It’s that time of year again, where we showcase some of the best student work from this year’s Bible and Popular Culture (THEOREL 101) class. Starting us off is a wonderful essay from Ani Harris. We’ll let Ani introduce herself.
I’m a first year from the sunny fruit bowl that is Hawke’s Bay. Currently, I’m studying a degree in Arts majoring in Psychology and Gender Studies which so far has been thrilling! In the future, I hope to go into post-graduate–if I’m lucky–to continue researching my fields of interest. I’d like to one day work within academia.
Within the THEOREL 101 course, I particularly enjoyed looking at the bible with a feminist lens and tracking the evolution of figures in the bible alongside history as I’ve never had that opportunity before. I can recall absolutely fizzing over some of the assigned reading to the point where I printed it out to keep it on my wall. I’ve always had a bit of an interest in theology but I’ve never been able to really explore it in the way THEOREL 101 let me. THEOREL 101 was an incredibly enjoyable paper and I happily did my best to wake up so I could get to the 9am classes (though with not non-existent complaints).
I actually took THEOREL 101 for two reasons. The first being that it fulfilled criteria as a stage I paper under Gender Studies and the other being because of my own self-interest. I grew up in a Catholic household and though I’m not Catholic myself I’ve always been very intrigued by religion as a whole and the effect it has had and continues to have on the world. This course gave me the opportunity to discover new facets of the bible I hadn’t yet considered and quite successfully played on many of my interests. It was my absolute favourite paper this semester.
Without further ado, let’s deal with the devil.
THE DEAL WITH THE DEVIL: SATAN AND RELIGIOUS FANFICTION
This essay will analyse the Devil as a Biblical character who has a popular afterlife. I will explore this using Dante Alighieri’s Inferno showcases the Devil as a monstrous being, a typical trope in Western religious fiction, Paradise Lost by John Milton and the trope of “Sexy Satan” with Fox’s portrayal of Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer and an animated reboot adaptation of 1970’s Japanese comic Devilman, play around with perceptions of one of the world’s most famous characters. Each portrayal highlights the different tropes and caricatures that have been used and changed over time since the advent of the Devil’s very first appearance in Abrahamic religion.
The Devil’s beginning has its roots in the Bible. However, his first appearance does not come where most would assume. Contrary to popular belief, Satan does not make an appearance in Genesis. The serpent who tempted Eve (Genesis 3:1-24) was not at the time associated with Satan. And, despite the Devil’s later characterization as a tempter, accuser, and prosecutor of humanity, he never appeared as an entity in his own right until the Book of Enoch. Part of the deuterocanonical writings, the Book of Enoch is not part of the Hebrew Bible, and though sometimes included in Christian Bibles, it is mainly considered non-canonical within most denominations. It details the casting out of “the satans”, sinful angels who taught humanity wickedness in the form of technology and invention (Enoch 41:7; Enoch 8:1-9).
This original Satan goes by the alias of Azazyel, alternatively spelt ‘Azazeel’, and is stated to have, along with other angels, taught humanity lessons covering a wide range of topics. From weapon creation and progression to perceptions of beauty, the spectrum includes the coveting of precious stones and metals, innumerable attempts to perform sorcery, increasing the known limits of mathematics, and acquiring other dangerous forms of knowledge in the eyes of heaven (Enoch 9:5-9). In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is instead “the satan”, God’s tester and persecutor who stands to prove the inherent possibility for wickedness and impiety in humanity (Job 1:6-8; Zechariah 3:1-7). From Enoch, Job, and Zechariah, we gain some of the foundational tropes of the character “Satan” which commonly appear to this day; “angel to demon king”, “tempter of humanity”, and “evil incarnate”. Though Satan was never physically described in the Bible the cultural approximation became an amalgamation of deities of various other religions; a monster with a tail, the legs of a goat, and crowned with horns. And with these depictions birthed the trope of “monster Satan”.
With the original character and accompanying tropes defined, the focus can now change to the Devil’s cultural afterlives. Of religious fiction, one of the most renowned is Dante Alighieri’s book series Divine Comedy, with the Inferno being the most relevant volume for the purpose of this essay. The Inferno chronicles Dante’s descent into and guided journey through Hell.
Satan in this novel appears in the thirty-fourth chapter. Colossal in his grotesque visage, Dante’s Satan is endowed of the “monster Satan” trope; he has three faces of which he uses their mouths to chew on three people whom Dante considers the most traitorous of humanity. Satan in this work of fiction has also has large, leathery bat wings attached just under his chin, and excessively hairy legs (Dante & Musa 1971). Dante’s figure of the Devil retains many of the original biblical tropes; not only “monster Satan” but his “angel to demon king” arc as well. Dante himself states that had Satan been as beautiful as he was now ugly he can, therefore, understand how he is the source of all bad in the world. From this, we can discern that the Inferno expects readers to understand Satan’s origin as an angel fallen from grace. Dante’s Satan is a wonderful reference point for the popular image of the Devil before his Renaissance rebirth within another piece of literary fiction.
Contrary to Dante’s portrayal, Milton’s depiction of Satan in Paradise Lost was considered blasphemous. An epic poem written in vernacular English following the very entity of conceptualised evil which began by invoking the Holy Spirit as a muse. Milton’s satan operates on the notion that Satan, formerly known as Lucifer, retained his visage as the most beautiful of all the angels when he fell from Heaven. Which then shows that Milton’s version of Satan is sympathetic. He is considered the most favoured of all the angels and decides that should it be impossible to be God’s favourite (Milton 1674 rpt. in 2001). He rebels and tries to usurp God, claiming that angels should all reign as gods whilst God is simply a tyrant. Thus, he falls.
Tragic in a desire all too common. He then goes on to attempt another rebellion, by tempting God’s newly created humans, of which Milton subtly implies he is jealous of, to sin and thus join him in banishment (Milton 1674 rpt. in 2001). This sets the stage for a tragic hero who appears to be rebelling out of a childish need for validation and attention of any kind. Milton’s Satan appears not as the root cause of all evil but merely a child throwing a tantrum. Paradise Lost has been a major inspiration and provided the perfect material for the changing world to take Satan as a literary device and apply him in many ways to great effect. Milton’s reconceptualization of Satan as both a sympathetic and beautiful figure greatly stoked the flames of popular culture turning a monstrous and terrifying evil into a nuanced character with great depth. Satan becomes a potential anti-hero and even protagonist along with his trademark villainy. Even his conceptualisation as a villain is changed by Milton’s portrayal. Lucifer is the first recorded entity to claim free will and oppose God. Refusing ignorance and order for knowledge and the ability to make and be a part of unorganised chaos. He is the first recorded instance of an individual leading a rebellion against what they consider a corrupt power, a trope which is not only common in modern pop culture but almost its own genre.
Milton’s Satan paved the way for Satan to become Lucifer.
Based on a character from Neil Gaiman’s lauded comic book series The Sandman, Lucifer is a fantasy police drama developed by Tom Kapinos and produced by Fox. The premise of the film is Lucifer Morningstar, Tom Ellis, leaving hell for Los Angeles. Lucifer runs a nightclub, Lux, and acts as a consultant for the LAPD using his powers of persuasion and desire to deal justice to sinners. Kapinos’ Lucifer takes a great deal of inspiration from Milton’s Satan. Kapinos’ Lucifer is entirely a sympathetic character within the series. The show goes so far as to have Lucifer explicitly say that humanity merely blamed him for their sin rather than being accountable for their actions, effectively demonizing him as a scapegoat, and humans are responsible for damning themselves (Sánchez 2017). Kapinos’ Lucifer plays heavily into the “sympathetic Satan” trope with viewers encouraged to empathize with the devil and understand him as a pawn in his father’s plans which in itself displays the trope of “the devil has daddy issues”. Lucifer is consistently paranoid that his father, God, is manipulating him and often acts out of fear of being made to return to hell and be humanity’s scapegoat again (Shilati 2017; Gaviola 2017). Played by Tom Ellis, Lucifer is physically very attractive and seems to play directly into the “sexy Satan” trope, however, Lucifer has a second visage he calls his “devil-face”. Lucifer’s “devil-face” is bald, red-skinned, heavily scarred, and glows with an inner light like fire, his sclera turns a deep red and his irises gold. This “devil-face” plays into the pre-Milton “monster Satan” trope and exists as a unique juxtaposition as both faces belong to Lucifer and yet one makes him seems human and beautiful and the other demonic and ugly. This devil is well beloved in the show and in current day popular culture.
In contrast to Lucifer’s family-friendly Satan, Devilman Crybaby has been lauded as one of the most violent, gratuitously chaotic, and disturbing animated shows of 2018 (Farokhmanesh, M. 2018).
Based on Go Nagai’s 1970’s manga Devilman, Devilman Crybaby written by Ichirō Ōkouchi and directed by Masaaki Yuasa is a dark fantasy horror animated series around the characters Akira Fudo and his childhood friend Ryo Asuka. The premise of Devilman Crybaby is Akira’s attempt to help Ryo expose demons to the world. In this portrayal, Ōkouchi’s Satan takes many post-Milton tropes. Physically portrayed as beautiful as both Ryo Asuka and Satan, Ōkouchi’s Satan does not take a monstrous form at any point remaining well within the trope of “sexy Satan” while his legions of demons take monstrous and often revolting forms.
Ōkouchi’s Satan remains a tempter and persecutor of humanity and retains his status as the root cause of all evil within the show. In the show’s eighth episode after Ryo has learned his origins as Satan, he proceeds to cause more chaos in an already unstable world where demons had been revealed by betraying Akira and broadcasting an ill-intentioned warning that anyone dissatisfied with society could be a demon (Shibata 2018). Ōkouchi’s portrayal of Satan and Ryo is complex and while appreciated by audiences for his role as an antagonist he is not a character one can feel overly sympathetic for save for brief moment where his affection for Akira humanizes him.
Overall, this essay explained how Satan’s portrayal in popular culture is seen through Milton’s Paradise Lost, Fox’s Lucifer and Devilman Crybaby. Since conception, the devil has always been a fascinating Biblical character, and authors has taken him and written him into stories as the oldest villain and one of humanity’s most rebellious role models. Through Milton’s epic, Satan became understandable and the way was paved for the humanization of the greatest evil in Abrahamic religion. The devil lives on through pop culture, influencing and teaching much like his original incarnation. In the end, Neil Gaiman said it best; To absent friends, lost loves, old gods, and the season of mists; and may each and every one of us always give the devil his due (Gaiman, 1992).
References to the Bible are taken from the New Revised Standard Version
The Book of Enoch (1917) translated by R.H. Charles
Dante, A., & Musa, M. (1971). Dante’s Inferno. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Milton, J. 1674. (2001). Paradise Lost; and, Paradise Regained. New York: Signet Classic
Rafferty, C. (Writer); Costa, M. (Writer); Sánchez, E. (Director) (2017) Lucifer Season 3 Episode 7 “Off the Record”
Ning, J. (Writer); Shilati, S. (Director) Lucifer Season 2 Episode 16 “God Johnson”
Modrovich, I. (Writer); Gaviola, K. (Director) Lucifer Season 3 Episode 1 “They’re Back, Aren’t They?”
Farokhmanesh, M. (2018) Devilman Crybaby is Netflix’s horniest, most shockingly violent show yet: And that’s exactly why you should watch it https://www.theverge.com/2018/1/21/16905278/devilman-crybaby-netflix-review-violence-sex
Ōkouchi, I. (Writer); Shibata, K. (Director) (2018) Devilman Crybaby Episode 8 “I Must Know Myself”
Gaiman, N. (1992) The Sandman #21-28: Season of Mists. DC Comics