What happens to bad guys when they die? Actor Danny Trejo is no stranger to villains, so he’s setting out to find the answer to this burning question. 70% of Americans have said they think hell is a real place, and Danny’s taking a journey into the afterlife to map out where the idea of hell came from. On Map of Hell, Danny will explore 3,000 years of ideas, taking us from Ancient Greece through the birth of Christianity to medieval Europe and modern America.
Here are ten surprising facts about the origins of afterlife thought:
1. Greek sea caves were long thought of as the mythical entrance to the underworld.
Important archeological finds are beginning to reveal why Alepotrypa, a cave in Southern Greece, is thought to have been a kind of Neolithic cathedral where burials and rituals were performed. The cave has an underworld feel complete with its own “river Styx” and archeologists have speculated that this was the original entrance to the underworld and the source for later myths about Hades.
2. The first known image of Satan is in a 6th century church mosaic at the Basilica Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.
The mosaic shows two angels at either side of Christ, one in red and the other in blue. Surprisingly, it is the angel in blue that depicts Satan because blue was viewed as a more sinister color than red.
3. During the early days of psychiatry in 19th century America, “religious anxiety” brought on by a “fear of future punishment” was found to be a leading cause of insanity.
4. In 1588, a young Galileo was invited to deliver a lecture on Dante’s Divine Comedy in which he debated the mechanics of the Inferno. Galileo calculated that the width of the Inferno would be 3,400 miles wide and 3,245 miles deep.
5. The Cimitero delle Fontanelle in Naples is an ossuary housing thousands of anonymous corpses, victims of the great plague of 1656. Some estimates say the cemetery once held around 8 million human bones.
6. Although the idea of Purgatory had been established in the early Middle Ages, it wasn’t embraced as official doctrine by the Catholic church until 1253.
7. Some speculate that the reason that there is a clear separation of church and state and no mention of God in America’s Declaration of Independence is in part due to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin’s disdain for the religious zeal brought on by the waves of Great Awakenings.
8. A 2007 Harris poll found that 62% of Americans believe in the literal existence of the devil, while only 42% accept the Darwinian theory of evolution.
9. The initial concept of a penitentiary – a prison designed to encourage regret and penitence in the criminal’s heart – was laid out in a 1787 meeting of influential Philadelphians at Benjamin Franklin’s house.
It took another 30 years to persuade the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to build this kind of revolutionary prison. When Eastern State Penitentiary was finally built in 1829, it was one of the most expensive American buildings of its day and the most famous prison in the world.
10. In the 18th century, Enlightenment thinkers and scientists attempted to calculate the location of hell in order to align religion with the new sciences.
Among them was scientist Tobias Swinden, who calculated that only the sun was big and fiery enough to house all the damned souls, while mathematician William Whiston predicted that a comet would be the place of eternal torment.
Don’t miss Map of Hell this Sunday at 9/8c.
Our modern idea of hell retains concepts of Hades described by Homer in his ancient Greek classic, The Odyssey.