The Dante Machine: What a 14th century poem can tell us about Computers

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By Rebecca E. Skinner

Dante Alighieri like you’ve never seen him before.

Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, and its successor volumes, the Purgatorio and the Paradiso (1321), offer the most vivid portrait ever written of the worst and best in human experience. His opus was an allegory and fantasy, meant both to entertain readers and to introduce them to the state of the art in theology, politics and science of the Northern Italian city-states of the Fourteenth century, but his insights continue to make him relevant seven hundred years later.

The Dante Machine: What a 14th century poem can tell us about Computers introduces Dante, his world and work, and then explores the structure and qualia, or sensory experiences, of Heaven and Hell as he portrayed them. Generally speaking, Hell and Heaven as illustrated in every culture in the world throughout history has used the same imagery. The perogative of organized religion to employ this iconography- which it has often done brilliantly- has been eroded with the advent of secular governments in the developed world, yet the undeniable psychic reality of Heaven and Hell remain.
Predating the computer by more than six hundred years and even movable-type presses by two hundred years, Dante was not a web designer, but an aesthetic guide. His extraordinary sensory detail offers us ways to understand the import of our own tools, and to describe our current overwhelming ubiquitous computer applications. By clarifying the best and the worst of human experience, and illustrating what they look and feel like, he provides a new way of understanding technologies that he himself never could have dreamed of. His ideas were fantasies; but computers allow our world the realization of aspects of Heaven.

Innovative and unanticipated, this work kills several birds with one stone. The advent of increasingly sophisticated computer games, and literature portrayed cinematically have doubtless taken a toll on interest in world literature. It is compelling to see how the latter can inform the former. Because it addresses both computer science and applications and world literature and history, The Dante Machine reaches out to several groups of readers. The technorati will be curious as to what a Fourteenth-century Roman Catholic poem could teach them. Humanists will be intrigued as to how Dante could help them understand computing applications. Countless high school and college students are taught portions of Dante’s Inferno. The author feels safe guessing that none of them are taught it as a way in which to examine the most modern aspect of the modern world. Conversely, the numerous students exploring computer applications rarely view it from a literary and aesthetic perspective. The work bridges the gap between the arts and the technical sciences in a way that surely no one anticipated.

You can purchase the book online from Amazon at

eBook formatting and cover design by Shelley Glasow Schadowsky.
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