As with most cases, I find myself going back to Michelangelo and Renaissance Italy. This is his Last Judgement Fresco from 1536-41, on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. We have Jesus in the center, painted to appear like Apollo, the sun god (Los?). At first glance there appears to be chaos with the Last Judgement, but if you look closer, you’ll see that the saved souls are being lifted from the earth on Jesus’ right hand side (the left side of the painting for us), and the damned are being dragged downward into Hell, or onto a boat that would take them to Hell.
Hm…so how is Milton/Satan? He says “I in my Selfhood am that Satan: I am that Evil One!” / He is my Spectre! in my obedience to loose him from my Hells/ To claim the Hells, my Furnaces, I go to Eternal Death.” (ll. 30-32, p. 162). In the illustration provided in the book, Satan is pushing Urizen down into the water (as these figures are being torn down from the sky into water before entering the fire), as we’ve seen with the post on O Brother Where Art Thou by kathcal.
Now I want to look at one of the most interesting details of the painting.
This is supposed to be St. Bartholomew, whose skin was flayed from his body, and Michelangelo used this figure as a self portrait. He holds the skin that looks sickly and sallow, and what is left (albeit old), is a muscular figure–perhaps Bartholomew’s true emanation, and maybe even Michelangelo’s.
(Side note: all the figures in the Last Judgement were originally painted nude, then somebody came along and decided that the Pope’s chapel didn’t need such lasciviousness…question for all of you is whether you think that now the cloths should be removed to reveal the original painting the way Michelangelo intended it to be. Keep in mind that this is fresco, and therefore removing may cause more damage. This is an ongoing debate today over this painting).
Is the skin the “self-hood?” It has been annihilated; in fact, torn from his body. The self-hood drops down towards Hell, but Bartholomew/Michelangelo stays on the cloud close to Jesus/Los. If the self is “unannihilated,” then Milton will be “siez’d & giv’n into the hands of my own Selfhood.” (ll. 23-24).
The self must be annihilated in order to escape being entrapped by it. The presence of water indicates cleansing, maybe cleansing of the self before true judgement.
I’m going to go ahead and post the song “Down by the Water” by The Decemberists. They start off the song with “See this ancient riverbed/ See where all our follies are led/Down by the water.” Enjoy.