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Pleading for hell: postulates, fantasies and the senselessness of punishment


Burkert, Walter (2009). Pleading for hell: postulates, fantasies and the senselessness of punishment. Numen, 56(2-3):141-160.

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.

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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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Department of Greek and Latin Philology
Dewey Decimal Classification:470 Latin & Italic languages
480 Classical & modern Greek languages
Language:English
Date:2009
Deposited On:03 Dec 2009 07:59
Last Modified:06 May 2016 07:31
Publisher:Brill
ISSN:0029-5973
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1163/156852709X404955
Official URL:http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/brill/num/2009/00000056/F0020002/art00002
Related URLs:http://www.brill.nl/ (Publisher)

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