Volume > Issue > The Modern World's Attempt to Beautify Sin & Death

The Modern World’s Attempt to Beautify Sin & Death


By Mitchell Kalpakgian | February 1998
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).

Enjoyed reading this?



You May Also Enjoy

The Return of the Physician-Executioner

We would do well to heed the lesson of Deuteronomy 30:19 (Choose life…"), rather than the teachings of "ethicists" who cannot distinguish human babies from fish.

The Treatment of Handicapped Infants

Wide-scale prenatal screening procedures brought about a “free-fire zone” on the defective child throughout all three stages of gestation.

All Aboard the Suicide Train

In the Netherlands an increasing number of patients now seek assisted dying because of dementia, psychiatric illnesses, and age-related complaints — in other words, non-terminal medical conditions.