The first account we have of a living human making a trip to the realm of the dead in Western literature is in the Odyssey of Homer. The Odyssey is about the ten-year attempt of the hero, Odysseus, to return home to Ithaca after the (also ten-year) Trojan war. Many adventures and mishaps meet him en route. At about the half-way point of the narrative, in book ten, he is on the island of Aeaea where he has encountered the witch-sorceress Circe.
At the end of his stay there he pleads with her that he desperately wants to get home. She instructs him that he must first travel down to the “House of the Dead” and to the “awesome one Persephone” (i.e., the goddess who rules the underworld, with her husband Hades). There he needs to consult with the ghost of Tiresias, a famous blind prophet, who has retained all his wits and prophetic powers in Hades. This is an important point: the other dead (in other words, everyone else who has ever lived) do not have memories in the realm of the dead, or the power to predict the future: just Tiresias. (Note: I’m only describing the perspective set forth in the Odyssey, not in other ancient texts.)
But this is an awesome and fearful task. How can …
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