Cross Dante

Dante keeps going and going.

This project is designed to present texts in multiple translations. I wanted to read Dante, but I wasn’t sure which translation to read, so I made this so that I could read them all at once.


Choose one to start reading:

Purgatorio: online, Android app, iOS app
Paradiso: online, Android app, iOS app

Inferno currently has more translations than the others. And the iOS versions of Purgatorio & Paradiso are currently not quite up to speed with the other versions because Apple is slow at processing updates! But that will be fixed soon.

How does this work?

1.Choose a text.
2.Change translations by:
Using the left and right buttons at the top
Using the left and right arrow keys (if you’re on a computer)
Swiping left or right (if you’re on a device that allows swiping)
3.Change canto by:
Using the up and down buttons at the top
Using the up and down arrow keys (if you’re on a computer)
Swiping up or down from the bottom or the top of a canto (if you’re on a device that allows swiping)
4.And if you want to change the set of translations (so you don’t see the Italian original, for example), click on the gear at the top to get to the settings page. The settings page also lets you go directly to a specific translation and canto.
5.If you're on a device that’s wide enough (generally if you’re looking at in in landscape rather than portrait mode), you can select “twin mode” in the settings to see two translations side by side, à la facing-page translations. This is still rough!

Why does this exist?

Most electronic books are really terrible! Most of the time what people think of when they think about electronic books is something with about the complexity of a Microsoft Word document, a long scroll of text which is hacked into randomly sized pages with capricious formatting. This works for some things; it’s terrible for others. But it’s cheap and easy to make electronic books like that, so that’s what most of them are. That’s a shame because we could actually be making things informed by some thought about what the reader is doing when reading, electronic books that actually improve the reading experience.

I like facing-page translations, especially of poetry: it’s nice to move back and forth between an original (even if you only understand a tiny amount of the language) and a translation. It’s also nice to compare translations. This is generally a clumsy process with paper books; it’s something that can be done relatively easily in an electronic environment if people bothered to try.

I wanted to make something I could read on my phone with one hand while riding on the subway, like you can with a paperback; and this is the result.

Explain all of this in exhaustive detail?

Okay, let’s start with how we think about texts. Texts are generally made of sentences in order, and those sentences are made of words in order. (Yes. There are huge numbers of exceptions to this.) But this linear conception of a text mimics the way words come out of our mouths, ordered by time. So you might think of a text as looking something like this, starting at the top with the first section and making its way down the page:

A book as a long scroll of paper, poorly drawn.

This is basically how most electronic text documents work: something written in Microsoft Word, for example. That’s basically how Microsoft Word shows text documents; that’s how this very web page works.

A book is a little bit different, because a book has pages. Pages chop up the scroll of text into equally sized units:

The left and right pages of a book, poorly drawn.

The reader starts on the first page, goes on to the next page, turns the page when appropriate.

We also have electronic books. The creators of electronic books realized that there are advantages of using pages over an endless scroll: most notably, it’s easy to lose your place in a scroll. And so most electronic reading environments chop texts up into pages. This is done mechanically and according to the reader’s whim: if you make the type bigger, your page size will have less words on it than the page of a reader who like smaller type.

A scroll of text, roughly chopped into pages, poorly drawn.

(Page numbers in electronic books is a sad subject: it’s hard to point another reader at exactly what you were reading because their edition may look entirely different from yours. But I digress.) Most electronic book reading environments present pages left to right, kind of like this:

A scroll of text, chopped into pages, assembled left to right, poorly drawn.

Superficially, this looks like a printed book. The correspondence breaks down if you think about it for more than a minute, but we are creatures of habit when we consume technology. A lot of the time, this is good enough for what we want to do.

But! There are other things that you can do with a printed book. One very good example is facing-page translations. There, you might have the original text on the recto and a translation on the verso, like this:

The left and right pages of a book with facing page translation, poorly drawn.

The way this kind of book works is different from the way our simple scroll of text works: instead, we have two parallel scrolls of text:

Two texts scroll downwards, poorly drawn.

This isn’t something you can do very well with a traditional electronic book, because this text has a second dimension. But it’s not that tricky to put together an electronic reading enviroment for something like this! And when you start thinking about the text in this way, it’s easy to complicate it even further by adding a third translation:

Three texts scroll downwards, poorly drawn.

Or even more! Because we’re not confined physically, we could have an infinite number of translations, all side by side. The problem then becomes the way to navigate them.

The left and right pages of a book.

Here, you can think of your screen as a lens that moves around: swiping left or right goes to another translation, swiping up or down goes to a different point in the text. (This isn’t a million miles away from Scott McCloud’s idea of infinite canvas comics.) It’s not perfect by any means, but it lets us access translation in a different way.


Please note that the translations here aren’t being presented as the best available! Rather, they’re here by virtue of being in the public domain, which makes it easier to do something like this. In a better world, we’d have every single translation of Dante that’s ever been published in here, but rights issues complicate that dream.

A further caveat: the texts were not perfect even when found, and probably more mistakes were added in markup conversion. But mistakes can be fixed.

And there are a ton of bugs in this, some I know about and some I have no idea of. If you find something that’s going wrong, let me know?

Do you want to make something like this?

I’ve started a FAQ at the project’s Github page which explains the basics of how you could do this with a translation project of your own. This needs work!


This was made by Dan Visel. Please let him know if there are any bugs or if you have suggestions for future versions. If you’re working on translation issues, and you’d like to do something similar, let me know!

Twitter: @dbvisel
Source code: Github