Fire and Brimstone

Link to Mailbag Article: What’s fire and brimstone?

[[Rounding this out, if being charred by fire and brimstone doesn’t bother you, and you want some scarey torments in hell, try Dante’s Inferno or Goethe’s Faust. You’ll find some terrifying stuff. Gnawing on your own flesh, f’rinstance, how’s that grab ya? Algebra … hmph.]]

Pretty awful. Richard Preston, author of “The Hot Zone” about Ebola Virus wrote a later book (fiction) called “The Cobra Event,” about bio-terrorism. He graphically describes a disease that causes people to gnaw on and consume parts of their own bodies. Some of this book is based on real stuff - I hope this part isn’t. Hollywood, of course, has bought the rights to this story for a movie. Can’t wait.

[Note: This message has been edited by CKDextHavn]

A couple of comments:

First, did you ever smell burning sulfer? Phew! It stinks, makes your eyes water, and chokes you.

Second, only very modern fantasy suggests that the devils run Hell as (as it were) God’s sub-contracted tormentors. But the notion that the devils, being in Hell, and being tougher than mortals, run it is much older than 400-500 years. To take the most obvious example, Dante wrote nearly 700 years ago.

Third, never recommend to people that they read the Inferno; let them read the entire Divine Comedy or let it alone. As Sayers remarked, thinking you know Dante because you know the Inferno is like thinking you know Paris because you’ve seen the sewers.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Another likely association of sulfer with the underworld would have been the stink of natural hot springs, which might have been construed as emanations from Hell. I’d be willing to bet that hot springs also had medicinal (read, “magical”) and possibly “pagan” overtones to followers of the more mainstream, universalistic religions in the urban areas. It’s possible, anyway…

On the transition from “devils thrown into hell” to “devils running hell”, I have asked Ed to modify the Mailbag response. The idea of the devil in charge of hell is a modern notion, not a Biblical one, but I need to define “modern” as the last 1000 or 1100 years or so. My use of 400 to 500 years was flip and incorrect.