Mapping Dante’s Inferno, One Circle of Hell at a Time

“I found myself, in truth, on the brink of the valley of the sad abyss that gathers the thunder of an infinite howling. It was so dark, and deep, and clouded, that I could see nothing by staring into its depths.”

“This is the vision that greets the author and narrator upon entry the first circle of Hell—Limbo, home to honorable pagans—in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first part of his 14th-century epic poem, Divine Comedy. Before Dante and his guide, the classical poet Virgil, encounter Purgatorio and Paradiso, they must first journey through a multilayered hellscape of sinners—from the lustful and gluttonous of the early circles to the heretics and traitors that dwell below. This first leg of their journey culminates, at Earth’s very core, with Satan, encased in ice up to his waist, eternally gnawing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (traitors to God) in his three mouths. In addition to being among the greatest Italian literary works, Divine Comedy also heralded a craze for “infernal cartography,” or mapping the Hell that Dante had created.

“This desire to chart the landscape of Hell began with Antonio Manetti, a 15th-century Florentine (like Dante himself) architect and mathematician. He diligently worked on the “site, form and measurements” of Hell, assessing, for example, the width of Limbo—87.5 miles across, he calculated. There are several theories for why it was so important then to delineate Dante’s Hell, including the general popularity of cartography at the time and the Renaissance obsession with proportions and measurements.” […]    –Anika Burgess, Atlas Obscura, July 13, 2017