Boccaccio and the Ineffable, Aniconic God Demogorgon

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In his encyclopedic Genealogia deorum gentilium, Giovanni Boccaccio lists and describes over 700 pagan gods organized within a single comprehensive genealogy. The first god, the ancestor of all the rest, is the illusive Demogorgon. Described as nearly invisible, hidden by clouds and gloom, with a name toο horrible to utter, Demogorgon will reappear in subsequent drama and literature, playing a decisive role in Shelley's Prometheus Unbound. This article traces the origins of Demogorgon, first to the Erichtho passage in Lucan [6.744-747], wherein there is a similarly awesome but nameless spirit. Boccaccio cited and quoted this very passage, as he did the similar passage in Statius' Thebaid [4.514-517]. Boccaccio then cites Lactantius [Placidus], who has been credited with creating the name Demogorgon, although the manuscript tradition does not bear reliable witness to the name until the twelfth century. Ultimately Demogorgon seems to derive from Plato's demiourgos, although his benign creator god underwent a severe transformation during the intervening centuries. Boccaccio seems to follow as well a second tradition derived primarily from Theodontius, himself illusive, which derives ultimately from the archaic Greek Arcadian tradition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-62
Number of pages32
JournalInternational Journal of the Classical Tradition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Boccaccio
  • Demiurge
  • Demogorgon
  • Genealogy
  • Hesiod
  • Lactantius Placidus
  • Leontius Pilatus
  • Lucan
  • Plato
  • Theodontius

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Classics
  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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