3. The “Hell” of the Pagans, described and dramatized by the poets of antiquity, is the grandest of the forms that have been assumed by the idea of a place of punishments for the souls of humanity, although its principal features have been perpetuated in the “Hell” of the Christians, which, also, has been sung by their poets. On comparing these two conceptions of the infernal regions, we find them to be closely allied, notwithstanding their differences of names and details; in both, physical fire is the basis of the tortures of the damned, because it is the cause of the most excruciating suffering. But, strange to say, Christians have made their hell, in many respects, still more horrible than that of the Pagans. The latter had their hell in the Sieve of the Danaides, Ixion’s Wheel, the Stone of Sisyphus, etc.; but these were merely torments of individuals, whereas the Christian hell has its boiling cauldrons for the vast majority of the human race, and the Christian “angels” lift up the covers of those receptacles to feast their eyes upon the contortions of the damned, * which are also watched by the “elect” with lively satisfaction, ** while their God hears, unmoved, the groans that will ascend, throughout eternity, from the bottomless pit! The Pagans never depicted the dwellers in the Elysian Fields as gloating over the horrors of Tartarus.
* A sermon preached, in 1860, by an eminent Catholic divine, at Montpellier, seat of a University Faculty.
** 8 “The blessed, without quitting the place they occupy, will yet quit it in a certain manner—through the intelligence and the distinctness of vision with which they are endowed—in order to contemplate the tortures of the damned; and, on seeing these, they will not only not feel any sorrow, but they will be overwhelmed with joy and will give thanks to God for their own happiness in witnessing the unutterable misery of the impious.”—SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS.