According to this dictionary entry, von ... über ... bis zu ... means "from ... to ... to ..." and is used in complex enumerations such as the one featured in the below-quoted text:

Von den Vorsokratikern, mit denen die europäische Philosophie beginnt, über Platon und Aristoteles, sodann die Meister der Philosophie des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit bis hin zu David Hume stellt der erste Band Leben, Werk und Wirkung der philosophischen „Klassiker“ vor.

However, in this text, von ... über ... bis zu ... is nicely complemented with hin, as in von ... über ... bis hin zu ..., which the same dictionary translates into English as from ... via ... through to .... (The same dictionary also translates bis hin zu, as a separate entry, as right up to).

This second translation of bis hin zu suggests that hin is used here exclusively emphatically.

(The Duden dictionary appears to have none of these alternatives recorded, with the exception of bis hin zu, which is given as a separate idiom from the basic von ... bis and all its alternatives: [bis hin zu (gibt den Endpunkt eines Bereichs an, nennt eine Person oder Sache, für die einschließlich etwas Gesagtes gilt: bis hin zum Oberbürgermeister waren alle gekommen)].)

Thus, my basic question remains whether or not hin is used in this complex idiom emphatically.

And my second question would be: is hin in this idiom an adverb?

And my final question: why doesn't the Duden Dictionary record any of the versions of bis ... zu that dict.cc records? Are these not considered idioms on their own right?

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    I believe there is a difference between lists that follow a spatial or temporal order and arbitrary collections of items. The former can use hin, the latter should not. That is more of a feeling than a fact, though, so not enough for an answer. As far as I know, via would only be used with locations (or stopovers on a route) in English, too. – Crissov Jun 29 '17 at 7:25
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    One thing to consider is that authors may choose specific words or idioms in specific situations not only for their meaning but also for the rhythm and melody of the sentence. So, although hin, yes, can be used for emphasis, it also may be used in order to give the sentence a nicer rhythm, without any consideration of meaning. – Christian Geiselmann Jun 29 '17 at 14:38
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    Not much of an idiom IMHO and I would rather translate with "from ... to ... up to" – tofro Jun 30 '17 at 9:38

In fact, "von ... über ... bis zu" is not that much of an idiom.

It can be used for temporal enumerations, as the one quoted in the text, and for logical enumerations that describe a span in a certain category. For example:

Von der politischen Linken, über der politische Mitte, bis zur politischen Rechten gibt es kontroverse Diskussionen über die Verfassung.

The word ''hin'' should be read as conjoined with ''zu''. In fact, ''bis'' can be used with many different directional (but not local) adverbial phrases:

Die Rakete flog bis über den Jordan. Die Radiowellen reichen bis unter die Erde. Die Radiowellen reichen bis darüber.

To put it that way: the preposition ''bis'' indicates a directional movement or process, and is followed by another directional adverb (such as prepositional phrase).

So it remains to understand how the word ''hin'' relates to the preposition ''zu''. But that is a topic on its own and of very different nature. Just recall that ''hin'' can be used with a lot more propositions:

hin auf die Wiese, hin über den Jordan, hin unter den Meeresboden, hin in die Stadt.

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