version has the clearest translation and the best music. (Short musical segments bridge each canto.) I don't know anything about Benedict Flynn as a translator - his work appears to have been done specifically for this recording and is not available anywhere in print, as far as I know - but it is a lucid narrative, and Heathcote Williams gives each line time to sink in.
Purgatory doesn't have the dramatic scenes of torture that fill Inferno, although some of the punishments are enough to make a tender-hearted listener squirm. It's a lighter place to visit than Hell: although there IS suffering to be endured, everyone who reaches its shores is assured of salvation, and Dante's relief as he encounters some of his friends there is palpable. People smile here. They sing songs and they make jokes.
There is poignancy here as well. Near the end, Dante turns to speak to Virgil, only to discover that Virgil is gone: he has returned to Limbo. He is the instrument of Dante's salvation but will never experience it himself. It's impossible for me to get through this part of the story without a sense of profound injustice; but it's Dante's world and it has to be taken as it comes, at least for the duration of the poem.
While the story is lucid and the images vivid, the problem anyone will have coming to this for the first time will be the thousands of allusions to classical mythology and medieval European politics. An audiobook is particularly difficult to get through in this respect: best to have some notes handy while listening (Guy Raffa's "The Complete Danteworlds" is a useful companion, but any annotated translation will do). My advice would be to take the notes lightly, though. Use them sparingly; focus on the words and emotions first. It's a dramatic poem with a spectacular conclusion.
An alternative to this is the Audiobook Contractors production, with Grover Gardner reading. That uses an unusual approach to the annotation problem, weaving short glosses into the text itself. If you do that, though, come back to this one later: the mood, atmosphere, and music of this version make for a great listen.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
Many have told me with all the footnotes etc. Dante was not an easy read. Well, have it told to you by THIS Narrator. He is fantastic!
Where does Purgatory: From The Divine Comedy rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
After reading the hard copy and slogging through the analysis Heathcote Wilson's narrative brought the incredible imagery to life. The audio book is definitely superior to the page.
Who was your favorite character and why?
The Florentine narrator and his journalistic description of Hell was so fresh. And the flying armless snake/demon who transported Virgil and the narrator down between Levels 5 & 6
Have you listened to any of Heathcote Williams’s other performances? How does this one compare?
He's great in Purgatory too. One day I'll get to Paradise.
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
What's amazing is the freshness of these medieval images: hell freezing over; the Ancient Greeks roaming in endless twilight amongst the trees and the unrepetent sinners who pretty much deserved their torment. Dante's imagination is rich and diverse. It's like one of those complex science fiction movies where you are transported from world to world.
Any additional comments?
Give it a go! It's not some boring dusty study book- it's a ripping yarn.