Demogorgon, although often ascribed to Greek mythology, is actually attributed to a fourth-century scholar, imagined as the name of a pagan god or demon, associated with the underworld and envisaged as a powerful primordial being, whose very name had been taboo.



The origins of the name Demogorgon are uncertain, partly because the name itself was perhaps of imaginary coinage. Various theories suggest that the name is derived from the Greek words δαίμων daimon ('spirit' given the Christian connotations of 'demon' in the early Middle Ages)—or, less likely δῆμος demos ('people')— and Γοργών Gorgon ('grim') or γοργός gorgos ('quick'). Another, less accepted theory claims that it is derived from a variation of 'demiurge', although the two scholarly editions of the earliest mention of the term (Jahnke 1898 and Sweeney 1997) see Demogorgon as a corruption of demiurge.[1]

Derivation and history

Demogorgon is first mentioned in the commentary on Statius's Thebaid[2] often attributed in manuscripts to Lactantius Placidus. The commentary, which was composed ca. 350-400 AD, is the most common medieval commentary on the poem and is transmitted in most early editions up to 1600.[3] The commentary has been misattributed to the Christian author Lucius Caelius Firmianus Lactantius, even though the commentator appears to have been Mithraic.[4]

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); the author says of Statius, Dicit deum Demogorgona summum ('He is speaking of the Demogorgon, the supreme god', 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.

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".[5] 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.[citation needed]

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 spots in Demogorgon an allusion to the Demiurge ("Craftsman" or "Maker") of Plato's Timaeus. For a remarkable early text actually 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."[6]

In literature

Demogorgon was taken up by Christian writers as a demon of Hell:

"Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name
Of Demogorgon."
John Milton, Paradise Lost II. 966.

Note, however, Milton does not refer to the inhabitants of Hell itself, 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.

Demogorgon's name was earlier invoked by Faustus in Scene III of Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1590) when the eponymous Doctor summons Mephistopheles with a Latin incantation.

The 16th century Dutch demonologist Johann Weyer described him as the master of fate in hell's hierarchy.[7]

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 is also mentioned in the Book II of the epic poema El Bernardo written in Mexico by Bernardo de Balbuena in the 17th. century and published in Spain 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)

He is mentioned in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene:

A bold bad man, that dar'd to call by name
Great Gorgon, Prince of darknesse and dead night,
At which Cocytus quakes, and Styx is put to flight. (Canto I, stanza 37)


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)

Demogorgon is the central character in Voltaire's 1756 short story Plato's Dream - a "lesser superbeing" who was responsible for creating the planet Earth.

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 was originally written for Mozart.[8]

In Moby-Dick, Starbuck describes the white whale as Ahab's demogorgon.

Demogorgon is also 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 male or female and it is instead portrayed as a dark, shapeless spirit. The theory of Demogorgon's name originating from Greek demos and gorgos is possibly at work in this text as an allusion to a politically active and revolutionary populace. Shelley's allusions to the French Revolution further support this.

In the poem "Demogorgon" by Álvaro de Campos, the writer is afraid of becoming mad by learning the true nature and unveiling the mystery of life.[9]

See also


  1. ^ See below, under References.
  2. ^ 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).
  3. ^ H. Anderson, The Manuscripts of Statius (Arlington, VA, 2009), vol. 2, pp. 83-85 and 191-202
  4. ^ 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).
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ Dr Daniel Kinney, "Ovid Illustrated: The Renaissance Reception of Ovid in Image and Text" linked below.
  7. ^ Rudwin, Maximilian (1970) [1931]. The Devil in Legend and Literature (2nd ed.). New York: AMS Press. p. 80. ISBN 0-404-05451-X. 
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ Poema: Demogorgon - Álvaro de Campos - Poesia/Poemas no Citador,


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  • Demogorgon — De mo*gor gon (d[=e] m[ o]*g[^o]r*g[o^]n or d[e^]m [ o]*g[^o]r*g[o^]n), n. [First mentioned by Lutatius, or Lactantius Placidus, the scholiast on Statius, perh. fr. Gr. dai mwn god, deity + gorgo s fierce, terrible] A mysterious, terrible, and… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • DEMOGORGON — Magus tam excellens, ut praeesse larvis dicetetur, ac illas pro nutu cogere, et si errarent, acerrime plectere …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Demogorgon — [dē′mō gôr΄gən, dem′ōgôr΄gən] n. [LL: prob. of Asian orig., but infl. by L daemon (see DAEMON) + Gorgo (see GORGON)] a terrifying and mysterious god or demon of the underworld: believed by medieval and Renaissance scholars to have been a figure… …   English World dictionary

  • démogorgon — (entrée créée par le supplément) (dé mo gor gon) s. m. Être symbolique créateur du ciel et de la terre ; il habite le centre du monde avec l Éternité et le Chaos. •   Dans le fossé couvert je vis apparaître un personnage mythologique qui m avait… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • Demogorgon — /dee meuh gawr geuhn, dem euh /, n. a vague, mysterious, infernal power or divinity mistakenly thought to belong to ancient mythology. [1580 90; < LL Demogorgon, of uncert. orig.] * * * …   Universalium

  • Demogorgon — De•mo•gor•gon [[t]ˌdi məˈgɔr gən, ˌdɛm ə [/t]] n. myt a mysterious infernal power or deity of late antiquity • Etymology: 1580–90; < LL Dēmogorgōn …   From formal English to slang

  • Demogorgon — noun Etymology: Late Latin Date: 1590 a mysterious spirit or deity often explained as a primeval creator god who antedates the gods of Greek mythology …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Demogorgon — noun a) A pagan god or demon, associated with the underworld and envisaged as a powerful primordial being, whose very name was been taboo; an incubus. b) …   Wiktionary

  • DEMOGORGON —    a terrible deity, the tyrant of the elves and fairies, who must all appear before him once every five years to give an account of their doings …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Demogorgon — /ˌdimoʊˈgɔgən/ (say .deemoh gawguhn) noun a vague, mysterious, infernal power or divinity of ancient mythology, variously represented, as an object of awe or fear. {Late Latin, from Greek} …   Australian English dictionary

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