THE account of the Saoshyants, the future sons of Zoroaster, brings us to the theme of Iranian eschatology. Like Odysseus in Greece, or Dante in the Divina Commedia (1) Arta Viraf, a wise and virtuous Mazdean, is supposed in a late Pahlavi book to have visited the other world, and it will be interesting to follow him in his journey to see what were the Mazdean conceptions of heaven and of hell.
When the soul of Viraf went forth from its body, the first thing which it beheld was the Cinvat Bridge (the bridge of "the Divider") which all souls must cross before they pass to the future world. There he saw before him a damsel of beautiful appearance, full-bosomed, charming to heart and soul; and when he asked her, "Who art thou? and what person art thou? than whom, in the world of the living, any damsel more elegant, and of more beautiful body than thine, was never seen by me," she replied that she was his own religion (daena) and his own deeds--"it is on account of thy will and actions, that I am as great and good and sweet-scented and triumphant and undistressed as appears to thee." Then the Cinvat Bridge became wider, and with the assistance of Sraosha ("Obedience to the Law") and Atar ("Fire") Viraf could easily cross. Both Yazatas promised to show him heaven and hell, but before entering the kingdom of the blest, he had to pass through Hamistakan, the resting-place of those whose good works and sins exactly counterbalance. There they await the renovation of the world, their only sufferings being from cold and heat.
 Passing from Hamistakan, Viraf ascended the three steps of "good thought, good word, good deed," which are the abodes of the souls of those who did not practise the specific Mazdean virtues, although they were righteous men. These steps lead to Garotman (Avesta Garo Nmana, "House of Praise"), and there dwell the souls of men who constantly practised the Zoroastrian precepts: the liberal, who walk adorned in all splendour; those who chanted the Gathas (the "Hymns" of Zoroaster), in gold-embroidered raiment; those who contracted next-of-kin marriages (2), illuminated by radiance from above; those who killed noxious creatures; the agriculturists; the shepherds. All of them are brilliant and walk about in great pleasure and joy. Then the pilgrims came to a river which souls were endeavouring to cross, some being able to do this easily, and others failing utterly. In reply to Viraf's questions Atar explained that the river came from the tears which men shed from their eyes in unlawful lamentation for the departed, and that those who could not cross were the souls for whom their relatives made an exaggerated and irreligious display of grief. Atar also showed a lake whose water was the sap of wood which had been placed on the sacred fire without being quite dry.
Returning to the Cinvat Bridge, Viraf and his guides followed the soul of a wicked man, just arrived from earth. In its first night of hell it must endure as much misfortune as a man can bear in a whole unhappy life. A dry and stinking cold wind comes to meet that man, and he sees his vile life under the shape of a profligate woman, naked, decayed, gaping, and bandy-legged. Descending the three steps of "evil thought, evil word, evil deed," the soul of the wicked arrives at the greedy jaws of hell, which is a most frightful pit, where the darkness is so thick that the hand can grasp it, and where the stench makes every one stagger and fall. Each of the damned thinks, "I am alone," and when three days and three nights have elapsed, he wails, "The nine thousand years are completed,  and they will not release me!" Everywhere are noxious creatures, the smallest of them as high as mountains, and they tear and worry the souls of the wicked as a dog does a bone.
For special crimes there are special punishments. The woman who has been unfaithful to her husband is suspended by her breasts, and scorpions seize her whole body, the same creatures biting the feet of those who have polluted the earth by walking without shoes. The woman who has insulted her husband is suspended by her tongue. A wicked king must hang in space, flogged by fifty demons. The man who has killed cattle unlawfully suffers in his limbs, which are broken and separated from one another. The miser is stretched upon a rack, and a thousand demons trample him. The liar sees his tongue gnawed by worms. The unjust man who did not pay the salary of his workmen is doomed to eat human flesh. The woman who has slain her own child must dig into a hill with her breasts and hold a millstone on her head. The bodies of impostors and deceivers fall in rottenness. The man who has removed the boundary stones of others so as to make his own fields larger must dig into a hill with his fingers and nails. The breaker of promises and contracts, whether with the pious or with the wicked since Mithra is both for the faithful and the unbelievers is tortured by pricking spurs and arrows. Under the Cinvat Bridge there is an abyss for the most heinous sinners, this pit being so deep and so stinking that if all the wood of the earth were burned in it, it would not even emit a perceptible smell. There the souls of the wicked stand, as close as the ear to the eye, and as many as the hairs on the mane of a horse, and they also are submitted to various torments according to their different offences. At the very bottom of the abyss is Angra Mainyu (Ahriman), the Evil Spirit, who ridicules and mocks the wicked in hell, saying, "Why did you ever eat the bread of Ahura Mazda, and do my work? and thought not of your own creator, but practised my will?"
It would be interesting to know how much in Arta Viraf's  visions was influenced by the conceptions of other religions, including Judaism and Christianity. That the Semites influenced Iranian thought in some measure is obvious the myth of the attempt of Kai Kaus to fly to heaven, for instance, shows a remarkable parallelism to the Babylonian story of Etana, who sought to ascend on an eagle's back to the sky that he might secure the plant of life" (3). The close association of Jews and Persians in the Exilic and post-Exilic periods seems to have caused some interchange of religious concepts, though the precise degree of this influence is still sub judice (4).
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