Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Satan in Literature by William S Walsh 1914



Satan in Literature by William S Walsh 1914

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Satan (from a Hebrew noun meaning adversary), is one of the many names for the chief of the devils, known also as Lucifer and Mephistopheles, though the latter name has an individuality of its own, gained through the Faust legend.

Moncure D. Conway in his Demonology (1878) tells of Theodore Parker's retort to a Calvinist who had sought to convert him: "The difference between us is simple, your god is my devil." The identification has a deeper meaning than either controversialist imagined. Etymologically the word devil (in Latin diabolus) is the same as the word deity. Both are forms of the Aryan dyaus, the dawn, the sky. Historically the conception of a principle of evil arises, like the conception of a principle of good, from fear or reverence or worship for the personified powers of nature. Pope's lines crudely yet vigorously present a truth which comparative mythologists of a later day have worked out with elaborate ingenuity:

Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutored mind
Sees God in clouds or hears him in the wind.
Essay on Man, i, 49.

Primitive men sought to propitiate this god as the author alike of light and darkness, of woe and weal, of good and evil. Early Aryan mythology had no devil, no personification of the powers of evil as opposed to the powers of good. Pluto (or Dis) was gloomy, Loki delighted in mischief, but neither was a fiend. In the Old Testament books produced before the Babylonish captivity there is no supernatural worker of wrong, evil in essence, and arrayed against a beneficent power ever working for the good. The serpent who tempted Eve was, in Genesis, only "the most subtle of the beasts of the field." Josephus knows no other characterization for him, although Josephus's chief aim was to rationalize the scriptures for pagan Rome. Isaiah xlv, 6, 7, says, "I am the Lord and there is none else, I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil." This text seems to be expressly levelled against the conception with which the Israelites were to come in contact during the captivity, —that of Ahriman, a spirit of evil, opposed to Ormuzd, the principle of good. The books of the Apocrypha are full of demons. It is in Wisdom ii, 24, that the serpent in Eden is first identified with Satan.

In the pre-exilic book of Job, Satan had been represented as one of the Beni Elshim or sons of God. With them he came into the divine presence "from going to and fro in the earth," but it would seem that he was specifically entrusted with the mission of trying the faith and loyalty of a good man. He was a minister of the Almighty and not his enemy,—a sort of prosecuting attorney in the divine courts.

"From the captivity to the time of Christ Satan's character loomed up ever larger against the Divine Goodness, until in the form in which he is presented in the system of our Lord he appears as the relentless enemy of all good, as the rival, though the unequal one, of the Deity, as, in fine, the tempter of the Son of God. Of Christianity it is a cardinal doctrine that the great war between Good and Evil was brought to a conclusion in the overthrow of the latter, when Christ proved victor over Death and the Grave." (Westminster Review, February, 1900.)

The most famous appearances of the evil spirit in modern literature are in Dante's Divine Comedy (1314-19) where he bears the ancient pagan name of Dis, or Pluto; Vondel's Dutch drama Lucifer (1654), Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671), where he is named Satan; and Goethe's Faust (1775-1831), where under the guise of Mephistopheles he epitomizes one aspect of infernal malignity and becomes an incarnate sneer.

Dante (Inferno xxxiv) makes Dis a monster standing out breast high from the ice-bound Lake Cocytus and surrounded on all sides by the traitor souls who are frozen up in the depths of pellucid ice,—for it is treachery which is specifically punished in this the ninth circle of Hell, presided over by the arch-traitor himself. The upper half of his gigantic form towers upward into infernal space. Like the seraphim, among whom he was once preeminent, he has three pairs of wings, but they are bat-like in hue and shape and of enormous size, giving him from a distance the appearance of a wind-mill in motion, as he blows a blast of inconceivable sharpness upon his companions in misery. He has one head, but three faces, colored respectively yellow, vermilion and black, thus presenting a monstrous parody on the Trinity. Tears run down from his six eyes, mingling at his three chins with bloody foam; for at every mouth he crushes a traitor between his teeth:—Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the church in the person of Christ, and Brutus and Cassius, who betrayed the empire in the person of Julius Caesar. The head and trunk of Judas have disappeared within the middle mouth. The heads of the others hang out of the right and left mouths.

Even prior to Dante's time Satan had often been represented as a monster with three heads, each one of which devoured a lost soul. A twelfth-century statue of this type stands at St. Basile d'Etampes in France.

Dante's grotesque conception of Dis has often been compared to its disadvantage with Milton's archangel ruined,—the Satan on whom Lord Chancellor Thurlow pronounced the famous verdict—"A damned fine fellow, and I hope he may win." This verdict was elicited by the characteristic line

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Paradise Lost. i. 261.

which sums up the indomitable courage and pride that are the chief characteristics of Milton's fiend. In the same Book I, beginning with line 589, we have the following description of Satan's appearance among the hosts of hell:

He above the rest
In shape and gesture proudly eminent.
Stood like a tower, his form had not yet lost
All her virginal brightness, nor appeared
Less than archangel ruined, and the excess
Of glory obscured.

It has been urged that the difference between Milton's and Dante's fiend is mainly that of creed and time. Dante can allow no compromise with Hell. There is one great kingdom of truth and he that is not of it is against it. In Milton's time the sense of the awful dignity of human nature has increased,— the sinner is one of those who might have been glorious. Even the arch-sinner against heaven in the lower regions to which sin had condemned him retains some traces of his original brightness.

There is intrinsic evidence that Milton had read, and profited by reading, Vondel's drama and had borrowed and glorified some traits of the eponymic Lucifer.

The Latin word Lucifer (Gr. Phosphorus), meaning bringer of light, was originally applied to the morning star. Isaiah (xiv, 12) applies the analogous Hebrew word to the glory of the king of Babylon, but the early fathers attached the name to Satan, deeming that the passage "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning," contained a reference to the Prince of Darkness. Thus Lucifer has come to be used as an alternate name for Satan.

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