The dimensions of hell

by Chris Bertram on December 4, 2004

From the “FT’s review”: of Len Fisher’s Weighing the Soul :

bq. Weighing the Soul is a mine of delightful oddities, such as the origins of Galileo’s “scaling theory”, which is still used to estimate proportions when turning a model into an actual building. Early in his career Galileo was asked by the Pope to use his mathematical skills to work out the exact location and dimensions of Hell. His calculations showed it to be a cone-shaped structure with the point at the centre of the earth and the top a circle whose centre was below Jerusalem. The big structural problem was the unsupported roof, which spanned 5,000kms. Galileo claimed that the design used for the dome of the cathedral in Florence would do the job and was lavishly praised. In fact he rapidly realised that his calculations were wrong but kept it secret, only publishing the amended equations years later.



cloquet 12.05.04 at 10:35 pm

Well, Iraq and Afghanistan are not too far from Jerusalem, and our soldiers stationed there might possibly think they are in hell. So you are not giving near enough credit to Galileo for coming up with the right answer, or near enough credit to the Pope for having the ingenuity to ask the question.


cloquet 12.05.04 at 10:43 pm

Still, that sounds like an interesting book. Oddly enough, the weight of a soul was the subject of a trailer I saw last night for an upcoming movie.


Anderson 12.06.04 at 11:23 pm

Obligatory alt-pop reference:

“I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell.”

Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon, vocal)
“The Sprawl”
Daydream Nation

Maybe Galileo’s where she got this? It always sounded like Rimbaud to me, but couldn’t find it there …


paul 12.08.04 at 9:09 pm

The first verse of “The Sprawl” is a pastiche of lines from Denis Johnson’s The Stars at Noon, an excellent if occasionally bewildering mid-’80s novel set in Central America. Nicaragua in 1984 is the narrator’s idea of hell.

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