Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Blood Monster; Being An Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus - 2 Gaiman shorts

Two brief Neil Gaiman comics which I picked up from the Humble Bundle some years ago.

Second frame of third page of Blood Monster (art by Marlene O’Connor):

This one's only five pages, a father tells his kids a gruesome bedtime story and their mother is not amused, especially not by the consequent nightmares. That's it.

Second frame of third page of Being An Account of the Life and Death of the Emperor Heliogabolus:

This is a bit more substantial (15 pages rather than 5!) and I think it's the only case I have seen of Neil Gaiman illustrating his own work. It's a reflection on the third-century teenage Roman emperor, whose brief reign was characterised by religious and sexual controversy; Gaiman draws parallels with the ambiguous sexuality of Oscar Wilde, and imagines the short reign's excesses in sconomic but evocative detail. A memorable short piece.

I knew a bit about Heliogabolus from Gibbon Chapter VI:
In a magnificent temple raised on the Palatine Mount, the sacrifices of the god of Elagabalus were celebrated with every circumstance of cost and solemnity. The richest wines, the most extraordinary victims, and the rarest aromatics, were profusely consumed on his altar. Around the altar a chorus of Syrian damsels performed their lascivious dances to the sound of barbarian music, whilst the gravest personages of the state and army, clothed in long Phoenician tunics, officiated in the meanest functions, with affected zeal and secret indignation.
I dunno, it sounds rather fun to me. (When I read this passage out to my wife, she sensibly asked, "If their indignation was secret, how do we know about it?")
59 A dancer was made præfect of the city, a charioteer præfect of the watch, a barber præfect of the provisions. These three ministers, with many inferior officers, were all recommended, enormitate membrorum.
That is, because they had very large penises; but we don't write that bit in English, Mr Gibbon.
And this story prompted me to do a bit more digging on the subject of the holy stone (a fallen meteorite) which was the centre of worship in Heliogabolus' home town (Emesa in Syria, now Homs). After his death, it was returned from Rome to Emesa, where it remained the centre of worship until the official arrival of Christianity the next century and then Islam three hundred years after that. The temple of El-Gabal was converted into a Christian church of St John the Baptist in the late 4th century, and then part of it became the Great Mosque of al-Nuri. Apparently some parts of the Roman-era stonework remain in the mosque. I wonder if the sacred stone itself is still there, buried under layers of later religious history and architecture. Homs is not exactly a massive tourist destination right now, so it will be a while before I check it out for myself.

Blood Monster is available in the Prince of Stories collection, which you can get here, and Heliogabolus is available online here.

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Tags: bookblog 2020, comics, writer: neil gaiman
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