Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Image of the Devil

Why does the devil look the way he does in art and literature? The scholar Jeffrey Burton Russell has written a wonderful series of books on the history of Scratch, and his opening text has some answers. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity describes the dark gods and mythological creatures from the ancient world that influenced how we see Satan.

Charun (pictured above), who's name is derived from the Greek boatman of the Styx, is the Etruscan god of the dead. And according to Russell "the attributes assigned to him, passing from Etruscan into Roman art and legend, had their ultimate influence upon the Christian iconography of the Devil."

He continues:

Charun has a huge, hooked nose, similar to a bird's beak; he has a shaggy beard and hair, with long pointed, bestial ears, grinding teeth and grimacing lips; his color is often dark blue (It is possible that the hairy shape was derived from Greek satyrs or Pan.) Sometimes he is shown with wings or with serpents growing from his body. All these characteristics are found in medieval and modern figures of the Devil.

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