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Friday, June 17, 2016

In the dark, dark forest (7)

[16: 8, Wizard Ismen speaks]

- Udite, udite, o voi che da le stelle
Precipitâr giù i folgori tonanti,
E voi che le tempeste e le procelle
Movete, habitator de l'aria erranti,
E voi ch'a l'alme dispietate e felle
Ministri sete degli eterni pianti.
Hor, cittadini de l'inferno, udite,
E tu Re, odi, de l'avara Dite.

"Listen, listen, O you whom thundering
Flashes threw down from the stars,
And you, the inhabitants of the air,
Who stir the tempests and the storms,
And you, those who minister eternal 
Tears to the foul and merciless souls!
Now listen, O citizens of the hell, 
And you, the King of insatiable Dis!"

With Renaissance/Baroque accuracy in demonology, Tasso methodically lists the main features and 'duties' of devils: fallen from heaven, "spirits of the air" able to rule the natural elements (cfr. Dante, Purgatorio 5: 109-114), and guardians and punishers of the damned souls.
Dis was, more precisely, the Greek name of the -- meek, not cruel -- god of Hades, of afterlife; but since Dante mentioned as "the city whose name is Dis" the lower part of hell (Inferno 8: 68), it has turned into a place name. "Insatiable" renders the adjective avara in its Latin sense; but, again, in classical literature the phrase conveyed a different concept insofar as it referred to death in general rather than to a place of endless punishment for the wicked.
The choice of God's weapon to defeat the rebel angels is based on the myth of Zeus striking the Giants with lightning (cfr. Dante, Purgatorio 12: 25-27; Milton, Paradise Lost, bk 6; and indirectly Michelangelo's Last Judgment). On the other hand, the detail is not included 'as such' in the Bible, not even in the allegory of Isaiah 14: 12, therefore Christian poets and artists had to retrieve materials where they happened to be provided.