Angels With Human Faces

Oscar Wilde’s tomb is guarded by an angel, but he has not stopped all sorts of scribblers from writing their trite little slogans on it. Despite the rubbish that’s been peppered on and around it, and the fact that he has lost his impressive penis, it’s a striking Modernist take on the subject.

Source: Wikipedia

Wikipedia tells me some scholars think that cherubs and angels such as the one guarding Wilde’s remains are related to the Mesopotamian shedus, the sort of winged bull-man hybrids like the one below who mostly hangs out at the Louvre nowadays.

Source: Wikipedia

Angels are easy to understand for us who grew up with Christianity and superhero comics: they are on a different ontological plane from us and do all sorts of things for the Big Man, like Silver Surfers to God’s Galactus. Winged bull-man thingies are a bit more difficult. I’m no expert on this subject, but it seems like our idea of a general type of supernatural being, some thing with agentic powers that inhabits a higher realm whose existence is circuitously postulated by the existence of its inhabitants, has to be preceded by some sort of particular thing. As good a candidate as any for this are the hybrid gods of Egypt and the Mesopotamian shedus.

Source: Wikipedia

The latter are bulls with human heads and they are guardians of passageways, the middlemen you have to deal with before you get to meet the Wizard. These creatures are endowed with special powers due to their deformities, their freaky heads and mismatched bodies. They can be classified by their special powers and made into a hierarchy where we can find ourselves at the bottom and the Almighty at the top. There are these hierarchies in Christianity as well, although not many Christians make much of them anymore. Of course, there are also maps of the underworld in Epic poetry as well as of the realm of the angels and other beings of light. Everything fits together nicely and we know where we stand in the grand scheme of things — we know because it is our scheme. That’s our superpower.

Two related figures come to mind immediately. The Minotaur, a sort of reversed Assyrian bull-man, and the sphinx. Here’s a sphinx dating from the Middle Kingdom which would make it an unbelievable four thousand years old, now reduced to smiling at visitors behind a rope at the Louvre.

Source: Wikipedia

The subject itself is much older than that, but it’s difficult to grasp the age of this figure already, so I’ll leave it at that. It might be that the sphinx is some sort of proto-angel, but the word itself comes from the Greek. And in Greek myth we have sphinxes, centaurs, cyclops, gorgons, gryphons, sirens, and a plethora of other strange chimeric creatures. All these freaks cannot measure up to the Olympians, who are always portrayed as more man than anything else. They are far better than mortals in every respect, but they are more like us than the gods and angels of old.

1 Response to “Angels With Human Faces”



  1. 1 Art in Paris « nonvisedvoce Trackback on January 30, 2012 at 22:39

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