Welcome to Hell

Okay, I'll be just a little naughty.
Okay, I’ll be just a little naughty.
There are people who demand that no one be allowed to buy condoms. They claim it is a command in the bible. It’s not and they’re stretching that spilt seed thing way past its limit, but this isn’t about logic or truth, it’s about control. They also demand that you not have sex but, if you do have sex, have it without a condom. That way, after you have your condom free sex and get yourself or your partner pregnant, they can forbid either of you from getting an abortion. Then you both can share the joys of giving birth to an unwanted child who will grow up with many issues and, one day, end up in prison where they will demand that the state spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to kill said child all while ignoring the fact that all of this could have been avoided for the price of a $1.00 condom. I’ve always felt that there’s a special place in hell for these people. What I did not know was that we need not wait for them to greet their due reward. We can just drive them over to the gates and drop them off.

Before I begin, we need to have a brief history of hell.

In the Old Testament there really was no defined hell. Oh, sure, you had the beginnings of Satan, but he was more of a trickster than ruler of the underworld. In fact, when Abraham was putting together what would be the rule book for what would become Judaism, there was no mention of a nether realm at all. Just do good and good things will happen. As example “A” he could point to Adam and Eve. When they disobeyed God they were kicked out of the garden, not swept, Spawn-like, into an eternal inferno. Oh, yeah, they were also cursed with mortality and Eve got the raw end of the deal when it comes to monthly pain, but still no pits of unending flame.

Later Egyptians, Romans and Greeks – not necessarily in that order – added a new element of an underworld to religion. Even so, what Anubis, Pluto and/or Hades oversaw wasn’t a place of punishment, just a place where all souls went. Even the Disney flick Hercules knew that.

Then, not all that long before Christ was born, all that changed.

There became two types of after lives. One good, the other not so good. And, when you consider how long normal theological changes take, this one happened rapidly. And, more importantly, it spewed forth clearly defined. It had the River Styx, it had a three headed dog, it had a serpent and, most of all, it had death. Lots and lots of painful death.

That’s a little too specific for multiple visions.

Francesco Cerri, of the Anna Lindh Foundation, says that’s because the ancient Greeks stumbled on a real place that, to abuse the obvious, scared the hell out of them.

Few doubts remain that a cave discovered by a team of Italian archeologists led by Professor Francesco D’Adria in the ancient city of Hierapolis in classical Phrygia is indeed the mythical ‘Gate to Hell’ of Greek antiquity.

Celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition, the cave called Plutonium or Pluto’s Gate was a destination for the VIPs of antiquity, such as the philosopher Cicero and the great Greek geographer Strabo.

It was discovered in March this year amid the ruins that lie adjacent to the modern city of Pamukkale in Turkey. D’Adria’s team found it thanks to the bodies of some small birds, who appeared to have dropped dead at the mouth of a cave that was spewing deadly carbon dioxide fumes. Cicero, who visited the cave in in the first century BC, spoke of the same phenomenon.

”Any animal that passes inside meets instant death”, wrote Cicero. ”Bulls that are led into it fall and are dragged out dead; and I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell”. ”The Plutonium…is an opening of only moderate size, large enough to admit a man”, wrote the geographer. ”(It is) full of a vapour so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground”. Fittingly, D’Adria on Thursday told ANSAmed his team has made what he called ”a one-of-a-kind discovery”: a 1.5-metre-high marble statue of Cerberus, the Greek mythological three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, or the Kingdom of the Dead, at the entrance to Pluto’s Gate.

Next to the three-headed dog – whom Hercules alone managed to subdue by feeding it a loaf of bread laced with narcotic poppy seeds – the Italian team found a marble statue of an enormous serpent, another mythical guardian of the gates to the next world.

The Hierapolis dig proceeds with painstaking caution. Just two meters wide, the cave has yet to be fully investigated and might hold more surprises. Meanwhile, restoration work on the exceptional site of ancient Hierapolis, whose hot springs have been used as a spa since the 2nd century BC, is ongoing.

In a church next to the tomb of St. Philip, which D’Adria discovered two years ago, eight great marble columns have been restored to their original position. The city’s theater, one of the most spectacular Greco-Roman sites in Turkey, is almost completely restored.

Okay, put yourself in their sandals. These were not stupid people, nor were they overly superstitious. But they had their religions and they were confronted by vapors pungent enough to kill a healthy bull. They would have known volcanoes and the smells they make. They would have known that this wasn’t that. This place would have been completely out of their experience.

Gates of Hell would make as much sense as anything else. Although it was called Tartarus or the Underworld at first. Hell came much later when this myth met the myths of the Norse and the pagans of the north.

But that’s a story for another day.

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