How to speak like an Italian

You will find two links in this post. In the first one a young Italian woman explains and illustrates

the body language and sounds of a native speaker of Italian. Here’s the link (copy it and put it in the

google search bar.

The second link takes you to Vittorio Gassman reading from Dante’s “Inferno.” In my opinion Gassman’s

readings of Dante are unsurpassed. When I tried to perfect my Italian back in 1960-61 when I lived in

Florence I listened to a 45 r.p.m. of Gassman reading over and over and over, select passages from Dante.

Sooner or later I had a few of them memorized. What a wonderful feeling that is, to be able to read line

after line of Dante, dramatically and with confidence. I think it’s well worth the effort.

At the very bottom of this blog post you will find, side by side, Dante’s Italian and its translation into English.

I couldn’t number the lines but with care you can figure it out.

1 “When I left Circe, having lived with her
More than a year in Italy, before
Aeneas got there, no love for my son,
No duty to my father, and what’s more
5 No love I owed Penelope—the one
Who would have been most glad—could overcome
In me the passion that I had, to gain
Experience of the world, and know the sum
Of virtue, pleasure, wisdom, vice and pain.
10 Once more I set out on the open sea,
With just one ship, crewed by my loyal men,
The stalwart who had not deserted me.
As far as Spain I saw both shores, and then
Morocco, and Sardinia, and those
15 Numberless islands that the sea surrounds.
But men grow old and slow as the time goes,
And so did we, and so we reached the bounds
Of voyaging, that narrow outlet marked
By Hercules so nobody should sail
20 Beyond, and anybody thus embarked
Knows, by those pillars, he is sure to fail.
Seville on my right hand, I left behind
Ceuta on my left. ‘Brothers,’ I said,
‘Dangers uncounted and of every kind
25 Fit to make other sailors die of dread
You have come through, and you have reached the west,
And now our senses fade, their vigil ends:
They ask to do the easy thing, and rest.
But in the brief time that remains, my friends,
30 Would you deny yourselves experience
Of that unpeopled world we’ll find if we
Follow the sun out into the immense
Unknown? Remember now your pedigree.
You were not born to live as brutes. Virtue
35 And knowledge are your guiding lights.’ I gave
With these words such an impulse to my crew
For enterprise that I could not, to save
My life, have held them back. We flew
On oars like wings, our stern, in that mad flight,
40 Towards the morning. Always left we bore.
Stars of the other pole we saw at night,
And ours so low that from the ocean floor
It never once arose. Five times the light
Had kindled and then quenched beneath the moon
45 Since first we ventured on our lofty task,
When we could see a mountain, though not soon
Could see it clearly: distance was a mask
That made it dim. But it was high, for sure:
Higher than anything I’d ever seen,
50 It climbed into the sky. Who could be more
Elated than we were, had not we been
Plunged straight away into deep sorrow, for
The new land gave rise to a storm that struck
Our ship’s forepart. Three times the waters led
55 Us in a circle. Fourth time, out of luck.
Stern high, bow low, we went in. Overhead
Somebody closed the sea, and we were dead

lui, perduto a morir gissi.”    When there the flame had come, where time and place
Seem’d fitting to my guide, he thus begun:
“O ye, who dwell two spirits in one fire!
If living I of you did merit aught,
Whate’er the measure were of that desert,
When in the world my lofty strain I pour’d,
Move ye not on, till one of you unfold
In what clime death overtook him self-destroy’d.”
      Lo maggior corno de la fiamma antica
cominciò a crollarsi mormorando,
pur come quella cui vento affatica;
      indi la cima qua e là menando,
come fosse la lingua che parlasse,
gittò voce di fuori e disse: “Quando
      mi diparti’ da Circe, che sottrasse      90
me più d’un anno là presso a Gaeta,
prima che sì Enëa la nomasse,
       dolcezza di figlio, né la pieta
del vecchio padre, né ‘l debito amore
lo qual dovea Penelope far lieta,
      vincer potero dentro a me l’ardore
ch’i’ ebbi a divenir del mondo esperto
e de li vizi umani e del valore;
      ma misi me per l’alto mare aperto      100
sol con un legno e con quella compagna
picciola da la qual non fui diserto.
      L’un lito e l’altro vidi infin la Spagna,
fin nel Morrocco, e l’isola d’i Sardi,
e l’altre che quel mare intorno bagna.
      Io e ‘ compagni eravam vecchi e tardi
quando venimmo a quella foce stretta
dov’ Ercule segnò li suoi riguardi
      acciò che l’uom più oltre non si metta;
da la man destra mi lasciai Sibilia,      110
da l’altra già m’avea lasciata Setta.
Of the old flame forthwith the greater horn
Began to roll, murmuring, as a fire
That labours with the wind, then to and fro
Wagging the top, as a tongue uttering sounds,
Threw out its voice, and spake: “When I escap’d
From Circe, who beyond a circling year
Had held me near Caieta by her charms,
Ere thus Æneas yet had nam’d the shore;
Nor fondness for my son*, nor reverence
Of my old father, nor return of love,
That should have crown’d Penelope with joy,
Could overcome in me the zeal I had
To’ explore the world, and search the ways of life,
Man’s evil and his virtue. Forth I sail’d
Into the deep illimitable main,
With but one bark, and the small faithful band
That yet cleav’d to me. As Iberia far,
Far as Marocco either shore I saw,
And the Sardinian and each isle beside
Which round that ocean bathes. Tardy with age
Were I and my companions, when we came
To the strait pass*, where Hercules ordain’d
The bound’ries not to be o’erstepp’ed by man.
The walls of Seville to my right I left,
On the’ other hand already Ceuta past.
      ‘O frati,’ dissi, ‘che per cento milia
perigli siete giunti a l’occidente,
a questa tanto picciola vigilia
      d’i nostri sensi ch’è del rimanente
non vogliate negar l’esperïenza
di retro al sol, del mondo sanza gente.
      Considerate la vostra semenza:
fatti non foste a viver come bruti,
ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.’
      Li miei compagni fec’ io sì aguti,      \120
con questa orazion picciola, al cammino,
che a pena poscia li avrei ritenuti;
      e volta nostra poppa nel mattino,
de’ remi facemmo ali al folle volo,
sempre acquistando dal lato mancino.
      Tutte le stelle già de l’altro polo
vedea la notte, e ‘l nostro tanto basso,
che non surgëa fuor del marin suolo.
      Cinque volte racceso e tante casso      130
lo lume era di sotto da la luna,
poi che ‘ntrati eravam ne l’alto passo,
      quando n’apparve una montagna, bruna
per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto
quanto veduta non avëa alcuna.
      Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto;
ché de la nova terra un turbo nacque
e percosse del legno il primo canto.
      Tre volte il fé girar con tutte l’acque;
a la quarta levar la poppa in suso
e la prora ire in giù, com’ altrui piacque,      140
      infin che ‘l mar fu sovra noi richiuso.”

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