Intro Programme Abstracts
Social Aspects of Hell: A cross-cultural approach


Walter Burkert (University of Zurich):
Pleading for hell: Ideals and fantasies of punishment

If the ideal of justice includes effective punisment 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 divers starting points and interests. There is just a germ of such speculations in Sumerian. If Hell fire first appears in Egypt, this goes together with the fear of magic from the side of the dead; it is partisan interest in Zoroastrianism and Judaism 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 llike Hell are found in Plato finally, whose sources -besides Homer– can be postulated but not identified.

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