Skip to main content
Trade Books For Courses Tradebooks for Courses


Dante Alighieri; Translation by Mary Jo Bang; Drawings by Henrik Drescher

Graywolf Press

opens in a new window
opens in a new window Inferno Download image

ISBN10: 1555976549
ISBN13: 9781555976545


352 Pages



Request Desk Copy
Request Exam Copy


Sign up to receive information about new books, author events, and special offers.

Sign up now

An American Library Association Notable Book

Award-winning poet Mary Jo Bang has translated the Inferno into English at a moment when popular culture is so prevalent that it has even taken Dante, author of the fourteenth century epic poem, The Divine Comedy, and turned him into an action-adventure video game hero. Dante, a master of innovation, wrote his poem in the vernacular, rather than in literary Latin. Bang has similarly created an idiomatically rich contemporary version that is accessible, musical, and audacious. She's matched Dante's own liberal use of allusion and literary borrowing by incorporating literary and cultural references familiar to contemporary readers: Shakespeare and Dickinson, Freud and South Park, Kierkegaard and Stephen Colbert. The Inferno—the allegorical story of a spiritual quest that begins in a dark forest, traverses Hell's nine circles, and ends at the hopeful edge of purgatory—was also an indictment of religious hypocrisy and political corruption. In its time, the poem was stunningly new. Bang's version is true to the original: lyrical, politically astute, occasionally self-mocking, and deeply moving. With haunting illustrations by Henrik Drescher, this is the most readable Inferno available in English, a truly remarkable achievement.


Praise for Inferno

"Imagine a contemporary translation of Dante that includes references to Pink Floyd, South Park, Donald Rumsfeld, and Star Trek. Now imagine that it isn't gimmicky . . . Imagine instead that the old warhorse is now scary again, and perversely funny, and lyrical and faux-lyrical in a way that sounds sometimes like Auden, sometimes like Nabokov, but always like Mary Jo Bang."—BOMB

"A rollicking, contemporary trip through the Underworld."—American Library Association Notable Book citation

"The only good Hell to be in right now is poet Mary Jo Bang's innovative, new translation of Dante's Inferno, illustrated with drawings by Henrik Drescher. Bang's thrillingly contemporary translation of the first part (the juiciest part) of Alighieri's 14th-century poem The Divine Comedy is indeed epic . . . Once you embark on this journey, you may wish to read not only all of Mary Jo Bang's work but all of Dante's, too."—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

"Dante's Inferno will continue to be a presence in the 21st century. Now thanks to Mary Jo Bang's updated, humorous, and lively translation people may actually want to read it."—New York Journal of Books

"Bang [dwells] in depths—not only in Dante's, but our own . . . Bang's hell is our culture, the numbing proliferation of texts, images, meanings, interpretations. For her, the perfervid busyness of our culture leads to a deadening akin to spiritual numbness. Hence the allusions to everything from Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors to the Boy Scouts to frozen Jell-O to the Hotel California—these are the fragments that have shored up against our ruins, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, who knew a thing or two about Dante, and death, and fittingly appears several times in these pages."—New York Daily News

"A transformative translation."—The Millions

"Accompanied by Henrik Drescher's desolately fascinating illustrations, [Mary Jo Bang's Inferno] is undoubtedly ambitious and often powerful . . . The range of Bang's allusions is truly breathtaking."—The Oxonian Review

"[Bang's Inferno is] as thorough and thoughtful as any of the many translations out there, but—college students, take note—so much more fun."—MinnPost

"Mary Jo Bang's bold decision to use familiar characters from history, fiction, and even pop culture, will allow new readers to relate to what is often seen as a daunting, complex work of literature. Punctuated by Drescher's wild, inky renderings . . . this is an exquisite, fascinating modern look at something that has been re-translated numerous times from various perspectives over hundreds of years . . . The Bang and Drescher Inferno is one for the ages."—Stacie M. Williams, Boswell Book Company

"Where do the Rolling Stones belong in Dante's Hell? In Canto XII of Bang's contemporary reinvention of Dante's epic, in which Dante and Virgil are summoned by hell's denizens with a quote from 'You Can't Always Get What You Want': 'Each had a bow and well-chosen arrow. / One called across the distance, "Are you two coming down / To get your fair share of abuse?"' But it ain't all rock lyrics. Bang uses anachronisms when they'll add some punch—hell's hot wind is like a 'massive crimson camera flash'—but it's still Dante, wordy, guilty and full of splinters that don't come out. [Bang's] Inferno is a classic recast for our age, a hell we'll find ourselves in, an old poem made new by one our most surprising and innovative poets."—Craig Morgan Teicher, National Public Radio

"This new translation of the Inferno, now straight narrative, now lyric, now echoing a phrase from one of a 'many-headed multitude' of other poets, offers at once Mary Jo Bang's own recurring poetic voice, a delectation of other voices from our poetic past, and the wealth of information in her many careful notes: it is a fresh and ingenious new incarnation of Dante's ever-captivating story, and from one line to the next a constantly rewarding pleasure to read."—Lydia Davis

"Mary Jo Bang's Dante steps steps wisely with a Mayakovsky-esque gigantism and a hard-boiled coyness all her own—while maintaining a truly virtuous loyalty to our beloved living corpse, the Inferno. She startles the medieval masterpiece into coming alive, tout de suite, blinking and twitching. Part of her utter contemporaneity is that she even (Thank God!) allows her Virgil (who feels like some wonderful old actor that we all know) to take a not-so-subtle potshot at Christianity's rigid gate-keeping policy towards those (including himself) condemned to spend eternity in Limbo because, as Virgil sniffs, 'They didn't worship at the right altar.' Mary Jo Bang's richly colloquial voyage through Hell is not just towering and new, but deeply funny and knowable. As the sad planet of disaster looms closer amd closer to us this is the book you want to be holding in your hands."—Eileen Myles

"Mary Jo Bang's Inferno is an astute and subtle reading of Dante that brilliantly reflects the inexhaustible capaciousness of the Divine Comedy. Dante's great poem has everything in it, and Bang's Inferno does, too. Her accurate, deeply pondered translation translates—carries over—Dante into her own world, and ours. It is richly, provocatively, movingly alive."—Jonathan Galassi

"There is often a remoteness about translations of ancient poetry, but not in Mary Jo Bang's striking new translation of the Inferno. She replaces Dante's terza rima with a more modern music, and her language is subtly infused with everything from rock-and-roll to T.S. Eliot; the result is a work of great beauty and immediacy."—Zachary Mason, author of The Lost Books of the Odyssey
"This will be Dante for the next generation."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Dante Alighieri; Translation by Mary Jo Bang; Drawings by Henrik Drescher

Dante Alighieri (c.1265–1321) is the author of The Divine Comedy, a masterpiece of world literature. Mary Jo Bang is the author of six books of poetry, including Elegy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Henrik Drescher is an award-winning illustrator, author, and fine artist.