The Geological Features That Inspired Hell In Dante’s Divine Comedy

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“For a long time, the inner earth was a mysterious place – supposedly the reign of demons, home to ancient gods (like Pluto) and place of eternal damnation. Italian poet Dante Alighieri imagined an especially elaborate version of Hell in his Divine Comedy. He included in his description the nine circles of Hell, with Lucifer residing in the lowest, real landscapes and geological features. According to author Marco Romano, in the description of Dante’s Inferno we find earthquakes, rivers, mountains, landslides, a desert of scorching sand and even some types of rocks (like the famous marble of Carrara).

“Dante imagined Hell like an inverted cone, with its circles gradually becoming smaller nearer to Earth’s core. Each circle was dedicated to a sin and the sin’s related punishment. This image is based on calculations of Greek philosophers, like Eratosthenes of Cyrene or Claudius Ptolemy, who argued that Earth is a sphere. Hell, as part of earth, would have to be cone-shaped. Dante even gives an exact value of Earth’s radius of 3,250 miles (it’s actually 3,959 miles).” — David Bressan, Forbes, July 16, 2016

Read the full article here.

“Dante’s Cosmic Inferno

“In Dante’s Inferno – the first part of The Divine Comedy – the poet describes Hell as a series of nine concentric circles, each representing an order of wickedness greater than the one that preceded it until finally arriving at the center of the Earth, where Satan is imprisoned. One might imagine his depiction of Hell as something like an infernal, subterranean solar system with locked Hellish loops acting as parallel universes of sin under the relentless pressure of poetic justice revolving around the embodiment of evil. As one might expect, the Inferno is filled with images of fire – the classical elemental symbol long associated with divine wrath and punishment – with unsettling and supernatural, near-animistic qualities. In Canto XII, for example, those who’ve committed acts of violence are condemned to eternal immersion in the river Phlegethon, described by Dante as consisting of boiling blood, but originally imagined by the Greeks as a river of fire: the name itself means ‘flaming.’ His other Hells are no less unpleasant.

“Had Dante been allowed access to, say, radio telescopes and modern technology, he might well have imagined justice being meted out to souls trapped on Hellish exoplanets: intemperate places – some worlds of fire, others of ice – where not even the faintest idea of life can persist amidst cosmic severity. ” [. . .]    –K.S. Anthony, Outer Places, July 11, 2018.

Check out the circles of Hell as planets on Outer Places.

Dante’s Inferno Science

“How can a knowledge of physics, earth science and astronomy enrich a reader’s understanding and experience of this classic work of Western Literature? How can reading classic Western Literature enrich a student’s understanding and experience of science? In this lesson I aim to bring science to the reader of poetry – and poetry to the student of science…  Dante travels through the centre of the Earth in the Inferno, and comments on the resulting change in the direction of gravity in Canto XXXIV (lines 76–120).” […]  —KaiserScience

Contributed by Madisen Pool (University of Kansas, 2019)

Robot Dante’s Voyage

“Following in the fictional footsteps of the poet Dante, who descended into hell in his Divine Comedy, a robot also named Dante will later this month descend into the inferno of Mount Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica. The eight-legged, spider-like robot, developed by two American universities and NASA, will gather data and samples from the hostile environment inside the volcano’s crater. At the same time, robotics researchers hope to gain valuable experience about how to build robots to explore the surfaces of other planets.” — Jonathan Beard, New Scientist, December 12, 1992

Read more of this article here.

From Dante’s Circles of Hell to Academic Freedom

“The focus of Hindrik Mulder’s research is on the metabolism of insulin-producing beta cells. The question he studies is what goes wrong in type 2 diabetes: why do the insulin-producing beta cells fail? Why are they no longer able to release as much insulin as is needed to keep blood sugar levels under control?

“’The cells’ powerhouses – mitochondria – play a key role in this. The mitochondria give the cells energy and control their metabolism. However, if their workings are disturbed, the beta cells are not able to respond with sufficient insulin release when blood sugar levels rise, and this results in diabetes’, says Hindrik Mulder.” —  Tord Ajanki and Hanna Mellors, Lund University Diabetes Centre, December 10, 2018

Read the rest of the article here.

The Nine Circles of Scientific Hell

Nine-Circles-Scientific-Hell-Neuroskeptic

For the descriptions of the sins, see Neuroskeptic’s full post on the Discover Magazine website.

The Beyond-Two-Degree Inferno

“In Dante’s Inferno, he describes the nine circles of Hell, each dedicated to different sorts of sinners, with the outermost being occupied by those who didn’t know any better, and the innermost reserved for the most treacherous offenders. I wonder where in the nine circles Dante would place all of us who are borrowing against this Earth in the name of economic growth, accumulating an environmental debt by burning fossil fuels, the consequences of which will be left for our children and grandchildren to bear? Let’s act now, to save the next generations from the consequences of the beyond-two-degree inferno.” — Marcia McNutt, Science, July 3, 2015

Read the full article here.

(Contributed by Alexandra Basili, FSU 2019)

Mark Levinson, Particle Fever (2013)

Particle-Fever-LAC-doc-Circle-art-poster-Dante“For the first time, a film gives audiences a front row seat to a significant and inspiring scientific breakthrough as it happens. Particle Fever follows six brilliant scientists during the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, marking the start-up of the biggest and most expensive experiment in the history of the planet, pushing the edge of human innovation. […]

“Directed by Mark Levinson, a physicist turned filmmaker, from the inspiration and initiative of producer David Kaplan and masterfully edited by Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, The Godfather trilogy), Particle Fever is a celebration of discovery, revealing the very human stories behind this epic machine.”

During the course of the documentary (released in 2013), particle scientist Fabiola Gianotti quotes Inferno 26: “fatti non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza.”

For more on the film, including links to the official trailer, still photos, and video clips, see the official film website.

Contributed by Yuhan Jin (Notre Dame, ’15)

Dante on the Moon

dante-crater“Only a handful of humans have ever seen the farside of the Moon. There was a time after the Moon’s formation when the entire surface was covered by an ocean of magma; the upper layer of this magma ocean crystallized to form a global layer of anorthosite. Since that time, impacts and other geological processes have broken and churned the surface, but the Dante Crater area may possess significant amounts of these original rocks.”    —NASA, April 23, 2010

Asteroid 2999 Dante

2999-dante-asteroid
2999 Dante, named after Dante Alighieri, is a small main belt asteroid discovered in 1981 by Norman G. Thomas.

See source (Schmadel, Lutz D. (2003). Dictionary of Minor Planet Names: Prepared on Behalf of Commission 20 Under the Auspices of the International Astronomical Union. Springer. p. 247.)  on Amazon.