Letter: Journey to the centre of a vicious circle

Sir: Ian Thomson ('A grand tour in the circles of hell', 26 February) writes that Dante, in the Inferno, is involved in a 'descent to the centre of the earth, which is also the bottom of hell (medieval cartographers must have located this limbo somewhere in Australia)'.

Medieval cartographers were well aware that the centre of a sphere is not identical with its lower surface. Dante explains carefully (Canto XXXIV) that in order to reach the Antipodes a long journey had to be undertaken from the centre of the earth. It was in the Antipodes (now called Australia) that Dante located, not the bottom of hell, but Mount Purgatory.

Nor can the 'bottom of hell' be equated with 'limbo', which was the destination of unbaptised children and virtuous pagans, and was located by Dante in the outermost and least painful circle of hell.

Yours faithfully,

HYAM MACCOBY

London, N3

27 February

(Photograph omitted)

Comments