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Eight fascinating topics that should be in the next Dan Brown book

Dan Brown and his publishers have released a limited amount of information about his upcoming novel Inferno, most notably that it will be set in the Italian city of Florence, and that it will involve one of the great pieces of literature, the Inferno by Dante Alighieri (the first part of his Divine Comedy). Florence is a fantastic location for a novel: Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo, da Vinci and Machiavelli all hailed from the city, and as the ‘birthplace of the Renaissance’ under the patronage of the Medici family, it is filled with architectural and artistic treasures. But beyond some of the obvious locations, such as the great cathedral that dominates the city sky-line, the Duomo, a little detective work can unveil some other fantastic elements that would make great topics to explore in a Brownian type novel. I’ve done exactly that in my ebook, Inside Dan Brown’s Inferno, from which I’ve selected just eight topics below that I think Dan Brown will likely feature in his book – if he doesn’t, you’d almost have to feel that he hasn’t done his homework…

Galileo’s Fingers

Dan Brown’s novels are often seen as ‘giving the bird’ to the Catholic Church, and in Inferno he has the opportunity to use the middle finger of one of the greatest scientists in history. If Dan Brown’s main character Robert Langdon ends up at the Galileo Museum, bordering the Arno River, he could point out a number of historical treasures, including Galileo’s telescope, through which the genius Florentine discovered the moons of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, both of which offered support for the (at the time) heretical Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the Sun. But perhaps more fitting of a Dan Brown novel are the three fingers of the great man, preserved within elegant egg-shaped glass containers, that are on display in the museum. Will Galileo point the way for Langdon to solve a puzzle?

Galileo's Middle Finger

Sacred Geometry

The publication date for Dan Brown’s Inferno is May 14, 2013, or 5.14.13. Turn that around, and you get 3.14.15, the first five digits of pi.* Add to that the fact that a cryptic clue on Dan Brown’s website is comprised of the words ‘Tarty Sect’ and we definitely start wondering whether Pythagoras and sacred geometry are going to feature in some way: ‘Tarty Sect’ could be rewritten Pie Sect, a pun suggesting the Pythagorean cult, and what’s more ‘Tarty Sect’ is an anagram of ‘Tectractys’ – the symbol of the Pythagoreans, a triangle made of subsequent lines of 1 point, 2 points, 3 points and 4 points.* A number of the great Renaissance minds of Florence held Pythagoras in great esteem, so there’s definitely a link worth exploiting there for Dan Brown. Additionally, the number 33, often linked to the Pythagoreans, is a significant number in the construction of Dante’s Inferno. And Dan Brown might be tempted to add in some of the interesting ‘hidden history’ about Pythagoras – a wandering sage said to be born of a mortal woman who coupled with a god (Apollo), and who dressed in white robes and was able to calm stormy seas, heal the sick, and even raise the dead, some 500 years before Jesus.

And while we’re talking sacred geometry, just down the road from Florence is Pisa, the home of one ‘Leonardo of Pisa’, who would be resurrected from the dust pile of history in the 19th century and mistakenly christened ‘Fibonacci’. The Fibonacci sequence is of course closely linked to the Golden Ratio, one of the central constants of sacred geometry, and poking around Dan Brown’s site we see clues suggesting the Fibonacci Sequence which lead to a hidden video discussing it.

Fibonacci was not the discoverer of this famous ratio though, he only repeated information about it from older sources – but his name has since become intimately connected with it. His more significant contribution to history rests on his reproduction of previous sources though – he is often credited for bringing much of the knowledge of maths, including the Hindu-Arabic numbering system we now use, into western culture in the 13th century after more than half a millennium of the ‘Dark Ages’ (up until Fibonacci, western countries still used Roman numerals, which weren’t especially handy for doing maths with).

Where in Florence might we see this sacred geometry? Naturally, many of the great artworks of the Renaissance, created in Florence, might be referenced as containing it in some way. But a particular location might be the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo, and housing the amazing private library of the Medici family (the ‘Godfathers of the Renaissance’): a treasure-house of more than 11,000 manuscripts and almost 5000 books collected from throughout history. The library has a curious bit of ‘hidden history’ attached to its Reading Room: in his book Beyond Measure: A Guided Tour Through Nature, Myth, and Number, Jay Kappraff tells of the accidental discovery of a previously hidden pavement in the Reading Room, which professor of architecture Ben Nicholson believes is a virtual book on the principles of geometry and number:

In 1774, a portentous accident occurred in the Reading Room of the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo. The shelf of desk 74, overladen with books, gave way and broke. During the course of its repair, workmen found a red and white terra cotta pavement hidden for nearly 200 years beneath the floorboards. The librarian had trapdoors, still operable today, built into the floor so future generations could view these unusual pavements. In 1928 another mishap resulted in the exposure of the entire pavement, which allowed photographs to be made of the fifteen panels on the West side of the library before the wooden floor was replaced.

Overall the pavement consists of two side aisles and a figurative center aisle. Each measuring about 8′-6″ square and composed of a different design. The fifteen panels mirror each other’s form but differ by a very small degree and in subtle ways. When juxtaposed in a series, the fifteen pairs of panels appear to tell a story about the essentials of geometry and numbers. Each panel settles upon a theme: the tetractys (panel 5); Brunés’ star and the Sacred Cut (panels 7 and 11); Plato’s lambda (panel 14); the Golden Mean (Panel 13). When assembled together they form an encyclopedia of the essential principles handed down from ancient geometers.

Although they are hidden from view today, Nicholson believes that the panels were laid according to a plan for a furniture layout that would have exposed them, but that this plan was changed after the panels had been made. He suggests that the original intention was to infuse the spectator with the foundations of ancient geometry as he walked through the Reading Room of the Laurentian Library, the geometry being a perfect complement for the 3000 classical texts chosen to reveal the body of ancient and modern learning of that day.

In the excerpt above, you might note that both the Golden Mean and the Pythagorean Tetractys were referenced. Discoveries of secret art works which encode the principles of sacred geometry, within an architectural treasure designed by Michelangelo and filled with ancient manuscripts? I’d almost be disappointed in Dan Brown if he didn’t include this somewhere in Inferno….

Palazzo Vecchio and the Tesoretto of Cosimo I

The Palazzo Vecchio (“Old Palace”) is the town hall of Florence, and stands within the city’s political center, the Piazza della Signoria – an open square that features the Fountain of Neptune, the Marzocco by Donatello, and a copy of Michelangelo’s David (see below). Built in the 14th century (around the time of Dante) as a fortress palace by the people of Florence, much of the Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum, though it remains the symbol of local government, housing the mayor’s office and the City Council.

To list the possible locations within Palazzo Vecchio that Dan Brown might use in Inferno would take a book on its own – just take a look at the names given to its rooms: the Terrace of Saturn, the Hercules Room, the Room of Cybele, the Hall of the Lilies, the Map Room, the Chapel of the Signoria, and the Apartments of the Elements (I could go on). All of these rooms have historical elements and mythological/symbological links that are typical of a Dan Brown novel – the Apartment of Elements especially, with walls covered in allegorical frescoes of the elements (water, fire and earth) brings to mind the previous Dan Brown novel Angels and Demons. I thoroughly recommend you do some online searches of this amazing building, including taking a look at some of the imagery.

But we can perhaps guess that Robert Langdon might at least visit a certain pair of interconnected rooms, going by a video hidden on Dan Brown’s website that can be unlocked by solving the ‘Tarty Sect’ puzzle mentioned above . In we enter ‘Pythagoras’ or ‘Tetractys’ as the answer to the puzzle, we are taken to a video of Dan emerging from behind what looks like a secret door hidden behind a painting, laughing and saying “That is fun”.

After a bit of detective work, I discovered where this footage was shot: in the Studiolo of Francesco I d’ Medici, within the Palazzo Vecchio (the painting visible on the ‘hidden door’ is Banquet of Cleopatra, by Alessandro Allori). A small room without windows, the Studiolo’s walls and vaulted ceiling are covered with paintings and sculptures, with an explicit theme relating to the four elements (hello again Angels and Demons). It was commissioned in the winter of 1569-70 by Francesco I de’ Medici (son of Cosimo I), who was keenly interested in the latest developments in art and science (and performed numerous scientific experiments himself). The Studiolo was built by Giorgio Vasari as a vault for the prince’s collection of precious and rare objects, with the four walls of the chamber corresponding to each of the four elements, seasons and temperaments. In his article “The Studiolo of Francesco I Reconsidered”, Larry J. Feinberg describes the system used:

Organized mainly according to their affiliations with the four elements – the Pythagorean tetrad of earth, air, fire, and water – Francesco’s objects were deposited in nineteen cupboards distributed along the four walls. The north wall was assigned to fire, the east to earth, the south to water, and the west to air. Covering or adjacent to each cabinet was a panel with a representation of a scene – religious, mythological, historical, or industrial – that in some way referred to the cupboards’ content. For example, Butteri’s painting the Discovery of Glass adorned the door to the cabinet in which Francesco placed his prized samples of glasswork, ancient and contemporary. Because heat is required for glass-blowing, the glass objects and the Butteri painting were installed on the fire wall. Pearls, coral, and other objects associated with the sea were kept in cabinets on the water wall, behind or near related panel paintings. In all, thirty-four of these pictures adorned the Studiolo, set in two registers, punctuated by eight piece of bronze mythological statuary, beneath the intricately painted ceiling and frozen gazes of portraits of Francesco’s parents, Cosimo and Eleonora of Toledo. Presiding over the ensemble, at the apex of the ceiling, was (and is) Francesco Poppi’s depiction of Prometheus, the mythological champion of mankind, who gave fire to the human race, spurring its technological advance.

However, in the modern day the room unfortunately no longer contains many of the original treasures. In fact, the room with all its treasures was only intact for eleven years, as Francesco had it dismantled in 1586, with a number of the artworks being transferred to recently finished Tribuna of the Uffizi (see below). The current configuration of the room is attributed to historian Giovanni Poggi, who in 1908 ‘re-constructed’ the room as best he could from references to it in contemporary Renaissance documents and letters.

Some of the paintings hide secret cupboards, including one that leads up to the Tesoretto (‘little treasure’) of Cosimo I, which also was built to house the treasures of the Medici. This is the doorway that Dan Brown is seen emerging from in the video on his website, so expect to see some part of the action in Inferno use this ‘secret room’. Here’s a virtual 3D tour of the Studiolo and Tesoretto:

Beyond the video of Dan Brown emerging from this door, there is further support that this will be an important location in his book: on the cover of the U.S. edition of Inferno, a code is hidden in the circular diagram of hell that spells out CATROACCR. This cryptogram can be decoded by letter substitution to…Tesoretto.

Michelangelo’s David

C’mon, it’s Michelangelo’s David, one of the greatest artworks of all time. If he’s going to use the Mona Lisa as a prop when he sets his story in Paris, surely he’s got to use David in some way when the novel is set in Florence. This iconic sculpture is housed at the Galleria dell’ Accademia in the northern part of the old city, though Dan Brown could use the confusion between this David, and the copy of it that stands in front of Palazzo Vecchio – the original home of Michelango’s David, until it was moved in 1873 – as a plot point in Inferno.

Dante the Initiate, and the Sacred Feminine

The topic of the ‘sacred feminine’, which played such a huge role in the success of Dan Brown’s breakthrough novel The Da Vinci Code, was largely informed by researchers Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, in particular their book The Templar Revelation. In that book they mention Dante in connection to the sacred feminine, claiming that he was involved in a search for spiritual enlightenment through sexual mysticism and veneration of the goddess principle:

[Dante] was directly inspired by the troubadours of the South of France, and was a member of a society of poets who called themselves the fidele d’amore – ‘the faithful followers of love’. Long regarded as an aesthetic circle, recent scholars have begun to discover more secret and esoteric motivations behind them. The respected academic William Anderson, in his study Dante the Maker, describes the fidele d’amore as “a close brotherhood devoted to achieving a harmony between the sexual and emotional side of their nature and their intellectual and mystical aspirations”. He draws on the research of French and Italian scholars, who have concluded that “the ladies all these poets worshipped were not flesh-and-blood women but, instead, were all masks of the ideal Feminine, Sapientia or Holy Wisdom” and “that the Lady of these poets was…an allegory of the Divine Wisdom also sought.”

Anderson – along with fellow scholar Henry Corbin – sees Dante’s spiritual path as seeking enlightenment through sexual mysticism, as did the troubadours. Henry Corbin says: The fidele d’amore, companions of Dante, profess a secret religion…the union that joins the possible intellect of the human soul with the Active Intelligence…Angel of Knowledge, or Wisdom-Sophia, is visualised and experienced as a love-union.

A lost love from Dante’s youth, Beatrice Portinari, became a cornerstone of his work after she died as a young lady in 1290, with the great poet often depicting her as a semi-divine guardian – was this depiction a mask of the goddess, of Sophia, the Holy Wisdom?

Dante and Beatrice

Picknett and Prince also discuss Dante’s link with the Knights Templar, noting that he “was one of their most enthusiastic supporters, even after their suppression, when it was inadvisable to be connected with them.” Indeed, in the Divine Comedy he brands Philip the Fair as “the new Pilate” for the suppression of the Templar order in 1307. But in fact, he may have been more than a supporter – some claim that Dante himself was a member of a tertiary Templar Order called La Fede Santa that was active in the area of Florence at the time, and that his devotion to the sacred feminine was shared by the order after their immersion in Islam while in the Holy Land, and possible contact with Sufi schools.

Whatever the truth of Dante’s involvement with both the Templars and some secret group that worshipped the sacred feminine, he is now linked by many sources to them at least by association. The renowned 19th century French magus Éliphas Lévi described Dante’s Divine Comedy as “Johannite and Gnostic” in flavour and “a declaration of war against the papacy through the daring revelation of mysteries”. Modern-day esoteric groups such as the Rosicrucians also sometimes lay claim to him as being a previous grand-master of their orders. The 19th century Masonic authority Albert Pike – referenced by Dan Brown in The Lost Symbol – drew attention to some of the symbolism in Dante’s masterwork, including the appearance of a blooming rose within the centre of a cross in the 8th Heaven of Paradiso, saying that in this iconography “we see the symbol of the Adepts of the Rose-Croix for the first time publicly expounded and almost categorically explained”. Furthermore, Charles William King, in his 1887 book The Gnostics and Their Remains, notes that “there is a passage in Dante (Paradiso, xviii.) replete with the profoundest symbolism, and which…Freemasons claim for their own”.

Dan Brown’s secret histories sometimes stray from academic theories into more speculative sources, so don’t be surprised to see Dante given special status in Inferno as an initiate of the highest order, just as Leonardo da Vinci was involved with the Priory of Sion in The Da Vinci Code.

Punishments of the Sinners in Dante’s Inferno

It’s unlikely that at some stage in Inferno we’ll find Robert Langdon muttering to himself “F**kin’ Dante… poetry-writing f*gg*t!”, as Brad Pitt’s character did in David Fincher’s 1995 thriller Se7en. But given Dan Brown’s use of ritualistic murders and mutilations in his previous novels, there’s a fair opportunity for him to use Dante’s concept of contrapasso – whereby sinners are punished in hell via a process “either resembling or contrasting with the sin itself” – just as the serial killer in Se7en applied the seven deadly sins to his victims. In Dante’s circles of hell, sinners have their heads on backwards, are damned to push enormous boulders for eternity, are immersed in boiling blood and fire, or at other times in ice, and buried in holes with their feet sticking out, which are burned eternally by flames, among a number of other punishments. Whomever the villain is in Dan Brown’s Inferno, they are spoilt for choice if they want to kill in style.

The Lost Leonardo

A number of art scholars believe that the Palazzo Vecchio (mentioned above) has hidden somewhere within it a lost painting by Leonardo da Vinci, The Battle of Anghiari. Da Vinci is, of course, intimately connected to Dan Brown’s works, and so given the likely use of Palazzo Vecchio as a location, this is certainly a topic that could easily be used in Inferno.

There is further support for this possibility in the fact that, on the cover of the Italian cover for Inferno, instead of the coded letters CATROACCR, we find the letters CATROVACER. This seems to be a direct anagram of ‘Cerca trova’ (‘Seek and you will find’).* This phrase is directly related to the search for the ‘lost Leonardo’: an Italian expert in the analysis of art through technological analysis, Maurizio Seracini, has claimed that a mural by Giorgio Vasari within the Palazzo Vecchio, the Battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana hides a clue to Leonardo da Vinci’s lost work. In the upper part of Vasari’s fresco, a Florentine soldier waves a green flag with the words “Cerca trova” scrawled upon it. So far, however, no-one has managed to find the lost painting.

A UFO in a Renaissance Painting

Another enigmatic painting within the Palazzo Vecchio is Madonna Col Bambino e San Giovannino (“The Madonna with Saint Giovannino”), which some UFO buffs believe is evidence of a UFO from Renaissance times. Look over the Madonna’s shoulder, and you’ll see the alien craft in question. Perhaps not exactly prime fodder for a Dan Brown novel, but interesting enough to be mentioned in passing perhaps?

Madonna and the UFO

For lots more on the secret history of Florence, the Renaissance and the likes of Dante, Michelangelo, Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci, download a copy of Inside Dan Brown’s Inferno from Amazon for just $2.99.

* Detective work and puzzle solving credits are due to a number of individuals who have been contributing their insights at my Dan Brown-related site The Cryptex, including ‘UDbmas’, ‘Ballesio Mauro’, ‘RalphK’, ‘WilfredKrenn’, and ‘esraa’.