Demogorgon is a name used to refer to a pagan deity or demon, associated with the underworld and envisaged as a powerful primordial being, whose very name had been taboo. Although often ascribed to Greek mythology, the name probably arises from an unknown copyist's misreading of a commentary by a fourth-century scholar, Lactantius Placidus. The concept itself though can be traced back to the original misread term demiurge.
The origins of the name Demogorgon are not entirely clear, though the most prevalent scholarly view now considers it to be a misreading of the Greek δημιουργόν (dēmiourgon, accusative case form of δημιουργός, 'demiurge') based on the manuscript variations in the earliest known explicit reference in Lactantius Placidus (Jahnke 1898, Sweeney 1997, Solomon 2012). The variants cited by Jahnke include the Latin "demoirgon", "emoirgon", "demogorgona", "demogorgon", with the first critical editor Friedrich Lindenbrog (Fridericus Tiliobroga) having conjectured "δημιουργόν" as the prototype in 1600. Various other theories suggest that the name is derived from a combination of the Greek words δαίμων daimon ('spirit' given the Christian connotations of 'demon' in the early Middle Ages)—or, less likely δῆμος demos ('people')— and γοργός gorgos ('quick') or Γοργών Gorgon, the Ancient Greek triad of goddesses whose origins extend to the fifteenth century BC, or much earlier (as suggested by Marija Gimbutas).
Derivation and history
Demogorgon is first mentioned in the commentary on Statius's Thebaid often attributed in manuscripts to a Lactantius Placidus, (c. 350-400 AD). The Lactantius Placidus commentary became the most common medieval commentary on the poem by Statius and is transmitted in most early editions up to 1600. The commentary has been attributed incorrectly to a different Lactantius, the Christian author Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius, even though the commentator appears to have been Mithraic.
The name Demogorgon is introduced in a discussion of Thebaid 4.516, which mentions 'the supreme being of the threefold world' (triplicis mundi summum); in a mystical passage that seems to show Jewish influence, as it mentions Moses and Isaiah); in one manuscript, the author says of Statius, Dicit deum Demogorgona summum, cuius scire nomen non licet ('He is speaking of the Demogorgon, the supreme god, whose name it is not permitted to know', or perhaps 'He is speaking of a god, the supreme Demogorgon'). Prior to Lactantius, there is no mention of the supposed "Demogorgon" anywhere by any writer, pagan or Christian. However, as noted above, there are several different manuscript traditions, including one that gives "demoirgon", which has been taken by most critical editors to indicate some form of misconstruction of the Greek dēmiourgon. Jahnke thus restores the text to read 'He is speaking of the Demiurge, whose name it is not permitted to know'. However, this phantom word in one of the manuscript traditions took on a life of its own among later scholars.
In the Early Middle Ages, Demogorgon is mentioned in the tenth-century Adnotationes super Lucanum, a series of short notes to Lucan's Pharsalia that are included in the Commenta Bernensia, the "Berne Scholia on Lucan".
By the late Middle Ages, the reality of a primordial "Demogorgon" was so well fixed in the European imagination that "Demogorgon's son Pan" became a bizarre variant reading for "Hermes' son Pan" in one manuscript tradition of Boccaccio's Genealogia Deorum gentilium ("Genealogies of the Gods":1.3-4 and 2.1), misreading a line in Ovid's Metamorphoses.
After Boccaccio Demogorgon is mentioned as a "primal" god in quite a few Renaissance texts, and impressively glossed "Demon-Gorgon," i.e., "Terror-Demon" or "God of the Earth." The French historian and mythographer Jean Seznec, for instance, now determines in Demogorgon an allusion to the Demiurge ("Craftsman" or "Maker") of Plato's Timaeus. For a remarkable early text identifying Ovid's Demiurge (1/1, here) as "sovereign Demogorgon," see the paraphrase of Metamorphoses I in Abraham France, The third part of the Countesse of Pembrokes Yuychurch (London, 1592), sig. A2v."
Demogorgon was taken up by Christian writers as a demon of Hell:
Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name
Note, however, Milton does not refer to the inhabitants of Hell, but of an unformed region where Chaos rules with Night. In Milton's epic poem Satan passes through this region while traveling from Hell to Earth.
According to Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, Demogorgon has a splendid temple palace in the Himalaya mountains where every five years the Fates and genii are all summoned to appear before him and give an account of their actions. They travel through the air in various strange conveyances, and it is no easy matter to distinguish between their convention and a Witches' Sabbath. When elements of Ariosto's poem supplied Philippe Quinault's libretto for Jean-Baptiste Lully's opera Roland, performed at Versailles, 8 January 1685, Demogorgon was king of the fairies and master of ceremonies.
Demorgogon also is mentioned in the Book II of the epic poema El Bernardo written in Mexico by Bernardo de Balbuena in the seventeenth century and published in Spain during 1624. The passage tells how the fairy, "Alcina", visits Demorgogon in his infernal palace.
Aquí Demogorgon está sentado
en su banco fatal, cuyo decreto
de las supremas causas es guardado
por inviolable y celestial preceto.
Las parcas y su estambre delicado
a cuyo huso el mundo está sujeto,
la fea muerte y el vivir lúcido
y el negro lago del oscuro olvido
— (Libro II, estrofa 19)
Downe in the bottome of the deepe Abysse
Where Demogorgon in dull darknesse pent,
Farre from the view of Gods and heauens blis,
The hideous Chaos keepes, their dreadfull dwelling is.
— (Book IV, Canto ii, stanza 47)
He is also the protagonist of an opera Il Demogorgone, ovvero il filosofo confuso ("Demogorgon, or the Confused Philosopher" by Vincenzo Righini (1786) with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, which originally was written for Mozart.
In Moby-Dick, the first mate of the ship, Pequod, Starbuck, describes the white whale as the demogorgon of the ship's "heathen crew" (see ch. XXXVIII, paragraph 2).
Demogorgon also appears as a character in Percy Bysshe Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. In this lyrical drama, Demogorgon is the offspring of Jupiter and Thetis who eventually dethrones Jupiter. It is never mentioned whether Demogorgon is female or male, instead, being portrayed as a dark, shapeless spirit. The theory of Demogorgon's name originating from Greek demos and gorgos may be the foundation for its use in this text as an allusion to a politically active and revolutionary populace. Shelley's allusions to the French Revolution further support this.[original research?]
- Statius, Thebaid iv.500-518 , a passage often linked (see below) to Lucan, Pharsalia vi.744-49, where, however, Demogorgon is not specified. See notes to Lucan 6.744 in G. Viansino's edition (Mondadori, 1995).
- H. Anderson, The Manuscripts of Statius (Arlington, VA, 2009), vol. 2, pp. 83-85 and 191-202
- J. François, Le Scoliaste de la Thébaïde de Stace, Mémoire de licence, Liège, 1936, p. 82. R.D. Sweeney (ed., Lactantii Placidi in Statii Thebaida commentarii libri XII (Stuttgart/Leipzig: Teubner) 1997) also indicates that another Placidus, a Christian grammarian, is not to be confused with this Lactantius: "'glossae Placidi (ut uidetur, Christiani) nullo modo auctori nostro sunt adscribendae'" (p. viii).
- "The Berne Scholia"; Adnotationes super Lucanum, vi.746, are mentioned in Daniel Ogden's Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds, Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 198.
- Dr Daniel Kinney, "Ovid Illustrated: The Renaissance Reception of Ovid in Image and Text" linked below.
- Rudwin, Maximilian (1970) . The Devil in Legend and Literature (2nd ed.). New York: AMS Press. p. 80. ISBN 0-404-05451-X.
- "Non tardar amato bene," left incomplete by Mozart was inserted in Da Ponte's next project, Il Demogorgone (D. Heartz, "Mozart and Da Ponte", The Musical Quarterly, 1995); the question " how did Righini wind up setting a text written for Mozart, and how could a text designed for a different opera fit successfully into II demogorgone?" is addressed in J Stone, "Mozart's Theory of Opera, 13 October 1781" The Musical Times, 1991.
- Paul Foot. Red Shelley. p. 194
- Poema: Demogorgon - Álvaro de Campos - Poesia/Poemas no Citador, citador.pt
- Lactantius Placidus, ad Theb. 4.516, ed. Jahnke (1898) (Google books)
- Lactantius Placidus, ad Theb. 4.516, ed. Sweeney (1997) (Google books)
- P.van de Woestijne, "Les scholies à la Thébaïde de Stace: remarques et suggestions," L'Antiquité Classique n.s. 19 (1950), pp 149–63], dates the scholiast of Statius to ca 350 - 400 CE.
- Dr Daniel Kinney, "Ovid Illustrated: The Renaissance Reception of Ovid in Image and Text"
- Varda's Demogorgon page
- Solomon, Jon, "Boccaccio and the Ineffable, Aniconic God Demogorgon", International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 19, No. 1 (MARCH 2012), pp. 31-62
- Sylvain Matton, "La figure de Démogorgon dans la littérature alchimique", in Didier Kahn and Sylvain Matton (ed.), Alchimie, art, histoire et mythes. Actes du 1er colloque international de la Société d'Étude de l'Histoire de l'Alchimie (Paris, Collège de France, 14-15-16 mars 1991), Textes et Travaux de Chrysopœia, 1, Paris: S.É.H.A.-Milan: Archè, 1995, p. 265-346.
- Ogden, Daniel (2002). Magic, witchcraft, and ghosts in the Greek and Roman World, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515123-2