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Pleading for Hell: Postulates, Fantasies, and the Senselessness of Punishment

Walter Burkert
Numen
Vol. 56, No. 2/3, THE USES OF HELL (2009), pp. 141-160
Published by: Brill
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27793787
Page Count: 20
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Pleading for Hell: Postulates, Fantasies, and the Senselessness of Punishment
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Abstract

If the ideal of justice includes effective punishment of offenders, an extension into afterlife must be postulated. This still involves all the questionable aspects and paradoxes of punishment that make rational and enlightened argumentation difficult. A historical survey of ancient tentatives at hell lore shows diverse starting points and interests. There is just a germ of such speculations in Sumerian. When hell fire first appears in Egypt, it goes together with the fear of magic from the dead; in Zoroastrianism and Judaism it is partisan interest which makes the adherents of the wrong religion destined for hell. In Greece we find various ethical and poetical motifs interfering, from the powerful yet enigmatic images in the Odyssey to a general proclamation of punishments in the Hymn to Demeter. The most graphic and horrible descriptions of something like hell are finally found in Plato, whose sources — besides Homer — can be postulated but not identified.

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