10

There is a MOOC about Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy by the The University of Naples Federico II, in which a certain professor named Raffaele Giglio starts a video (published in September 2017) in which he recites some verses from the work.

I already become very suspicious about any credibility of this professor when he immediately afterwards uses the following vague words: "the greatest Humanity poet".

(English subtitle track:)

They were written by our great poet, the greatest Humanity poet, Dante Allighieri,...

(Italian subtitle track, for reference:)

Li ha scritti il nostro grande poeta, anzi il poeta più grande dell'umanità, Dante Alighieri,...

But my question relates to whether or not there is a general consensus among scholars with regards to the following two claims:

(English subtitle track:)

...in his comedy, the book which, after the bible, has been translated into the most languages and dialects in the world, and is the top printed work of all time, after the Bible.

(Italian subtitle track, for reference:)

...nella sua commedia, l’opera che dopo la bibbia è più tradotta nelle lingue e dialetti del mondo ed è quella più stampata sempre dopo la bibbia.


NOTE: It seems to be fashionable for some professors to shout that a book of their interest is the second most translated book in the world. In April 2016 for example, Alfredo Moro, who lectured at the University of Cantabria, claimed this for Don Quixote.

  • Since the good professor doesn't say anything in English, I assume you translated his words? What were they in the original? – muru Jun 5 '18 at 0:41
  • What does MOOC stand for? – Rand al'Thor Jun 5 '18 at 0:58
  • 1
    @Randal'Thor MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course. – Vincent Mia Edie Verheyen Jun 5 '18 at 2:08
  • @muru I have copied the English translation that comes along with the video link (cf. the youtube video in which the two subtitle tracks are provided). For your reference, I have now clarified this in the OP and added the Italian subtitles as well. – Vincent Mia Edie Verheyen Jun 5 '18 at 2:18
  • 1
    I assume the translation was done by a native speaker of Italian, not by a native speaker of English, since "il poeta più grande dell'umanità" means "humanity's / mankind's greatest poet". – Tsundoku Jun 5 '18 at 9:32
2

The "[second] most translated book after the Bible" apparently depends on whom you ask.

According to Professor Alfredo Moro, the 17th-century noel “Don Quijote de la Mancha is the second most translated book after the Bible”. In an interview from 2016, Moro said,

We are currently working on a project where we are assembling all the translations of Don Quijote in many languages all around the world and we have one language per chapter. (...) We find thousands of translations and thousands of authors who were influenced, e.g. British authors like Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, all wrote about Don Quixote and all were interested in Don Quixote.

(Source: “Don Quijote de la Mancha is the second most translated book after the Bible” , TVM News, 23.04.2016.)

However, according to the French newspaper Le Figaro, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince) is the second most translated book after the Bible: Apparently, the book's threehundredth translation was a translation into Hassaniya Arabic, a variety of Arabic spoken in Northwest Africa.

(Source: "Le Petit Prince, deuxième livre le plus traduit au monde après la Bible", Le Figaro, 07.04.2017; see also «Le Petit Prince»: l’ouvrage le plus traduit depuis 70 ans, La Revue Internationale, 13.04.2013.)

Other articles put other books at the top, e.g. The 5 Most Translated Literary Texts In The World and The 20 Most Translated Texts in History. Both these articles are probably based on Wikipedia's List of literary works by number of translations, which ranks The Adventures of Pinocchio (more than 300 translations) above The Little Prince (300 translations). Wikipedia also lists "Rhapsody of Realities Devotional", a text by a megachurch that is claimed to have more than 2000 translations. Dante's Divine Comedy is not even listed. It may be one of the most translated Italian works of literature, but The Adventures of Pinocchio appears to have more translations.

The Divine Comedy isn't in the top 50 of Wikipedia's List of best-selling books, where works such as The Adventures of Pinocchio and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose are ranked much higher than Dante's work.

| improve this answer | |
-3

One way to address this question is by quantifying the relative importance of Dante vis-a-vis other poets. MIT's Pantheon project is one resource for this (http://pantheon.media.mit.edu/methods). The link is to their webpage describing their methodology. Basically, Pantheon's project is an attempt at measuring Global Historical Popularity. Among the metrics they employ for selecting global popularity is the number of languages in Wikipedia into which an historical figure's work has been translated (minimum of 25 for inclusion into list). Among the limitations to their approach is the fact that the metrics are based solely on Wikipedia which is far from objective as it heavily weighted towards historically Western figures.

Without getting lost in the weeds of what Pantheon does and how they do it, Dante Aligheri ranks 3rd among Writers, a pre-determined Pantheon classification. First is Homer, then Shakespeare. Dante is followed by Virgil and Sophocles is fifth. The image below can be found on this webpage (http://pantheon.media.mit.edu/people/Dante%20Alighieri). Based on Pantheon and Wikipedia, Dante has been translated into 137 wiki language editions, Homer into 141 and Shakespeare into 163. Clearly the number of translations is not the only factor used in generating the results.

Dante was an indisputably great poet. That MIT's Pantheon ranks him 3rd is an almost arbitrary decision since any and all rankings can be reformulated to produce virtually any desired result, e.g., see Malcolm Gladwell's takedown of college rankings in this New Yorker article... https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/02/14/the-order-of-things or this infographic summarizing all of the factors Google uses in creating its Pagerank metric for keyword searches ... https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/google-ranking-algorithm-infographic.

enter image description here

| improve this answer | |
  • 4
    It says Dante features in 137 language editions of Wikipedia, not that Dante's works have been translated to 137 languages. – muru Jun 5 '18 at 16:44
  • 2
    Eh? Looks like you still don't understand. The 137 is the count of pages like hi.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/दांते_एलीगियरी ja.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/ダンテ・アリギエーリ etc., which are distinct editions of Wikipedia. That number gives absolutely no information whatsoever about the actual number of languages info which Dante's works have been translated. – muru Jun 5 '18 at 20:10
  • 2
    You're misrepresenting both your source and the different editions of Wikipedia by claiming they're translations. It is not necessarily the case that the article on Dante in one language is the translation of the corresponding article in some other language, and neither does Pantheon claim so. – muru Jun 6 '18 at 0:28
  • 2
    @DJohnson that's precisely what OP's question isn't about. They quote those lines first, yes, but the go on to say, with emphasis, "But my question relates to whether or not there is a general consensus among scholars with regards to the following two claims" and the following claims are about the translations, not Dante's greatness. OP obviously knows, as would anyone familiar with SE customs, that a question asking about something so subjective as a poet being the greatest would be certainly offtopic. That's why they're not asking about it. – muru Jun 6 '18 at 11:54
  • @muru To reiterate...your position is that there is no relationship between wiki language editions and the number of languages into which an author's work has been translated. As noted in a deleted comment my hypothesis is that there is such a relationship and that the two are strongly positively correlated. This does not mean to imply a one-to-one correspondence but rather an association, approximate relationship or proxy for the one given the other. – DJohnson Jun 6 '18 at 21:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.