In the Christian tradition, Satan is commonly accepted as a hideous and monstrous being in direct contrast to God’s graceful mercy, often a shadowy figure with little depth. Yet there exists another very gothic view of this figure, as demonstrated by Milton in Paradise Lost, of a long suffering villain who appears more tragic artist than ultimate deceiver. The Monk, by Matthew Lewis, makes use of more tragic and mythical elements to make something altogether different, a Dionysian figure. Lewis uses such descriptive speech, symbols, and themes all connected to Greek myth to present a chaos creating character who transgresses not only God, but societal boundaries. While transgressions have been profusely researched in Gothic literature, the Dionysian myth connected to the Daemon spirit have been overlooked. I will reveal how much the scene of Ambrosio’s first meeting with Satan draws upon myths, symbols, and perceptions of the Greek God, and furthermore why these connections exist and reinforce the gothic genre.
Before unraveling the scene of Ambrosio and the fallen angle it is necessary to give a short general history of Dionysus, as it relates to this passage. Dionysus was born to a human mother Semele, who burns after seeing Zeus in his true form (Hamilton 65). Zeus saves the child and places him to be raised among nymphs, associated with “the stars which bring rain when they near the horizon” (65) and in this way Dionysus was “born of fire and nursed by rain” (65). Imagery of the vine also helps perpetuate the God’s yearly death, causing him to be torn apart every winter, as well as influencing the Maenads, a group of frenzied woman who run tearing apart anything in their path. While wine can bring joy, these sinister aspects of wine and intoxication are not forgotten in the Dionysian myth, and although a beautiful youth, Dionysus is also perhaps the most dangerous and least civilized.
We are first introduced to the fallen angel when Matilda seeks demonic help for Ambrosio. After summoning an evil spirit, the reader is slowly and decadently introduced to a fallen angle who is realized to be none other than Satan himself. What is surprising is not that Satan make an appearance, but that in the Greek tradition he is a beautiful youth, with intense symbolism and description. On first glance, this is clearly a reflection of Greek mythology, especially the myth of Dionysus, the Greek God of wine. The spirit arrives, “whose coming was announced by thunder and earthquakes” which is a common symbol of most Gods in mythology, and a paternal connection for the Zeus sired son Dionysus. However, even Ambrosio is “expecting that some dreadful apparition would meet his eyes, the sight of which would drive him mad”, suggesting both that the fallen angles appearance is not so much a Christian myth as a Greek one, as well as madness being a direct correlation to Dionysus whose wine carries mirth as well as chaos, even insanity.
The most direct connection...