The Elizabethan Robert Burton (1577-1640), in his supreme 1621 effort The Anatomy of Melancholy1 (“The best
book ever written. Period”)—ostensibly a quasi-medical book on depression/melancholy2 but
really about everything, not to mention the entirety of the sciences—called on
Galileo and Kepler in supporting his view that the “eighth sphere” (of Dante, containing
the starry realm and the abode of the Heavenly Father) was 170 million 800
miles away3 from the earth.
Burton thought that if you were to drop a stone from that distance and have it travel 100 mph it would take “65 years or more”, [page 152 or so]) to reach the ground here on earth. Heaven aside, something going 100mph for 65 years wouldn’t get but a third of the way to 170mil., though it was interesting for
Burton to be thinking in terms of big distance like this at this time. There are by
the way other “eighth spheres” around in the history of science and literature,
from Sacrobosco to Copernicus, but Burton must absolutely be referring to Dante for this reference.
Well. There is of course much of great interest in this book that wound up being correct, and then there was the other stuff, like this, that just didn’t work. Overall though it may be a book to be buried with; it is beautiful, complex, deliberate, fantastic, horribly erudite, compelling, and sometimes unreadable.
1.The full title of
the book, by the way, is: The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all
the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three
3. The quote for the 170 million mile high Heaven bit: