I have been talking about different views of what the afterlife entails. In the broadest terms, some ancient people believed that everyone at death had the same fate: they lived on, not in their body but in their soul, in some kind of netherworld where nothing much ever happened. It was a dreadfully banal and boring existence, that went on forever, the same for everyone.
Some ancient authors who had that view described visits to the underworld by the living, where they encounter the souls of the dead, who tell them how awful it is – not just for sinners but for everyone. The point of these otherworldly journeys is crystal clear: you should avoid death for as long as you can, since once it happens, you have a hopelessly insipid future ahead of you, which will stretch for all eternity. Stay alive as long as you can!
This is one of the main points of the otherworldly of Odysseus, in Homer’s Odyssey. And it stands very much at odds with the view set forth in Christian texts from 900 years later, which insisted that the afterlife was absolutely not the same for everyone. For these texts, no one leads a boring and uninteresting existence after death. People are either awarded with heavenly bliss or subject to the most horrific torments you can imagine. And so a person has to choose.
This view is set forth in a number of different kinds of writing, the most intriguing of which are…
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