Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World

By Carl B. Yoke | Go to book overview
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Theodore L. Steinberg

In Canto 29 of the Purgatorio, Dante sees a procession of twenty-four elders, four beasts, a chariot pulled by a griffin, and then seven additional elders. This procession, which may seem odd to us, was probably immediately recognizable to Dante's audience: the twenty-four elders represent the Hebrew Testament, the four beasts represent the Gospels, the griffin represents the divine and human nature of Christ, and the final seven elders represent the remaining books of the Greek Testament. This procession, then, according to medieval Christian thought, reflects all of history, from the creation in Genesis to the end of time in Revelation and consequently, like so much in Dante, betrays an apocalyptic view of the world. 1

This kind of Christian apocalypticism, with the world having a definite be- ginning and a clear, predictable end, was basic to the Middle Ages. As anyone knows who watches the Sunday morning, electronic churches, or who has glanced at Hal Lindsey best-selling The Late Great Planet Earth ( 1976), this view is still very much alive among evangelical preachers and their audiences. And not only will there be a definite end, according to such believers, but that end is imminent. The process leading up to it is already under way, as we would all know if we could read the signs. It is interesting to note how this Christian apocalypticism, regarded in a positive and hopeful way by believers, coexists in our society with the apocalypticism of antinuclear activists, who also foresee the possibility of an imminent end but who view that end with fear and despair. 2

The popularity of apocalyptic thought can also be seen in the flourishing literature about the end, or near end, of the world. 3 Much of this literature may respond to the same human need as the roller coaster--a desire for titillation


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Phoenix from the Ashes: The Literature of the Remade World
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