The Chthonic World

 

‘"While I was rushing down to that low place,

  my eyes made out a figure coming toward me

  of one grown faint, perhaps from too much silence".

 

                                                                                            Dante, Inferno, Canto I

 

The Chthonian realm in Greek mythology is the counterpart of the Olympian and is more usually known as the underworld or the abode of the dead. Amongst the chthonic gods are Hades and Persephone, the Egyptian Anubis and the Roman Mars. Often these myths furnish us with stories of mortal visitors to the underworld, eager for the knowledge that only the dead possess. Notable amongst these are Odysseus who is instructed to consult the prophet Tiresias, and Aeneas, anxious to know of his future.

 

The journey down into the underworld not only represents our fascination with entry into another, mysterious world, but is also emblematic of our curiosity about what might lie beyond the grave, 'the undiscover'd country'.   

 

The familiar terrors and torments of the underworld come to us from the later Christian era and are vividly depicted by Dante in his Divine Comedy, an allegory of his personal, and our collective journey from the darkness and despair of spiritual exile towards the revelation of what he calls the bright world. Dante’s guide through the infernal regions is the classical poet Virgil, who inhabits that antechamber to Hell known as Limbo. In Limbo Dante finds all the other great poets - Homer, Ovid, Horace, the philosophers Socrates and Plato, the mathematician Euclid and many more. In Dante’s scheme these shades were regarded as pagan, and though being guilt-free and virtuous could not be admitted to the Christian firmament, being unbaptised and without faith.

 

It is with thoughts of all such pagan individuals during visits to the virtual limbos in Egypt and the Parisian catacombs, that David Parker made this short sequence of images in 1992.