Robert Hollander, who led readers in ‘The Inferno’, dies at 87

Robert Hollander was a kind of literature professor who recommended “years of re-reading” to understand a great book. To study his favorite work, Dante Alighieri’s “The Divine Comedy”, Professor Hollander set himself to a high standard. He mastered seven centuries of line-by-line commentary about poetry.

Such a body of writing more closely resembles Talmudic interpretation than literary criticism. Its devotion is a devotion to the extreme form of traditionalism. Nevertheless, for Professor Hollander, comments became the engine of his most innovative work.

In the early 1980s, when some scholars applied computer technology to the study of literature, Professor Hollander to depart To digitize “Divine Comedy” comments. He secured funding from Apple and AT&T, which became known as Dartmouth Dante Project. Undergrads used refrigerator-sized scanners.

Today, 33 years after the project released its prototype, “it is a well-known tool,” said medieval Italian literature scholar Jeffrey Schnapp, who helped oversee the Dante project and is the founder and director of metalab, a digital arts and humanities laboratory at Harvard.

The impact of the project eventually extended beyond Professor Hollander’s field, helping to stimulate massive advances in the digital humanities, Professor Schnapp said.

Professor Hollander, one of the world’s leading scholars of Dante and author, along with his wife, the poet Jean Hollander, considered by many to be the easiest English translation of “The Divine Comedy”, died on 20 April at their son’s home. Gone. Along the slopes of the Mauna Kea volcano in the city of Pouillo, Hawaii. He was 87 years old.

His daughter, Jazz Hollander, confirmed the death.

Professor Hollander joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1962 and taught beloved classes Dante for 42 years. For medieval scholarship, he produced a three-volume translation with Ms. Hollander that garnered widespread public interest, including two commendable reviews in The New Yorker.

In One, 2007, New Yorker critic Joan Acocella Called All three volumes of his translation “Best on the Market.” (The Hollanders produced “Inferno” in 2000, “Purgatorio” in 2003, and the final volume of the epic rhetorical work, “Paradiso” in 2007.)

In another New Yorker article, in 2001, novelist Tim Parks, an expert on Italian literature, wrote That Hollanders’ “Inferno” was the “most accessible” English translation to be found. In an email, Mr Parks said he recently took another look at translations of the poem and found Hollanders to be “the best of them all”.

The couple brought complementary strengths to the project. Ms. Hollander, author of five books of poetry, participated in the music of the language. Professor Hollander ensured the accuracy of the translation and wrote the notes to the text as well as the introduction for each section.

Ms Acosella estimated that the length of the notes was 30 times the length of “The Divine Comedy”. That was Professor Hollander’s style. They interpreted morally and religiously, generally praised for their beauty. His scholarship let fellow scholars down. he told that AB Giamatti, Renaissance expert and former president of Yale University once asked him, “Are you going to try to ruin this scene for me too, Hollander?”

Yet Professor Hollander inspired generations of students by treating them with the same seriousness he brought to literary theory. Beginning in 1977, Alums made it an annual tradition to return to the site of Professor Hollander’s lectures and read to Dante together. The former student once accompanied the professor on a visit to an 11th-century Italian castle to study Dante in an authentic setting.

Robert B. Hollander Jr. was born on July 31, 1933, in Manhattan. His father, Robert Sr., was a financier with a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. His mother, Lauren (McGookie) Hollander, was a nurse and then a homemaker.

Robert Jr. received a bachelor’s degree in French and English literature from Princeton in 1955, and he earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University’s Department of English and Comparative Literature in 1962. While there, one day a young woman turned his head to someone he had seen on the premises. It turned out to be a fellow graduate student, Jean Habermann, interested in literature. They married in 1964.

It was Ms. Hollander who provided the spark for the translation project. One day in February 1997 she looked over her husband’s shoulder as she studied the translation of “The Divine Comedy” from 1939.

It was “terrible”, she recalled years later. An interview with the New York Times.

Professor Hollander challenges him: “Can you do better?”

Two days later, Ms. Hollander returned with a free-verse rendition of the text in current English idiom.

“Hey,” said Professor Hollander. “Not bad.”

On a trip to the beach during a family vacation on the Caribbean island of Tortola, Professor Hollander would don her clip-on sunglasses, Ms Hollander would wear a sun hat and bring a picnic – and then the two would debate cantos in the afternoon. . He adjudicated subtle distinctions, such as whether sinners were “thrown down” or “thrown down”.

Ms. Hollander died in 2019. In addition to his daughter, Professor Hollander’s family has a son, Robert B. is Hollander III; a brother, Fenton; and four granddaughters. Professor Hollander spent most of his life in a renovated farmhouse in Hopewell, NJ, but spent his final years in Hawaii with his son.

He suffered a stroke in 2004, and his recovery looked uncertain. After several days, a nurse tested whether she could name a word for each letter of the alphabet—A for apple, B for ball.

Professor Hollander followed. When the nurse approached L, suddenly her eyes gleamed. “Leopards!” He announced, switching to Italian. The nurse finished the exam.

He eventually regained his full psychic powers, said his daughter, Jazz Hollander. “He inferred his recovery from memory by how far he could reach in ‘The Inferno’.”

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