HELL TO PAY
The Modern World's Attempt To Beautify Sin & Death

February 1998By Mitchell Kalpakgian

Mitchell Kalpakgian is Professor of English at Simpson College in Iowa.

The modern world has neglected to read its classic poets and has turned its back on a crucial lesson taught for 3,000 years by the greatest writers of Western Civilization, the lesson that sin and crime, no matter how legalized, how euphemized, how tolerated, will always in the end reveal their inextricable association with loathsomeness and horror.

In Homer's Odyssey, Odysseus must journey to Hades, where he sees vultures devouring the liver of Tityos for attacking the beautiful Leto, Tantalus (who stole the food of the gods) thirsting eternally in a pool of water that recedes each time he attempts to drink, and Sisyphus laboring to roll a boulder to the crest of a hill only to see it fall again to the bottom. The "awful agonies" of evildoers and the "eerie cry" of the dead so intimidate Odysseus that he yearns to return to the world of the living: "Sheer panic turned me pale, gripped by the sudden fear that Persephone might send me...some ghastly monster like the Gorgon's head" (Book XI).

In Virgil's Aeneid, Aeneas makes a similar descent into the lower world and confronts monsters, such as "the Lemean hydra/ Hissing horribly, and the Chimaera/ Breathing dangerous flames, and Gorgons..." (VI.390-395).


You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.



Back to February 1998 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
[b]Revelation 12:13-17[/b]
13 When the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.
14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, 11 so that she could fly to her place in the desert, where, far from the serpent, she was taken care of for a year, two years, and a half-year.
15 The serpent, 12 however, spewed a torrent of water out of his mouth after the woman to sweep her away with the current.
16 But the earth helped the woman and opened its mouth and swallowed the flood that the dragon spewed out of its mouth.
17 Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus. 13 (18) It took its position 14 on the sand of the sea.

[b]1Maccabees2:49-70[/b]
When the time came for Mattathias to die, he said to his sons: "Arrogance and scorn have now grown strong; it is a time of disaster and violent anger.
50 Therefore, my sons, be zealous for the law and give your lives for the covenant of our fathers.
51 "Remember the deeds that our fathers did in their times, and you shall win great glory and an everlasting name.
52 Was not Abraham found faithful in trial, and it was reputed to him as uprightness?
53 Joseph, when in distress, kept the commandment, and he became master of Egypt.
54 Phinehas our father, for his burning zeal, received the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.
55 Joshua, for executing his commission, became a judge in Israel.
56 Caleb, for bearing witness before the assembly, received an inheritance in the land.
57 David, for his piety, received as a heritage a throne of everlasting royalty.
58 Elijah, for his burning zeal for the law, was taken up to heaven.
59 Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael, for their faith, were saved from the fire.
60 Daniel, for his innocence, was delivered from the jaws of lions.
61 And so, consider this from generation to generation, that none who hope in him shall fail in strength.
62 Do not fear the words of a sinful man, for his glory ends in corruption and worms.
63 Today he is exalted, and tomorrow he is not to be found, because he has returned to his dust, and his schemes have perished.
64 Children! be courageous and strong in keeping the law, for by it you shall be glorified.
65 "Here is your brother Simeon who I know is a wise man; listen to him always, and he will be a father to you.
66 And Judas Maccabeus, a warrior from his youth, shall be the leader of your army and direct the war against the nations.
67 You shall also gather about you all who observe the law, and you shall avenge the wrongs of your people.
68 Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve, and observe the precepts of the law."
69 Then he blessed them, and he was united with his fathers.
70 6 He died in the year one hundred and forty-six, and was buried in the tombs of his fathers in Modein, and all Israel mourned him greatly.
Posted by: humblesoldier
May 07, 2008 09:30 PM EDT
Wow1 What a powerful essay. Would that every priest in every parish across the globe would read this as their sermon on any given Sunday. Too bad so many of them are cowards too focused on that damned collection basket to want to "offend" anyone! Posted by: gespin3549
May 07, 2008 11:29 AM EDT
Add a comment


©