Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur: Mythology and Geology of the Underworld: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur: Mythology and Geology of the Underworld: Books

Article excerpt

Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur: Mythology and Geology of the Underworld. By Salomon Kroonenberg. Reaktion, 304pp, Pounds 25.00. ISBN 9781780230450. Published 24 July 2013

Why", wonders Salomon Kroonenberg, "do astronomers get to study heaven and we geologists hell?" More importantly, is there geological evidence that hell actually exists? In Why Hell Stinks of Sulfur, Kroonenberg embarks on a physical and metaphorical journey to explore the hidden Earth beneath our feet - the subsurface underworld that has done so much to capture our imagination, but about which we still know so little. Using Dante's circles of hell as a rough guide, and weaving together two seemingly unrelated topics - geology and classical mythology - he takes the reader down through successively deeper levels into "gobstopper Earth", colouring his explanations of scientific phenomena with mythical tales and personal reminiscences from his professional career as a geologist.

Kroonenberg begins by seeking the entrance to the underworld. His investigations uncover not just one, but several possible entry points peppered around the Mediterranean and Black Sea region, revealing a fascinating link between the formation of limestone in an ancient ocean and the development of "classical culture". Once underground he roams around Dante's upper circles musing on the virtues of soil, exploring geological evidence for the mythical underground rivers that carried the Indifferent into Limbo, tracing ideas about the formation of metallic ores from the philosophers of ancient Greece to the modern day, and exposing the role of humans in removing critical evidence for Earth's internal processes and history.

At about 6,300km, the distance from Earth's surface to its core is roughly equivalent to that separating London from Chicago, yet amazingly the depth to which we have drilled so far would take us only to Slough! Beyond this point we descend beneath Dante's seventh circle, down through the abyss inhabited by the monster Geryon and undiscovered subterranean life forms, to the depths as yet unseen by the human eye and observable only with the "binoculars" of modern seismology. …

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