What do we want most when we are traveling through an Underworld? One ill-fated goal is to rescue another who is stuck to bring them back from Death, never a good idea: the Monkey’s Paw effect. Better is to journey toward a happy ending, reuniting with our loved ones or God. This was Dante’s goal. Another favorite hope, a subset of reuniting with loved ones, is to be in ecstasy all the time, eating and drinking and making love and giggling– to get high. The goals of the Underworld are actually in alignment with the goals of Comedy, not Tragedy: it should end with a reunion or party with loved ones, and you should be able to get drunk, maybe listen to some really good music…
I made these drawings in the Getty Villa’s Underworld: Imagining the Afterlife exhibit. One thing that tickled me the most was Plato’s disdain for those who only wanted to go to the Underworld to drink wine. There apparently was a cult devoted just to that. As a citizen of perhaps one of the most hedonistic places on the planet, Sonoma County, California, where wine, weed, and fine food are elevated to a religion, I understand.
Plato loved wine, but was careful. He even proposed the first age-related drinking laws: that boys should not drink before age 18, because it is wrong to add “fire to fire.” But he was careful not to elevate wine, preferring to use it as a tool for truth and celebration. He said that to spend all our time in the afterlife “crowned and drunk” was dumb, that eternal inebriation was an unworthy goal for the Underworld. Many of the Underworld themed wine vessels had phallic grape bunches, implying that there was even more bliss available Down There.
In this time of quarantine and apocalyptic thoughts, I can’t help but remember the rat banquet scene in the Werner Herzog film Nosferatu. The people are feasting and dancing in the square in a sea of rats, because they know that they are about to die. In our world, this is a good metaphor for substance addiction; unable to stop as a world falls apart. Dark.
Is it so wrong to imagine that some of life’s fundamental pleasures might be available after death? I wish you surcease of sorrows, but in non-apocalyptic quantity that does not wreck your world. Or your morning. It’s a slippery slope.
From Plato to you, as you sip your Quarantini 2,368 years later: “What is better adapted than the festive use of wine in the first place to test and in the second place to train the character of a man, if care be taken in the use of it? What is there cheaper or more innocent?”
Here I am with my quarantini and pearls, sans rats. Here’s to all of us. And from Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” —Suzanne
This is the eighth Over Underworld release, a online art exhibit of paintings and sketches in March and April 2020. Featured art: Sketches from Dante’s Inferno Illustrated Notes. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
View 7 previous Over Underworld Art Exhibit paintings, sketches, and essays here.
Saltworkstudio Events in March-April 2020: Over Underworld: New Work, a virtual art exhibit of paintings and sketches released on Saltworkstudio, Facebook, and Instagram. #dantesketchbook #overunderworld #saltworkstudio