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Why We Like “Satan” by Hilary Sideris

photograph by Katie Truisi
photograph by Katie Truisi

Issue 4, page 16

Besides in caricature, Satan, the Opposer, almost never looks the same twice. Dante had a monstrous, six-winged and eyed brute half-buried in ice. Milton had a shapeshifter in decline (humanoid comet, cherub, toad, and finally serpent). Stephen King had a tall man in a black suit. And a clown. And an old Buick. And—

What the devil does is just as variable. Sometimes he raises armies, wages wars. Sometimes he barters, swindles, dupes. Sometimes all he has to do is ask a simple question. The latter is the most subtle and seemingly benign, yet is actually the most corrosive—he plants the seed of doubt.

Hilary Sideris, in her poem “Satan” (Issue 4, pg. 16) presents a devil more in line with the Adversary of the Old Testament—the sort from the Book of Job. If his appearance is obvious—with cloven satyr’s feet sticking out from under dark robes (a wolf in monk’s clothing), his methods are not. The sentiment of Satan’s instigation, “Doth Job fear God for naught?” (Job 1 : 9) drives Sideris’ poem, here aimed at the figure of Christ, “God’s son.” It is essentially a series of jabs and dares, challenges to Jesus’ supposed divinity:

…Hungry?
Go ahead & turn

this stone into a loaf.
God’s son? Leap from

the temple roof, let
angels intervene…

This is a pitch-perfect rendering of the “sardonic tone” of the ancient antagonist: “Or suit / yourself, stick with a stag / on your mountaintop.” He is a bitter, cynical creature, but not an overtly evil or involved one. As in many cultural incarnations, Sideris’ Satan uses a keen sense of human weakness to unnerve his opponent from the inside out. While the temple leap is a challenge to Jesus’s faith, it also evokes the Imp of the Perverse from Poe’s short fiction. On a certain level, there is a self-destructive impulse that longs for annihilation—it is the voice that urges you over the cliff, that wonders, what if?

The poem ends on the uneasy image of a figure asleep on a rock, dreaming of a stream. Though a rock implies stability and foundation, it clashes on a literal and an implied level. In dream analysis, a stream typically represents uncertainty, frustration, responsibility—it can stand for the constancy of life’s anxieties. The figure of Christ in this poem, then, may not outwardly admit to being affected, but has been quietly rattled to his core. Thus, the devil’s work is done.

_Pete

 

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