Lisbon Earthquake

Not only Lisbon, but also vast parts of North Africa and Europe were devastated by the earthquake on 1 November 1755. With an estimated strength of 8.5 on the Richter scale, the epicenter was in the Atlantic Ocean. Shifting underwater fault lines in the Strait of Gibraltar caused a tsunami that flooded the Portuguese Atlantic coast and fires broke out in Lisbon and other cities. The earthquake had significant scientific and cultural ramifications. It prompted the beginnings of modern seismology and sparked widespread discussion among men of letters. The optimism associated with Enlightenment thought was reevaluated, including with reference to the works of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) and questions of theodicy, such as: how can a benevolent God allow so much suffering? Further, in Poème sur le désastre de Lisbonne (1755), Voltaire (1694–1778) reassessed his appraisal of An Essay on Man (1733–34) by Alexander Pope (1688–1744), in which it is asserted that “Whatever is, is right.”

Further Readings: 
  • Eifert, Christiane. "Das Erdbeben von Lissabon 1755: Zur Historizität einer Naturkatastrophe." Historische Zeitschrift 274 (2002): 633-664.
  • Hoffman, Susanna M., and Anthony Oliver-Smith. Catastrophe and Culture: The Anthropology of Disaster. Santa Fe and Oxford: School of American Research Press and James Currey Publishers, 2002.