Let me first say that I prefer my translations the old-fashioned way: original work on the left, translation on the facing page.* It's especially important with Dante. If you're not looking over every so often and reading the verse out loud in Italian (even if you have no idea what it means), well, there goes approximately 22% of your pleasure in reading Dante.
Really! Italian is like that. I also feel this way about Spanish poetry: it's just not the same unless you say it in the original language. And even if you don't speak Italian, Dante is ridiculously easy to sound out.
And why, class, does Fiona feel comfortable with it?
Well, it is supposedly unfair to claim (as many have) that Dante invented modern Italian. It's a very romantic notion. His real contribution was bringing his dialect (Florentine/Tuscan) of Italian into the literary tradition in such a major way that he rendered all the other dialects of Italy inferior. Italian exists in its modern form largely because Dante was so important. Without him, the Roman or Milanese dialects might have eventually won out when Italy decided "Hey, it's pretty stupid that we don't have a unified language isn't it?"
It's easy to forget what a literary rock star Dante was, even in his own time. Personally, he was kind of a hermit -- but this is not by any means a guy who had to wait till after his death to be recognized. Scholars began writing commentaries on the Commedia pretty much immediately, and they haven't stopped yet. People waited for the last installment, the Paradiso, like it was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
I've only just begun reading (he's in the middle of a dark wood and there's a leopard), but I'm excited. If I recall, this is a very political poem, so hopefully there will be lots of Guelph/Ghibelline conflict in the subtext and I'll tell you all about it.
*for the Inferno I am reading the Hollander translation. Once I get to Purgatorio, I'm not sure if I will try to continue with this (i.e. make another library trip) or if I'll switch to the Sayers translation. We'll see.