Fire and Brimstone
Fire and Brimstone
Sulfur has long been associated with the fiery domain of hell, and with its god. In the fifteenth-century poem The Assembly of Gods, after describing Othea, the goddess of wisdom, the anonymous author continues with an account of the god of the underworld: . . . And next to her was god Pluto set Wyth a derke myst envyroned all aboute His clothynge was made of a smoky net His colour was both wythin & wythoute Full derke & dӯme his eyen grete & stoute Of fyre & sulphure all his odour waas That wo was me while I behelde his faas . . . Even more terrifying is the account from the Vatican Mythographers, in which Pluto is described as ‘an intimidating personage sitting on a throne of sulphur, holding the sceptre of his realm in his right hand, and with his left strangling a soul’. This association between sulfur and the fiery underworld is perhaps understandable given that the element is often found in the vicinity of volcanoes. In Mundus Subterraneus, one of many books written by the seventeenth-century polymath Athanasius Kircher (1602–80), the author describes a night-time visit to Vesuvius in the year 1638—just seven years after the great eruption of 1631. He tells us that after arriving at the crater, ‘I saw what is horrible to be expressed, I saw it all over of a light fire, with an horrible combustion, and stench of Sulphur and burning Bitumen. Here forthwith being astonished at the unusual sight of the thing; Methoughts I beheld the habitation of Hell; wherein nothing else seemed to be much wanting, besides the horrid fantasms and apparitions of Devils.’ Kircher believed that the volcanoes were fed by massive fires deep underground, as he tells us in the opening of his book: . . . That there are Subterraneous Conservatories, and Treasuries of Fire (even as well, as there are of Water, and Air, &c.) and vast Abysses, and bottomless Gulphs in the Bowels and very Entrals of the Earth, stored therewith, no sober Philosopher can deny; If he do but consider the prodigious Vulcano’s, or fire-belching Mountains; the eruptions of sulphurous fires not only out of the Earth, but also out of the very Sea; the multitude and variety of hot Baths every where occurring. . . .
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