Measuring Hell


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“…Given his devotion to empirical fact, it seems odd to think that Galileo’s most important ideas might have their roots not in the real world, but in a fictional one. But that’s the argument that Mount Holyoke College physics professor Mark Peterson has been developing for the past several years: specifically, that one of Galileo’s crucial contributions to physics came from measuring the hell of Dante’s Inferno. Or rather, from disproving its measurements.
In 1588, when Galileo was a 24-year-old unknown, a medical school dropout, he was invited to deliver a couple of lectures on Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Many in Galileo’s audience would have been shocked, even dismayed, to see this young upstart take the stage and start poking holes in what they believed about the poet’s meticulously constructed fantasy world.
Ever since its 1314 publication, scholars had toiled to map the physical features of Dante’s Inferno — the blasted valleys and caverns, the roiling rivers of fire. What Galileo said, put simply, is that many commonly accepted dimensions did not stand up to mathematical scrutiny. Using complex geometrical analysis, he attacked a leading scholar’s version of the Inferno’s structure, pointing out that his description of the infernal architecture — such as the massive cylinders descending to the center of the Earth — would, in real life, collapse under their own weight. Later, Galileo realized the leading rival theory was wrong, too, and that even the greatest scholars of the time simply didn’t understand how real-world structures worked.” [. . .]   –Christ Wright, Boston Globe, January 9, 2011

See Mark Peterson’s forthcoming book: Galileo’s Muse: Renaissance Mathematics and the Arts

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

“The Classics as the Antidote to Modern Malaise”

dreyfus-and-kelly-all-things-shining“. . . Though brief, this is an ambitious book, offering insightful readings of authors including Homer, Dante, Descartes and Kant, as well as the novelists Herman Melville and David Foster Wallace. Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly believe that great books are the ‘gathering places’ where the major forces of a culture are focused, and so they are able to chart our descent from Homer’s gratitude before many gods to Wallace’s paralysis before a plethora of choices. . .
Great books are there to reconnect us. Mr. Dreyfus and Mr. Kelly admire Dante’s focus on the saving power of various forms of desire, but find that his ultimate emphasis on the overwhelming bliss of contemplating God ‘makes all other earthly joys irrelevant.’ Dante’s achievement turns out to be ‘not the answer to nihilism but another step in its direction.’ Similarly, the philosophical focus after Descartes and Kant is on the autonomous self as the basis for knowledge, but the authors explore how the idea of a human subject able to bestow meaning on inert objects winds up undermining our openness to the world.” [. . .]    –Michael Roth, The New York Times, January 3, 2011

Dante Tree Ornament

The Morgan Library in New York has reopened the McKim Building containing, among much else, a Dante lunette which is also the basis for an ornament on sale at their shop.

Contributed by Patrick Molloy

Johnny Depp to Play Protagonist in Nick Tosches’ Novel “In the Hand of Dante” (2002)

johnny-depp-to-play-protagonist-in-the-hand-of-dante-2002“Johnny Depp’s production company Infinitum Nihil has acquired screen rights to the Nick Tosches novel ‘In the Hand of Dante.’ The novel will be developed as a potential star vehicle for Depp. . .
Book revolves around Dante’s masterwork “The Divine Comedy,” and tells parallel storylines involving Dante in 14th-century Italy as he tries to complete the work, and a contemporary storyline involving Tosches, who is asked to authenticate what might be Dante’s original manuscript. Depp would play Tosches. The novel was published in 2002.” [. . .]    –Michael Fleming, Variety, December 2, 2008

See Also: MTVnews update on the film’s progress as of July 2011.

Contributed by Patrick Molloy