It might be that I'd already read the Odyssey and the Oresteia, and that Beowulf came across as such a clear precursor of Tolkien that it wasn't exactly new.
I like to lay the blame at the feet of Robert and Jean Hollander, who translated my Inferno.
Whatever the reason, the Inferno is the first book on the Iditarod that made me sit up and take notice. It felt like something I could study and read for years and always stay interested, and it made me see why all the medievalists I know scoff at just about everyone who isn't a medievalist. You know that contented sigh that comes after you finish a great book, and you see WHY it's great and you feel a tiny connection to the whole of Western history and everyone else who has read and loved and seen the significance of that particular book? I got that. I've never read anything like this -- it's so complex and gorgeous. The only thing it ever made me think of was Donne's poetry. But those are tiny complicated bites, and this is this monster of a book. Imagine what it must be like to sit down and try to do a new translation.
Not to be all middle-school book review ("This was the best book I've ever read!!!"), but go read it, if you haven't.
Oh, and the best part? I don't want to read the Purgatorio and Paradiso, because I have a different translation of those, and I don't want to hate them for not being the Hollander. But I have a feeling I might.
This is Dante, right? This has been around for centuries, no way it's totally ruined even by a dunce of a translator trying too hard to stick to terza rima when all we care about is the suffering and the stars.