The Raft of Medusa in Prometheus

The Raft of Medusa by Théodore Géricault (1818) Public Domain

The travellers pass “the boundary that divides / the second from the third ring”  [Inf. 14.4-5] and see before them a witness to “the horrible art of justice”: a dread work that justice had devised [Inf. 14.6]. The third ring of the seventh circle is devoted to violence against God, in His person and in His possessions, and it is therefore particularly apt that this bitter landscape—an arid plain tormented by falling flakes of fire—should be characterized as the “the horrible art of justice”. We remember that God is the ultimate artist of His universe and that indeed nature imitates His handiwork while human artists and artisans imitate nature.

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Inferno Canto 14

As they head back to the ship a dust storm comes representing the falling flakes of fire, a horrible art of justice. While some of the crew return safe to the ship Fifield and Milburn come across a pile of dead engineers.

Millburn: It’s those things, are they real?

FifieldCourse they’re real

MillburnJesus Christ, look at the pile. Look how high up thy are.

FifieldIt looks like they were running from something

MillburnDon’t touch, okay. This thing is opened up from the inside. Almost like it’s exploded.

FifieldIt looks like some scene out of some sort of holocaust painting.

MillburnAnd so whatever killed them is long gone.

Canto 14 and The Raft of the Medusa

The Raft of the Medusa is considered a classic piece of Romanticism. In its brutality, realism, and raw emotion it captures the essence of a historic event that shocked the French public, a Revolution-weary public that was not easy to shock. The story behind the painting is as devastating as the desperation on canvas.

The Medusa was a French naval vessel that was on course off the coast of Africa before running aground on a sandbar near Mauritania on July 2, 1816. After three days of trying to free the ship from where it was stuck, the crew and passengers took to the ship’s six small lifeboats. The people adrift experienced a hellish 13 days at sea. There was a great deal of infighting, with many people being thrown overboard, throwing themselves overboard, or cannibalized.

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Pile of dead Engineers

It was probably an aesthetic choice of Theodore Gericault to structure his piece with such a homage to a circle of Hell that takes pride in blasphemy against God.

This symbolism is also present in the early script for Alien(1979) and in Alien: Covenant

3 thoughts on “The Raft of Medusa in Prometheus

  1. I really like your article and I thank you because I no longer remembered what the Canto in which we speak of God as’ The ultimate artist of His universe ‘, but I thought about it often, reflecting on the theme of Creation which is the theme of’ Alien : Covenat ‘. I would like to intervene more often, but I speak English very badly.

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