The Devil is a Maudlin Mess: Dante’s Divine Comedy

Literature and fine art have suggested that Satan is intersexual; at times it is “male” in either genital orientation or performance, at others “female,” and sometimes both simultaneously.  In this – the second installment of my “The Devil is a Woman, but only Momentarily” blog – I am particularly interested in exploring representations of the devil as a maudlin, wet sheet of sentimentality.

What, a crying devil?

Traditionally, Satan invokes fear and suggests evil.  However, writers have imagined the devil as vulnerable, sentimental, and downright maudlin.

Dante’s depressive prototype of Satan in The Divine Comedy suggests a “femininity” that infrequently graces Western literature.  In this case, it suggests excessive emotion.  The devil’s affective experience is so hyperbolic that one cannot help but connect Satan with the classical definition of femininity, as it has been expressed by Plato, Hegel, and Ruskin: namely, that women are weepy.

Dante’s devil is three-mouthed with a voracious appetite for sinners whom he can never digest, only chew eternally.  He is like a bulimic, binging on sinful bodies that never digest, regurgitating them to only gnaw on them again. He eats and eats but his belly is perpetually empty: he is starving.

Satan wants to be sexy but instead has a deformed and ugly body plunged eternally in ice.  Dante’s devil does not meet the beauty ideal toward which he strives.  He craves power but instead all he can do is cry ceaselessly from his six eyes. Compared to the Renaissance version, which can be interpreted as a masculine prototype (sans cowboy hat), Dante’s Satan aspires for the “masculine” ideal; he wants to govern others with his a dominant personality and aggressive nature (a la Bondone’s The Last Judgement) but he is rendered impotent through abundance of sentiment.

Weepy, too, is Milton’s Satan who, in the end, is unable to control his own body.  Like Aristotle’s or Julia Kristeva’s premise about refractory female fluids, Milton’s devil owns an abject body incapable of moderation.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s