02. Ancient Mediterranean, 03. Early Europe & Colonial Americas, Christianity

Student Series! Birth of Evil

Student Series! Birth of Evil

I don’t know if you have seen the way the Devil (aka Satan) looks in art but, yeah, he’s not really to keen in the realm of high fashion. I mean the guy walks around with goat horns on his bald head and a really short ugly goatee. Not to mention he walks on a pair of super hairy goat legs and has a pair of big red ugly bat wings all while holding a trident. Like Why? This blog post is going to break down some of the history of how Satan looks today in many people’s imaginations.

MEt-Egyptian gods

The Birth of Evil

Well a while back before satan was a big shot there was an Egyptian god creating the reputation that Satan would later take over. His name was Seth (or Set) and during his time he did some pretty evil sounding things like dismember and spreading his brother about Egypt due to jealousy, BUT he only gained the title of “evil” after the wealthy north saw him as a god of wealth (hmmmm “the love of money is the root of all evil” 1 Timothy 6:10). In return, the poor south started to view him as evil and blamed him for their poverty.

Reclining Pan with a bunch of grapes, Signorum Veterum Icones II by Jan de Bisschop, c. 1664. Rijksmuseum, Public Domain

Poor Pan

Now let’s talk about his most iconic and, if I do say so myself, the dumbest feature of Satan: his horns. The story where Satan got his horn goes like this: long ago Hermes, a Greek god had a kid named Pan (this is where we get the word “pandemonium” and “panic” from). As a kid he was super rowdy and restless and became associated as the god of the wild and mischief but more important to the story of Satan is the fact that Pan had horns and the legs of a goat. Horns are mentioned Book of Revelations except the devil is a dragon and has 10 horns (Revelation 13:1-10).

“I … saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

Read more from Europeana blog: Pan: a wayward god in animal form

NGA-Rogier van der Weyden, St George and the Dragon, 1432-1435
National Gallery of Art, Rogier van der Weyden, St George and the Dragon (the dragon is supposed to represent Satan), 1432-1435

Evil Times

The bat wings are a different story because they develop during the Middle Ages when Catholicism influenced pretty much everything in Europe. At the time many paintings of angels were being made and many showed the angels with wings of feathers. The feathers represented birds which fly during the daylight, thus in return when the Satan was depicted they would give him bat wings because bats were in the skies at night symbolizing his unholy nature.
So now you know why when you look at he Satan today he looks so weird with his goat legs, tail, goatee, horns, and bat wings.

Read more from the JSTOR Blog: “Satan, the Radical”

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