Dante's Divine Comedy paperbacks

It’s about time I get back to a schedule of at least one post a week, although it can be difficult to decide what to write about next. This post features out-of-print mass market paperbacks published by Mentor Books in the early 1980s of Dante’s classic The Divine Comedy. It comprises three parts where Dante writes about his divine travels, of which the first, The Inferno, is the most widely known and studied. Dante begins a descent through Hell with the Roman poet Virgil as his guide, then climbs the mountain of Purgatory where people atone for their sins in The Purgatorio, and at the top he is brought a vision of heavenly paradise and all its sections in The Paradiso.

Dante's Divine Comedy by Mentor Books

There have been numerous publishings and translations of The Divine Comedy, graced with many illustrative interpretations by the likes of artists Gustave Doré, William Blake, and Salvador Dali. The used book store where I’ve worked at for years had these particular translations by John Ciardi and the covers drove me to purchase them. Unfortunately, these dramatic illustrations — most likely paintings —are not credited in any of the books so send a line if you happen to know. Each painting features loose human shapes relating to the setting of each part of the story. Seen below are close-ups of each of these covers to show the detail in these expressionistic paintings. The cover for Inferno is grim yet passionate, creating a loose depiction of a morbid skull from the various shapes and patches of color. Purgatorio’s cover is in the shape of a mountain, dominated by blue and orange hues of emotion and hope, as the Earthly Paradise sits atop the summit. The last cover for Paradiso is marked by a bright palette of color and light to symbolize the good divine nature of heaven. The symmetrical composition of all three of these paintings also conjures up Rorschach inkblots, which I believe could be an intentional suggestion. The typography and layout is appropriately consistent among the three books.

Dante's Inferno

Dante's Purgatorio

Dante's Paradiso

The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, a new translation by John Ciardi
The Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri, a new translation by John Ciardi
The Paradiso by Dante Alighieri, a new translation by John Ciardi