Silos Beatus

Silos Beatus f. 2r, Hell (does not belong to the Antiphonary), Petrus


f. 2r, Hell (does not belong to the Antiphonary), Petrus

The illustration of Hell that Petrus embellished f. 2 with – left blank originally – has become remarkably famous in the field of medieval iconography due to its rarity and complexity8. It is not my intention to digress at length upon said illustration: I will simply summarize the studies written to date and expound certain ideas. As C. Cid pointed out many years ago, this lavishly coloured miniature was not part of the original design of the Antiphonary. A. Boylan believes that this image was intended to illustrate the feast day of St Roman (November 18th) mentioned on the preceding folios in the Antiphonary. This illustration alludes to the trials by heat and cold to which the lives of the righteous are submitted, in keeping with the legend surrounding the image, “drought and heat consume the snow waters” (Job 24: 19), a matter to be analysed below. The meaning of the text concerning said saint’s feast day bears no relation to the torment of the damned mentioned in the eschatological passage in the Book of Job. I believe the new opinions contributed recently by S. Silva to be convincing and consider that this illustration, with its clearly doctrinal concept, was made specifically for the Beatus codex after it had been completed, using the folio left blank.
The composition is set inside a four-lobed shape whose arches coincide with an ideal circumference – the measurement of whose radius is in proportion to that of each of the respective circle arcs in the four-lobed shape that comprise Hell – which corresponds to the golden proportion, the golden number. The letters IN / FER / N / US appear inside said arches upon green, red, blue and red grounds respectively: contrasts that were undoubtedly associated with those stemming from the legends alluding to the change from heat to cold. Hence the legend mentions successively the shift from the most intense heat to icy waters and back again. It coincides partly with the paraphrase of Job 24: 19 “ad aquas nivium […] aquas nivium transibunt ad calore nivium a calore nimio transibunt”, the exact text of Job being: “ad nimium calorem transeat ab aquis nivium et usque ad inferos peccatum illius”. St Jerome, like Brunus Astensis (“de tormentis ad tormenta translati, nunc frigore, nunc aestu cruciabuntur”), takes up the concept of contrasting heat and cold as being the two parts that comprise Hell: “duas gehennas… ignis et frigoris”. The texts about Hell in the Silos codex are arranged concentrically from outside moving inwards.
J. Yarza drew attention quite rightly to the pantacular structure of the illustration of Hell: a cosmic representation consisting of circles. The illustration features a variety of different beings, half animal and half human, also found in intricate Gnostic religious images but not in Mozarabic or foreign styles. The arrangement of the colours is, furthermore, apparently closely linked to specific concepts, possibly magical connotations related to alternating, sharply contrasting punishments.
Although he is visible from all sides, the archangel Michael is shown in a horizontal position in the manuscript itself. His position in the original layout of the composition must however have been standing upright holding the scales – an iconographic first in Hispanic art – facing the devil who was attempting to tip the weight of sins in his own favour. To carry on reading the legend, one must turn the folio clockwise. Each devil and the respective invocations appear successively upright, not lying down. The first is Athimos, followed by Radamas and finally Beelzebub, when beginning with the first position featuring Michael and the devil Barrabas. As Yarza points out, a concentric circumference drawn around the largest circle and going through the points where all the other circles in said four-lobed shape intersect, can be seen to touch the curved bodies of the devils, which seem to be shaped to fit it, endowing the entire illustration with the necessary sense of rotation. Indeed the Silos illustration of Hell is a pantacle, a magic object that must be turned round whilst the texts are read, following which it may perhaps manage to entrap someone – particularly misers and the lustful, those guilty of the most severely punished sins.
The four devils, with their horribly aggressive bodies, are portrayed in different ways although their anatomy is similar. The appearance of their large, unpleasant eyes able inflict damage is clearly similar. The superstition of the evil eye dating back to ancient times was passed down to the Middle Ages, hence the use of coral and jet talismans and other objects made of different substances to ward off this evil. The names of the devils were incorporated in the repertory at different times. Whilst Satan stems very indirectly from the Bible, as a result of the fall of the evil angels, the origin of Asmodeus or Beelzebub is far more complex, being endowed with an evil nature based on the ambiguous creature he was in the Old Testament. Lucifer and Satan are the names used for the main devil, the one who rebelled against God and tempted humanity. Other devils that penetrated into the Medieval, demonological world stemmed from Gnostic or Manichaean channels. Classical times saw the appearance of Radamas as the judge of the damned. He can be identified with Rhadamanthus, the son of Zeus and Europe, whose name has several variant spellings. His Negroid traits may possibly be associated with the non-European people judged by Aeacus, who feature, along with Rhadamanthus and Minos, in Plato’s Gorgias Beelzebub stems from a goddess in the Near East and on occasions this name is divided to eliminate the prefix Baal or Beel, leaving just Zebub or Zebul, as occurs in the Girona Beatus (Girona, Museu de la Catedral, Num. Inv. 7 [11]). The name of the criminal released instead of Jesus, Barabbas, came to be included amongst those of the devils at an unspecified time. St Isidore (De ortu et obitu patrum) deemed him to be the image of the Antichrist although he features more often in formulae and texts of Gnostic origin. The name of Athimos, the devil of lust as can be deduced from the Silos illustration itself, may possibly have been a mistaken form of Minos. Nordström accepts Roscher’s hypothesis that he was a combination of Minos and his brother Atymnios20; although it has also been suggested that he was of Iranian origin. The name Antemos, one of those used to identify the Antichrist in the Commentary by Beatus, is more similar. It means abstinence from wine and spirits, although with the text to hand, any modification would be inappropriate. However the similarity to a devil called Adinus suggests that both stemmed from the ancient world close to Gnosticism which still survived in the Middle Ages22. He is smaller than the others and has just one leg, the other having been replaced by two crab’s claws which he uses to attack the two lovers lying embraced upon a bed with their bodies covered by a blanket. The man’s hand is around the shoulder of his partner, identified as a woman only due to her longer hair. Although the illustration alludes in general to the punishment of heat and cold mentioned above and is therefore applicable to all sins, the only two sins shown explicitly in the image are those of lust and avarice. The punishment of others such as hypocrites, those seeking revenge etc., some of which are mentioned in Muslim texts and by Christian exegetes, are merely inferred.
Beelzebub and Radamas punish Dives the rich man portrayed as an extremely well-dressed man with one large bag hanging around his neck and another two in his hands, reminiscent of the horn of plenty. His hair is brimming with tiny, green circles, possibly intended to represent coins. The sin in question is heavily emphasized by being situated in the centre of the composition. Radamas harasses him with a spear (bifurcum). The rich man is also tormented by two snakes biting him on the head (serpentes comedunt divitem) whilst his feet are bitten by two toads that symbolize the enemies of Ra – the good God of Egypt – and represent the powers of darkness and the superstition of primitive Christianity23. Although the profile of Beelzebub is similar to that of Radamas, the former has horns, like the Gnostic Barabbas. The figure of St Michael is portrayed, in relation to Gnostic circles, weighing souls. He is mentioned in the ophite diagram described by Origen, and is also linked to Mercury as regards the Gnostic gems, a matter that early Christian circles viewed with suspicion. I share said author’s opinion that the Silos pantacle may have had a Christian model of the same type. The obscure, bewildering years between 1109 and 1116 may perhaps be assumed to be when this illustration of Hell – being understood to be the monastery’s response to the Cluny reform – was produced. The emphasis given to the sin of avarice situated in the centre of the pantacle, may constitute a scathing criticism of the desire for wealth shown by the recently instigated monks of Cluny. The official death of Abbot Fortunio, which marked the beginning of a new stage, was situated in 1116, although it actually occurred in 1109, the year when the Silos Beatus was completed.

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