Satan, Lucifer, Beezlebub, Mephistopheles, Apollyon – the Devil has proved a powerful embodiment of evil. My research addresses a key moment in the fortunes of the Devil, namely his depiction in Neo-Latin and English epic in early modern Britain. The focus of my project will be a body of literature known as the “Gunpowder Epics”, works written in response to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, where a recurrent theme is the diabolical inspiration of plots against the monarch, and the assimilation of the Devil to Guido Fawkes himself. Key works will include Milton’s In Quintum Novembris, (with Haan 1992), whose monk-devil will later feed into the Satan of Paradise Lost, and Campion’s De Coniuratione Pulverea (ca 1610). The Gunpowder Epics themselves draw on earlier Latin epics: George Peele’s Pareus (1585), on William Parry’s plot against Elizabeth I; William Alabaster’s Elisaeis (ca 1590); and Thomas Campion’s Ad Thamesin (1585), on the defeat of the Armada of 1588 (Sutton 2013).
Research Questions This project aims to illustrate how the character of Satan was imagined. Central to my enquiry are two questions. First, how do Neo-Latin and English language poets bring together classical and biblical influences in their characterisation of the Devil? Second, how far does this characterisation interact with wider depictions of the Devil and the daemonic in British culture of the time? The first of these is addressed through a study of classical and biblical models. Virgil provides the canonical Latin depiction of the Underworld and under-worldly figures; Ovid and Lucan also depict the baneful working of chthonic powers in the human world. Prudentius is also central as a model for the Christianisation of Latin epic (Nanda 1995). Dante’s and Tasso’s Italian tradition is likewise influential. The second question requires us to look at both contemporary treatises on diabology such as Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) and James VI’s Daemonologie (1597), and literature like Ben Jonson’s Catiline (1611), also nascent popular culture like broadside balladry. I will also examine representations of Satan in the artwork of the period.