I’m chortling in my joy. Today is a big day for me! At last my academic study of guided tours of the afterlife came out: Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition. As many of you know, this is the scholarly monograph that is roughly similar at least in topic (almost all the material is actually completely different) to my trade book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, which came out two years ago.
I STARTED out — six years ago, in 2016 — thinking I wanted to do further research into afterlife in the early Christian tradition, and was specifically interested in writing a scholarly book on “Katabasis,” the technical term for “a journey to the realms of the dead” (it literally means “a going down”). I got two full years of research leave to do it, a fellowship at the National Humanities Center in 2018-19 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019-20. I did nothing but work on it full time both years, and I’ve done almost nothing in my research time since then on it (and in the two years before).
It was a tough one. I had to acquire Homeric Greek (I’ve long read other kinds of ancient Greek, but never dived into the bizarre world of Homer), beef up my Latin seriously (Virgil!), read tons of books and articles in French and German and some Italian. And, well, English. A real grind, but absolutely worth doing. There’s nothing like serious scholarship.
And then I had write it, revise it, edit it, get readers reports, revise it more. And on and on.
But now it’s DONE. Parts of the book would certainly be accessible to lay readers — most of it actually. I do use a lot of Greek and Latin, but I almost always translate it. One chapter in particular will not interest much of anyone but hard core experts, but the rest is pretty fascinating stuff, I think, for well-informed readers who are not scholars. But we’ll see.
My trade book was a spin-off; once almost all the research was done I dealt with the most interesting aspects for general readers; and then it was on to writing the hard one.
And as of now it has reached the light of publishing day. Celebration tonight!