Beastly Blake pp 153-181 | Cite as

Bestial Metamorphoses: Blake’s Variations on Transhuman Change in Dante’s Hell

  • Luisa CalèEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature book series (PSAAL)


This chapter explores Blake’s response to scenes of bestial metamorphosis in Dante’s Inferno. Through the reversible transformation of thieves into serpents, Dante presents classical metamorphosis as a transgression of the boundaries of species. In bringing Dante’s inventions to the eye of the Romantic reader, Blake turns to classical sculpture as a repository for demonic embodiments. The theme of transformation becomes the medium for a response to the alterity of form. The concept of pseudomorphosis or ‘formal disintegration’, which was developed by the iconographical school to capture the productive misreadings of classical artistic forms in medieval culture, drives the analysis of Blake’s bestial metamorphoses as an experiment in the possibilities and limits of form through a series of transgressions of boundaries between languages, genres, and media.


  1. Adorno, Theodor W. 1995. On Some Relationships Between Music and Painting, trans. Susan Gillespie. Musical Quarterly 79 (1): 66–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alighieri, Dante. 1991–1997. Commedia, ed. Anna Maria Chiavacci Leonardi, 3 vols. Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori.Google Scholar
  3. Baine, Rodney M., and Mary R. Baine. 1986. The Scattered Portions: William Blake’s Biological Symbolism. Athens, GA: Distributed by the Author.Google Scholar
  4. Benjamin, Walter. 1998. The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne. London: Verso.Google Scholar
  5. Berkeley, George. 1744. Siris. Dublin and London: Innys and Hitch.Google Scholar
  6. Bindman, David (ed.). 2000. William Blake La Divina Commedia. Paris: Bibliothèque de l’image.Google Scholar
  7. Bindman, David. 2002. Ape to Apollo: Aesthetics and the Idea of Race in the Eighteenth Century. London: Reaktion.Google Scholar
  8. Blake, William. 1998. The Complete Poetry & Prose of William Blake, rev. ed., ed. David Erdman. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  9. Boyd, Henry. 1785. A Translation of the Inferno of Dante Alighieri, in English Verse, with Historical Notes, and the Life of Dante: To Which Is Added a Specimen of a New Translation of the Orlando Furiose of Ariosto. Dublin: Printed by P. Byrne.Google Scholar
  10. Bryant, Jacob. 1775. A New System: Or, an Analysis of Ancient Mythology, 2nd ed. London: T. Payne, D. Elmsly, B. White, and J. Walter.Google Scholar
  11. Butlin, Martin. 1981. The Paintings and Drawings of William Blake. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Bynum, Caroline Walker. 2001. Metamorphosis and Identity. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  13. Calè, Luisa. 2006. Fuseli’s Milton Gallery: ‘Turning Readers into Spectators’. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cary, Henry Francis, (trans.). 1819. Dante, The Vision: Or Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri, 3 vols., 2nd ed. London: Taylor and Hessey.Google Scholar
  15. Coltman, Viccy. 2009. Classical Sculpture and the Culture of Collecting in Britain Since 1760. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Connolly, Tristanne. 2002. William Blake and the Body. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Darwin, Erasmus. 1791. The Botanic Garden, 2 vols. London: J. Johnson.Google Scholar
  18. de Montfaucon, Bernard. 1721. Antiquity Explained, trans. David Humphreys, 5 vols. London: J. Tonson and J. Watts.Google Scholar
  19. Douce, Francis. 1807. Illustrations of Shakespeare, and of Ancient Manners, 2 vols. London: Longman.Google Scholar
  20. Dryden, John. 1987. Virgil’s Æneis. In The Works of John Dryden, Volumes V and VI, ed. William Frost and Vinton A. Dearing, 5:267–6:806. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  21. Effinger, Elizabeth C. 2010. Anal Blake: Bringing up the Rear in Blakean Criticism. In Queer Blake, ed. Helen P. Bruder and Tristanne Connolly, 63–73. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Erle, Sibylle. 2010. Blake, Lavater and Physiognomy. Oxford: Legenda.Google Scholar
  23. Fallon, David. 2016. Blake, Myth, and Enlightenment: The Politics of Apotheosis. Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  24. Flaxman, John. 2004. John Flaxman: The Illustrations of the Divine Comedy, ed. Francesca Salvadori. London: Royal Academy of Arts.Google Scholar
  25. Flaxman, John, illust. 1793. La Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri, cioè lo Inferno, il Purgatorio ed il Paradiso Composto da Giovanni Flaxman Scultore Inglese, ed Inciso da Tommaso Piroli Romano. In possesso di Thomas Hope Scudiere, Amsterdam (n.p.).Google Scholar
  26. Gilchrist, Alexander. 1863. Life of William Blake, ‘Pictor Ignotus’, 2 vols. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  27. Gizzi, Corrado. 1983. Blake e Dante. Milan: G. Mazzotta. Exhibition Catalogue.Google Scholar
  28. Gross, Kenneth. 1985. Infernal Metamorphoses: An Interpretation of Dante’s “Counterpass”. MLN 100 (1): 42–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hobson, Christopher Z. 2000. Blake and Homosexuality. Basingstoke: Palgrave.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hobson, Christopher Z. 2010. Blake and the Evolution of Same-Sex Subjectivity. In Queer Blake, ed. Helen P. Bruder and Tristanne Connolly, 23–39. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoff, Ursula. 1961. William Blake’s Illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria.Google Scholar
  32. Hogarth, William. [1753] 1997. The Analysis of Beauty, ed. Ronald Paulson. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Klonsky, Milton (ed.). 1980. William Blake, the Complete Illustrations to the Divine Comedy. New York: Harmony Books.Google Scholar
  34. Lamb, Jonathan. 2009. The Evolution of Sympathy in the Long Eighteenth Century. London: Pickering & Chatto.Google Scholar
  35. Lamb, Jonathan. 2011. Imagination, Conjecture, Disorder. Eighteenth-Century Studies 45 (1): 53–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Larrissy, Edward. 1994. ‘Self-Imposition’, Alchemy, and the Fate of the ‘Bound’ in Later Blake. In Historicizing Blake, ed. Steve Clark and David Worrall, 59–72. Basingstoke: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lavater, Johann Caspar. 1789–1798. Essays on Physiognomy, Designed to Promote the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind, 3 vols. London: Murray.Google Scholar
  38. Lessing, G. E. 1990. Werke 1766–1769, ed. W. Barner. Frankfurt: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag.Google Scholar
  39. Lucan. 1928. The Civil War (Pharsalia), trans. J. D. Duff. Loeb Classical Library. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  40. Milton, John. 2000. Paradise Lost, ed. John Leonard. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  41. Myrone, Martin. 2015. William Blake’s Sodomites. In Burning Bright: Essays in Honour of David Bindman, ed. Diana Dethloff, Tessa Murdoch, Kim Sloan, and Caroline Elam, 136–145. London: UCL Press.Google Scholar
  42. Nagel, Alexander and Christopher S. Wood. 2005. Towards a New Model of Renaissance Anachronism. The Art Bulletin 87 (3): 403–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Otto, Peter. 1998. Re-framing the Moment of Creation: Blake’s Re-visions of the Frontispiece and Title Page to Europe. In Blake, Politics and History, ed. Jackie di Salvo, G. A. Rosso, and Christopher Z. Hobson, 235–246. New York: Garland.Google Scholar
  44. Otto, Peter. 2010. Drawing Lines: Bodies, Sexualities and Performance in The Four Zoas. In Queer Blake, ed. Helen P. Bruder and Tristanne Connolly, 50–62. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ovid. 1977. Metamorphoses, trans. Frank Justus Miller, rev. G. P. Goold, 2 vols., 3rd ed., Loeb Classical Library. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  46. Paice, Rosamund A. 2003. Encyclopaedic Resistance: Blake, Rees’s Cyclopaedia, and the Laocoön’s Separate Plate. Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly 37 (2): 44–62.Google Scholar
  47. Paley, Morton D. 2003. The Traveller in the Evening: The Last Works of William Blake. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Panofsky, Erwin. 1939. Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Panofsky, Erwin and Fritz Saxl. 1933. Classical Mythology in Mediaeval Art. Metropolitan Museum Studies 4 (2): 228–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rees, Abraham. 1802–1820. Cyclopaedia, 39 vols. text, 6 vols. plates. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.Google Scholar
  51. Roe, Albert. 1953. Blake’s Illustrations to the Divine Comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Rose, Edward J. 1968. Blake’s Human Insect: Symbol, Theory, and Design. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 10 (2): 215–232.Google Scholar
  53. Rosso, G. A. 2012. The Last Strumpet: Harlotry and Hermaphroditism in Blake’s Rahab. In Blake, Gender and Culture, ed. Helen P. Bruder and Tristanne Connolly, 25–37. London: Pickering & Chatto.Google Scholar
  54. Rousseau, Jean Jacques. 1761. A Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality Among Mankind. London: R. and J. Dodsley.Google Scholar
  55. Schütze, Sebastian. 2014. Two Masters of “Visibile Parlare”: Dante and Blake’. In William Blake. The Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, ed. Sebastian Schütze and Maria Antonietta Terzoli, 33–50. Köln: Taschen.Google Scholar
  56. Schütze, Sebastian, and Maria Antonietta Terzoli (eds.). 2014. William Blake. The Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy. Köln: Taschen.Google Scholar
  57. Skulsky, Harold. 1981. Metamorphosis: The Mind in Exile. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Spengler, Oswald. [1918] 1927. The Decline of the West, 2 vols. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  59. Stevens, Bethan. 2010. “Woes & Sighs”: Fantasies of Slavery in Visions of the Daughters of Albion. In Queer Blake, ed. Helen P. Bruder and Tristanne Connolly, 140–152. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  60. Virgil. 1999. Aeneid. In Virgil, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, rev. G. P. Goold, 1:261–2:367. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Walker, Emery (ed.). 1922. William Blake, Illustrations to the Divine Comedy of Dante. London: National Art-Collections Fund.Google Scholar
  62. Warburg, Aby. 1999. The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity: Contribution to the Cultural History of the European Renaissance, trans. David Britt. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute for the History.Google Scholar
  63. Warner, Marina. 2004. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Wiseman, Susan. 2014. Writing Metamorphosis in the English Renaissance, 1550–1700. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Birkbeck CollegeUniversity of LondonLondonUK

Personalised recommendations