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    • Document type
      Review (monograph)
      Author (Review)
      • Beaulieu, Marie-Claire
      Language (Review)
      Language (Monograph)
      Author (Monograph)
      • Mihai, Adrian
      L'Hadès céleste
      Histoire du purgatoire dans l'Antiquité
      Year of publication
      Place of publication
      Classiques Garnier
      Kaïnon - Anthropologie de la pensée ancienne
      Series (vol.)
      Number of pages
      Subject classification
      History of religion
      Time classification
      until 499 AD → 999 - 1 BC, until 499 AD → 1st - 5th century AD
      Regional classification
      Ancient World → Greece / ancient, Ancient World → Roman Empire
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Adrian Mihai: L'Hadès céleste. Histoire du purgatoire dans l'Antiquité (reviewed by Marie-Claire Beaulieu)

sehepunkte 16 (2016), Nr. 7

Adrian Mihai: L'Hadès céleste

This book offers a thorough inquiry into the "celestial Hades", a location in the sky where the soul of men is said to go after death by many ancient philosophers, poets, and commentators. This notion responds to the ancient cosmological and ontological division of the world into two zones: sublunar and supralunar. In this context, the celestial Hades offers a transitional area, where the soul can divest itself from the traces left on it by its contact with the material world. The celestial Hades must thus be distinguished from the chthonian Hades presented by such authors as Homer and Hesiod. Unlike the chthonian Hades, the celestial Hades is mainly understood as an intermediary locus in Greek eschatological thought, a place of purification from which some souls depart for a higher level of existence while others are returned to earth.

The project of the book stems from a common misunderstanding of the notion of the celestial Hades in current scholarship, especially in comparison with the Christian purgatory, which is the antechamber to Paradise. The author wishes to respond to medievalists such as Jacques LeGoff and specify that the celestial Hades of antiquity is not only an imaginary location, but it is also a product of ancient cosmological and eschatological notions. For this reason, the celestial Hades is presented here as a nexus of ancient thought combining philosophy, religion, psychology, and cosmology.

The author makes a convincing case that the notion of a celestial Hades appears as early as Plato and Heraclides Ponticus and remains operative throughout antiquity (185). One of the major difficulties in making the argument is the diversity of the vocabulary used to designate the celestial Hades, which varies widely with such expressions as Ἅιδης ἐν οὐρανῷ, ἀφώτιστος ἀήρ, αἰθερία γῆ, and τόπος δαιμόνιος (see 43-44 for the complete list). Since all these expressions use different categorizations - whether physical, astral, or mythological - the demonstration takes the reader through an inquiry into the context of their use and shows that the concept behind them is the same or similar. Nevertheless, the author is careful to point out where an author or philosophical school differs from the others in their notion of a celestial Hades.

Due to the nature of the sources, an approach that is both synchronic and diachronic was chosen. The diachronic approach helps the reader follow the evolution of ideas throughout the history of the concept, while the synchronic approach helps to stress the context in which a notion appears, especially in complex cases where our sources are citations of citations with added commentary by a third party. This is particularly useful in the case of the fragment of Heraclides Ponticus on the question of the celestial Hades, which is transmitted through Philoponus' commentary to Aristotle's Meteorologica , but was in fact excerpted from a treatise of Damascius, who originally cited Heraclides. The author treats this text at length, paying attention to the complexity of its history and transmission.

The first part of the book is devoted to Plato's Academy and Stoicism, namely Heraclides, Xenocrates, and Philip of Opus. The second part analyzes the notion of a celestial Hades in Plutarch, Cicero, Virgil, and their neoplatonician interpreters, as well as in Hermetism and Gnosticism. Finally, the third part of the book deals with the Chaldean Oracles and Proclus. The first appendix includes a series of ancient testimonia about the celestial Hades while the second appendix offers the full text and translation of the passage of Philoponus' In Meteorologica which cites the fragment of Heraclides on the celestial Hades. The bibliography is extensive, up to date, and helpfully divided into sub-topics.

The arrangement of the book whereby each philosopher or school is treated in turn is advantageous because it allows for a detailed account of the system of thought that each uses. However, this approach entails long preliminary discussions in each chapter or section which can distract from the overall argument of the book. A synthetic approach, or perhaps a concluding chapter dealing with the celestial Hades in a synthetic manner, would have been helpful in providing a global understanding of the question. Similarly, this reader appreciates that full-length quotations of the original texts are given inline. However, especially in the case of difficult or obscure authors, paraphrases would have helped in getting to the essentials and focusing the argument. If necessary, the texts could have been collected in an appendix or on an accompanying website. Finally, quotations from ancient authors are occasionally accompanied by the texts in the original languages, but not always, an inconsistency that also distracts from the overall point. In general, the book would have benefited from a thorough round of editing for typos and grammar.

This book will be of use to specialists of ancient thought, especially in the fields of philosophy and religion. It is laudable that the author chose the notion of the celestial Hades as a topic. The concept appears over and over in our sources, yet little reliable scholarship is available to explain the texts. I look forward to the second book by this author, for which this one is merely a prelude. The second book will deal with the nexus of thought between the pagan and the Christian purgatory, a problem that is often broached in this book but not dealt with at length.

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