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Illustration of Dante's inferno

Dante’s Inferno in One Incredible Interactive Map


One of literature’s most famous topographies makes for an incredible virtual graphic...

“It’s not down on any map; true places never are.” Thus wrote Melville in Moby Dick when referring to the island of Rokovoko —a land “far away to the West and South.” The fact is that the existence of any place in the real world isn’t always related to its relevance and less still to its reality. Such is the case of the Hell drawn by Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy. Today, this terrible imaginary place exists within an entirely new space. It’s a virtual and interactive map laying out in detail all its regions, while presenting the people who inhabit each of them.

Since its inception, the Divine Comedy has stimulated the imaginations of artists who’ve tried to capture in images that which the Florentine poet had created using only his words. The first illustrations describing Dante’s Inferno in its entirety appeared in 1491, some 200 years after that part of the poem had been written (Dante composed it between 1304 and 1307). Works since made by Sandro Botticelli, Salvador Dalí, William Blake, Gustav Doré, Robert Rauschenberg, and by the great Moebius stand out among the many examples.

With the passage of time, Dante’s cartography has lost some of its fertility in the collective Western imagination. (Who today imagines hell as a descending spiral divided into sections based on the sins committed by each sections’ inhabitants?) But the poem, perhaps among the most important in the history of humankind, still encourages its own visualization and reconfiguration in generation after generation (even during one like our own, governed as it is by new technologies). One example is this fabulous interactive map.

Illustrated in its amusing way, as though it were a children’s book, this version of Dante’s Inferno includes its own instructions and, funny enough, seems designed for all ages. The raw violence of the poet’s descriptions, the naked bodies burned and mutilated, are replaced by a map that might even be considered funny. Created by the Italian design firm, Alpaca, along with the studio Molotro, and funded by the Dante Alighieri Society, its purpose is both playful and educational. It’s an ideal companion for those making their first approach to Dante and his Divine Comedy.

In a design that stands out for its simplicity and practicality, the map allows an exploration of the circles of this new hell and for meetings with those inside each circle, including all the most famous. The map offers an index of the names of inhabitants in each area and lists of passages from the text. These can direct you to specific places on the map as described in the poem. Finally, the map allows one to scroll in and out from specific areas to learn more about each.

Surprisingly, this chart doesn’t just give new meaning to a place which doesn’t exist and one which has been revisited for centuries. It also reminds us that it’s the responsibility of each new generation to appropriate the art that’s come before, both as a way of inserting ourselves (imaginatively and personally) into a tradition that will never cease to be quite completely configured.


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