Traditional phrase used to refer to Satan, the personification of evil. It may have first appeared in English in John Milton’s 17th century epic poem about the Fall of Man, Paradise Lost, but it is an English translation of a much older Latin phrase, princeps tenebrarum, which turned up in sacred poems and sermons in the 11th and 12th centuries.
This illustration from an 1866 edition of Paradise Lost is by Gustav Doré (see bookmark for page 16).
A popular theme of Western art and literature, based on a tale first related by Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 293 – 373), who wrote that his contemporary, Anthony of Egypt, had fought temptations by the devil in the form of boredom, laziness, and phantoms of women, then was beaten unconcious by the devil while living as a monastic in the desert. Later attacks came in the form of wild beasts, wolves, lions, snakes, and scorpions, but Anthony turned all of these away by prayer and laughter.
Frescoes of the temptations of St. Anthony began to appear in Italy in the 10th century, and painters from Hieronymus Bosch to Salvador Dali, and writers such as Flaubert, have used St. Anthony’s ordeals as the subject of their work. This diptych is by Bosch (c. 1450-1516).
The Bizzarie di Varie Figure was an obscure book by Giovanni Battista Bracelli published in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy in 1624. Bracelli described himself as a Florentine painter.
The illustrations consisted of mostly human, but some animal, figures made up of ribbons, geometric figures, boxes, chains, rags, pots, pans, twigs, drums, bells, and other objects.
The book was rarely mentioned anywhere until rediscovered by Alain Brieux in Paris about 1950, and published in a facsimile edition in 1963.
There are at least two fairly well-known works this might refer to: the late 16th century play by the English dramatist Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), first staged about 1593 and published in 1604; and the 1947 novel by the German writer Thomas Mann (1875-1955). Both were inspired by a German story dated to about the mid 16th century, about an alchemist named Faust who mocks the devil, known as Mephistopheles, and makes a deal with him for scientific knowledge. The image at left is the cover of a 1620 edition of Marlowe's play.
Mann transformed the story into that of a composer named Adrian Leverkühn. Many other writers, artists, and composers have made use of this story in their work.
Most of these titles do not turn up in the Library of Congress online catalog, for example, although there was an 1897 book titled The Mystery of Sleep by John Bigelow; a novel called Between Midnight and Dawn published by Ina Leon Cassilis in London in 1885; and a book called The Witches’ Sabbath by Edward Harry William Meyerstein in 1917.
Many pamphlets and sermons by various authors in the 17th and 18th centuries, including John Bunyan, contained the phrase “torments of the damned” in their lengthy titles, for instance, Hell’s Terror, or treatise of the torments of the damned: as a preservative against security, by “that faithful minister in Christ, Christopher Love,” published in 1653.