My Photo

« Your Eucharist friday open thread | Main | To Serve You Better: A Google Cookbook »

February 26, 2012


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Dante in Japan:


a case of> quantum entanglement?

I would guess that there are a number of different pathways for this cross-cultural connection, in the order of age:

1) Jewish mythology was heavily influenced by Babylonian-Persian myths after the fall of Jerusalem, during the first diaspora. The Persian mythology could also influence the Indian culture.

2) The conquests of Alexander the Great also caused a large influx of Greek ideas and cultural phenomena into Northern India. However, this is unlikely to be the source, as Greek mythology does not involve this sort of hell.

3) During the Abbasid dynasty, there was heavy exchange of ideas between India and Persia. This is, nonetheless too late, as the Buddhist religion had already formed. (And even Jesus refers to a fiery hell, in the story of Lazarus and the rich man.)

I would wager common heritage through Zoroastrianism, which has a fiery hell, and which has influenced both Hinduist and Jewish mythology.

These paintings are very interesting, and gorgeous. Thanks.

Cerberus is a creature (three-headed hound) from Greek and Roman mythology, so if there was mythological cross-pollination, it had a lot of time to happen before the 13th century. Multi-headed creatures are often seen in ancient Indian art and, in Japanese mythology, the eight-headed Yamato no Orochi dates from at least 700 A.D. All over the world, there are a lot of multi-headed monsters.

Blake was painting Dante's description of Cerberus in the first half of the 19th century, and although the influence of Japanese art on Western art is usually dated to the second half of the century, it's certainly possible that Blake had some knowledge of Japanese art. (I'm just thinking about the stylistic similarities, not so much the mythological reference which, again, is more ancient.) Not being an art historian by any stretch of the imagination, I am not trying to analyze the influences here, but just saying that there really isn't any reason to think that the two artistic depictions are related.

Certainly an archtype.

None of you are considering the possibility that if two people from two very different cultures both visit Hell, they might see the same things. Details might differ--Dante seemed to notice a disproportionate number of Italians, but that's only natural. No, no, I mean natural that Dante as an Italian would notice them more.

Details might differ

But therein the devil lies.

BTW, coincidentally I'm trying (somewhat fitfully) to read The Divine Comedy again. I never get past about halfway up Purgatory. Even Virgil got further up than that. Since I'm more interested in the theology I'm content to read the Dorothy Sayers translation, which I gather more literary-minded people think is abominable. But it's got lots of footnotes and I like those.

For those interested in how Dante could think a loving God could create Hell, here's a link to a collection of essays by Eleonore Stump--


I didn't link directly to the paper so you have to scroll down and find it. If you click on it you'll find your computer automatically downloading a pdf file (which I find annoying).

For those of us who don't think God really created an eternal torture chamber the essay isn't altogether convincing, but it is interesting--if Hell were just a dreary self-inflicted eternal waiting room I could even buy it. Not that it matters what I could buy, actually.

For those of us who don't think God really created an eternal torture chamber

I suppose I'll find out soon enough.

Of course, just seeing what goes on around here (talking about the planet Earth) is kind of worrisome, not even counting man-made horror. If there's a reason for it, it's far, far beyond my ability to fathom.

I read Paradiso and Pergatorio in college, and have read several translations of Inferno since then. Maybe it's time to look at the bright side again.

Somebody in Italy puts a book on a boat to Alexandria, somebody in Alexandria puts a book on a camel (the Red Sea to Nile canal was closed at the time, otherwise a barge) to the Red Sea, somebody on the Red Sea puts a book on a boat to China.

The idea of a hell of some kind seems to be an archetype. I think there are few if any cultures that do not believe in (some) life after death. This afterlife seems to come mainly in three flavors:
1. The spirits stay in this world
2. The spirits go into a giant storeroom of boredom
3. The spirits are judged by some higher entity and get reward or punishment (and maybe another chance)
With the possible exception of the Egyptians (where failed spirits are destroyed and posthumous murder is possible) all cultures voting for option 3 seem to have a hell of some sort as either temporary or permanent destination of the 'bad'. And these places are filled with all kinds of ways to hurt human mind can come up with. Fire (or boiling liquid) seems to be the most common. A rare exception are cultures from very cold climates that seem to prefer an icy hell. There are anecdotes that the first Christian missionaries found it difficult to convert the Inuit since they thought that Christian hell must be paradise because it is always warm there.
Christian hell is actually an aberration form traditional Jewish thought that followed option 2(clearly influenced by Mesopotamian beliefs). John the (likley stoned) author of Revelations looks like the main culprit to me.

From the description of Zoroastrian hell, in LJ's Hell-on-line cite:

The use of a hedgehog to punish sinners seems also to be unique.

And for that we may all, including the hedgehogs, be thankful.

And these places are filled with all kinds of ways to hurt human mind can come up with. Fire (or boiling liquid) seems to be the most common.

which seems odd, since a soul, being a non-corporeal entity, has no flesh to burn, and no nerves with which to feel pain. fire could not possibly affect it. so any hell would have to inflict some kind of psychological pain (assuming souls are free-range consciousness), or some kind of metaphysical pain (whatever that might be).

my vote: it's all crap.

my vote: it's all crap.

My hope: it's all crap!

cleek, many cultures do not think of the soul as immaterial. Either it is material itself or it has always to be attached to something material (i.e. cannot exist independently). Under this condition torture will find a way. Even Christianity officially believes in a bodily resurrection.
For a funny treatment of this very question I recommend 'Eric' by Terry Pratchett. The new head of hell comes up with some nasty ideas how to circumvent the problem.

In the first half of the 7th century, there were three separate visits by companions of Mohammed to China, the third of which was an official state visit as envoys from the court of the Caliph to the Chinese emperor. From that time on, there were regular commercial and diplomatic exchanges and settlement in China by Moslems. While the Islamic community in China was careful not to offend local culture by proselytizing, they did establish mosques and they would have brought texts. Given Islam's acceptance that Jesus was a prophet, it would not be farfetched to guess that some Christian books, with artwork, made the journey.

The Japanese likewise had regular exchanges with China throughout the period.

So, at a guess, somewhere along the line, a Japanese merchant or diplomat got hold of a Christian image of hell brought to China from the Islamic world and took it back home.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • visitors since 3/2/2004

July 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31    
Blog powered by Typepad