Satan and Saturn: A Match Made in Hell

A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible

Book 1, 61-63

This quote from Book 1 of Paradise Lost does something interesting to describe the realm of “Hell”. I like how it portrays the “fire and brimstone” as something that isn’t bright light, but as something dull yet wrathful, like crusted lava. “Darkness visible” is just a really cool and provokative description.

But instead of talking about Hell now, I want to talk a bit about how this reflects the description of demons in the text. Kayla Orthman made a post about how she thought of demons as something like this:

“Saturn Devouring His Son” by Francisco Goya, c. 1819–1823

I wanted to bring this up because 1.) I am also fascinated by this painting and shudder everytime I see it, and 2.) It fits a lot of descriptions of demons as well as the quote I used above. Saturn, while obviously not from the Bible, is surrounded by an eerie darkness that isn’t complete black. It has some subtle, dark orange streaks here and there, making it feel like smoldering fire.

I also feel Saturn lines up with Milton’s description of devils, or in this case Satan himself:

…Dark’n’d so, yet shon
Above them all th’ Arch Angel: but his face
Deep scars of Thunder had intrencht, and care
Sat on his faded cheek, but under Browes
Of dauntless courage, and considerate Pride
Waiting revenge…

Book 1, 599-604

He feels humanoid and has human-like emotion, but he’s larger than life. He’s ascendant (or descendant, technically) of what man is. That’s part of why I find this painting and Satan both alluring and terrifying: they are like us, but so evil and vile in ways we literally cannot understand. They are above us in every way imaginable, whether we like it or not.

P.S: Here’s a video essay about the painting. It does a very good job explaining why it’s so uncannily scary:

The Most Disturbing Painting by Nerdwriter, 2018
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