So Dante’s Inferno is big, and long, and I need a breath of fresh air, I dunno about any of you. I mean, we’re barely halfway through Fraud.
So I’m gonna distract us this week with Judeo-Christian afterlife imagery in popular culture, a.k.a. OMG SATAN LOL.
The afterlife/punishment thing was not a new concept for the Christians of Dante’s day. In fact, the New Testament mentions “Tartarus” once and “Hades” about ten times, both of which often get translated to “Hell.” For those of you who don’t have the ancient gods 4-1-1, Hades is the ancient Greek god of the underworld, which was divided up into various sections where you were assigned based on your actions during life. Dante wasn’t coming up with anything particularly new there. In fact, the idea of Hell as a place where you are aware of what’s going on and are stuck there forever was tied in to the Jewish Hell, Gehenna, which comes up in the Torah and thus the Bible. Gehenna was specifically a place where the wicked were sent after death, and was based on a real place on earth.
Dante’s hell melded all those concepts with various thematic twists of his own (not to mention his enemies in hell and his patrons in heaven). The Divine Comedy, like all comedies, is a startlingly political work. That being said, Dante’s concept of Hell has profoundly influenced popular culture, down to little stuff we don’t think of. Here’s a few examples:
“There’s a special circle of hell for…”
“On Cloud Nine”
And so many more…
Personally, I find the phrase “When Hell Freezes Over” pretty funny because the ninth circle in Dante’s hell is literally a lake of Satan’s frozen tears. Gosh.
Here are a couple of other notable works that have to do with hell:
Hironymous Bosch’s diptych, Paradise and Hell, 1510.
John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, 1667. This personifies Satan and demons in a concrete way that hadn’t properly been done before. Here’s a rad comparison of the structure of Dante’s and Milton’s hells.
…one, two, skip a few…
…and in the modern era, pop culture comics have had a field day with Satan and Hell imagery. There are far too many things to go into here, but a few of my favorites include:
Lucifer, the comics series by Mike Carey that’s technically a Sandman spinoff, but is amazing and glorious in its own right. Highly recommended.
Hellblazer, the epic comics series starring John Constantine, who stands between the forces of the afterlife and pretty much everything else. There was that truly mediocre movie with Keanu Reeves, who was a terrible John Constantine, and a forthcoming show that seems like it might actually be decent.
Blizzard’s Diablo series of videogames, not because I think it does anything particularly innovative with the mythology, but because it’s interesting to research where all the names of the demons came from in your actual mythology. For example: Nephilim. It’s a Jewish supernatural creature with the power of humans and angels. (And an analog for the heroic characters you play in the game.) Personally I want a Rabbinical wizard character who can raise Golems, but I realize that the hell-world of Diablo is, despite the common imagery, far removed from the various incarnations of Jewish and Christian hells.
And I have not played the “Dante’s Inferno” game, which involves a damsel-in-distress version of Beatrice instead of the reality of Beatrice, which was Dante being a creepy creeper and pining at some length over a married woman whom he then fantasized about in the Divine Comedy after writing a book-length poem about how much of an amazing goddess she was. Dante: a guy with boundary issues.
Also: this?! Yup. Dante for kiddos. Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go.
Next time: something approaching coherence
Spoilers: we’ll be headed back to Hell