Gloomy is the Greek land of Hades, dark dwelling of the images of departed mortals, where the shades carry at once their living features and their dying wounds, and glide and cluster and whisper, and lead the shadow of a life. Like the savage hunter on his ghostly prairie, the great Orion still bears his brazen mace, still chases over the meadows of asphodel the flying beasts he slew of yore in the lonely mountains. Like the rude African of to-day, the swift-footed Achilles scorns such poor, thin, shadowy life; rather would he serve a mean man upon earth than be lord of all the dead.
'Truly, oxen and goodly sheep may be taken for booty, Tripods, too, may be bought, and the yellow beauty of horses; But from the fence of the teeth when once the soul is departed, Never cometh it back, regained by plunder or purchase.'
Where and what was Sheol, the dwelling of the ancient Jewish dead? Of late years the Biblical critic has no longer to depend on passages of the Old Testament for realizing its conception, so plainly is it connected with the seven-circled Irkalla of the Babylonian-Assyrian religion, the gloomy subterranean abode whence there is no return for man, though indeed the goddess Isthar passed through its seven gates, and came back to earth from her errand of saving all life from destruction. In the history of religions, few passages are more instructive than those in which the prophets of the Old Testament recognize the ancestral connexion of their own belief with the national religions of Babylon-Assyria, as united in the doctrine of a gloomy prison of ghosts, through whose gates Jew and Gentile alike must pass. Sheol ((Hebrew characters) from (Hebrew characters)) is, as its name implies, a cavernous recess, yet it is no mere surface-grave or tomb, but an under-world of awful depth: 'High as Heaven, what doest thou? deeper than Sheol, what knowest thou?' Asshur and all her company, Elam and all her multitude, the
1 Homer. Il. ix. 405; Odyss. xi. 218, 475; Virg. Æn. vi. 243, &c., &c.