Physics from Hell: How Dante’s Inferno Inspired Galileo’s Physics

This com­ing fall, Mark Peter­son, a physics pro­fes­sor at Mount Holyoke Col­lege, will pub­lish a new book where he makes a rather curi­ous argu­ment: Back in 1588, a young Galileo pre­sent­ed two lec­tures before the Flo­ren­tine Acad­e­my. And there he laid the ground­work for his the­o­ret­i­cal physics when he called into ques­tion the accept­ed mea­sure­ments of Dan­te’s hell (as depict­ed in the Infer­no, the great epic poem from 1314). Did debates over a poem fig­ure into the unfold­ing of The Sci­en­tif­ic Rev­o­lu­tion? The Boston Globe digs deep­er into the ques­tion with the video above and a longer arti­cle here.

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Comments (4)
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  • Open Yale Cours­es has videos lec­tures for “Dante in Trans­la­tion”. Course home page:

  • Jack Durish says:

    Absolute­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Did Dante intu­it some ker­nel of truth that Galileo was able to build upon or did Galileo mere­ly use Dan­te’s poem as jump­ing off place for his jour­ney to find truth? I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing this one.

  • Ignas Bednarczyk. says:

    Dantes con­cept is philo­soph­i­cal. The dis­missal via Galileo in the video is about as ‘real’ as the clain Galileo was the equiv­a­lent of ‘just a med- school drop-out’ when he made a star­tling, I sup­pose, dis­cov­ery about, ‘real­i­ty’.

  • Ian Dall says:

    Dante was, him­self, very engaged with the sci­en­tif­ic thoughts of his time, so Galileo response was quite appro­pri­ate. As for how lit­er­al that ver­sion of the III Worlds was sup­posed to be, Dante made it clear that his poem was alle­gor­i­cal.

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