With only about 10 days to go until Halloween, for the rest of the month I’m turning the vintage lantern on books with a decidedly creepy tone.


Editor Scott G. Bruce combs the depths of Western knowledge for descriptions of Hell. Divided into historical eras, he introduces each piece with contextual information — leading ideas of the time, societal understandings, and philosophies. Then the writings are left to stand on their own.

The reader is able to see the evolution of how civilizations thought about life after death, punishment and eternity. Different cultures found ways of explaining the ideas of morality and how it affected one’s journey to the underworld.

On they went, those dim travelers under the lonely night,

through gloom and the empty halls of Death’s ghostly realm,

like those who walk through woods by a grudging moon’s

deceptive light when Jove has plunged the sky in dark

and the blank night drains all color from the world.

~from Virgil’s Aeneid

But what is really striking is how much these descriptions are alike. They seem to build on previous culture’s attempts to explain the unknowable. Dark realms full of screaming, pits of fire, endless abysses. It is also interesting to see how ancient Greeks, for example, treated it as a terrestrial place, albeit far away, with earthly characteristics. But with later philosophers it morphed into something less tangible.

Bruce even brings Hell to the modern era with remembrances from World War II, a diary from a man in decades of solitary confinement and the mix tape from Guantanamo designed solely to break the will of prisoners.

My rating: 

My thanks to Penguin Classics for the review copy.

Edited by Scott G. Bruce
Series: Penguin Classics
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics (September 4, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0143131621
ISBN-13: 978-0143131625

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