What Does Hell Look Like?

A new book imagines how the underworld may appear with these illustrations

A.D. 200-300. A burning river of fire and other flaming torments described in the Apocalypse of Paul shaped medieval Europe’s understanding of damnation—and our own. Juan Bernabeu

Six out of ten Americans believe in an afterlife in which people are punished for evil deeds, a 2014 Pew survey found. Whether your sense of hell is literal or metaphorical, the concept predates Christianity, according to the new Penguin Book of Hell. “Despite all our recourse to reason and compassion,” says editor Scott Bruce, “the power of Hell has not been undone.” He especially bewails the persistence of “hell on Earth,” such modern, self-inflicted torments as war crimes, nuclear bombs and genocide.

The Penguin Book of Hell

From the Hebrew Bible's shadowy realm of Sheol to twenty-first-century visions of Hell on earth, "The Penguin Book of Hell" takes us through three thousand years of eternal damnation.

C. 400 B.C. The Ancient Greek underworld—guarded by Cerberus—was always grim, but the idea of eternal torture for earthly wrongdoing didn't begin to appear until the age of Socrates. Juan Bernabeu
C. 594. Purgatory didn’t become church doctrine until 1245, but the concept emerged in the sixth century in works like Pope Gregory I’s Dialogues. Juan Bernabeu
1000-1300. For centuries, the idea of hell was confined to cloisters. At the turn of the millennium, clergy began to spread vivid tales to laypeople to encourage good behavior. Juan Bernabeu
C. 1150. Penned by an Irish monk, the Visio Tnugdali was the most graphic map of the devil’s lair until Dante; it inspired the 16th-century paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Juan Bernabeu
C. 1320. Dante’s Inferno brought organization to the afterlife, with clear geography and punishment to match the sin. The worst fate was the frozen ninth circle. Juan Bernabeu
1665. Post-Reformation Protestants embraced hell, but they focused more on God's judgment than physical pain, as in this Puritan tale of the “resurrection of damnation.” Juan Bernabeu
C. 1874. Even as the rise of science diminished the fear of the underworld, a pamphlet for kids at a Christian camp in England threatened eternal, “aching darkness.” Juan Bernabeu

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