Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition

Article excerpt

Heaven and Hell: Visions of the Afterlife in the Western Poetic Tradition BY LOUIS MARKOS WIPF AND STOCK, 244 PAGES, $27

In this slim but not slight treatment of literary classics, Louis Markos, professor of English at Houston Baptist University, brings the witness of Christian orthodoxy into dialogue with poetic interpretations of heaven and hell.

Four great epics that portray the fate of the soul-The Odyssey, The Aeneid, The Divine Comedy, and Paradise Lost-form the structure of Markos's book. Throughout, he highlights Christian artists who read "God's presence in the highest poetry, history, and philosophy of the pre-Christian, Greco-Roman world" and saw it fulfilled in the New Testament's revelation. Dante and Milton saw themselves as completing, not rejecting, Plato and Virgil.

Markos argues that this Christian humanist vision that God's revelation answers our highest aspirations has suffered since the Puritans portrayed heaven as an escape from earth rather than as the redemption of creation. With the Enlightenment, the sacramental vision of the continuity between the afterlife and everyday life became more deeply ruptured, as William Blake subjectivized heaven and hell, and Tennyson struggled to believe in the soul in a scientific age. …

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