Castlevania’s Demon Philosopher
Following on from my previous post about Hector and Lenore, I thought I’d double-down on the Castlevania Season 3 thing, and talk about a curious side character who has attracted some discussion.
SPOILERS: Season 3 Castlevania
Recall that at one point, Isaac has a conversation with a certain demon, henceforth referred to as Flyseyes. Flyseyes claims to have been a Greek Philosopher, prior to having a bad experience with early Christianity (to put it mildly), and winding up in Hell.
Specifically, Flyseyes was:
Persecuted by Christians for questioning the existence of God.
Captured, put on trial, and tortured into revealing his colleagues to authorities.
The question is… who was the “real” Flyseyes?
Sadly, there is no “real” Philosopher who meets this criteria, and in all likelihood, Flyseyes is just an (anachronistic) attempt to demonstrate the enduring intellectual villainy of the Church. But let’s consider a couple of candidates who may have served as inspiration for the character – one more interesting than the other.
The one everyone has heard of, and still the most famous example of a Philosopher running foul of authority, even some twenty-four centuries after the fact.
Now, Socrates was indeed prosecuted and executed. The charges even involved an alleged denial of conventional religion.
Small problem: he died nearly four centuries before the birth of Christ, and as such he faced exactly zero persecution from (non-existent) Christians. Athens, as you may surmise, was staunchly pagan at the time, and their religious charges involved Socrates’ continued reference to ‘daemons’, little spirits that allegedly talked to him. Socrates’ counter-argument was that the existence of little gods didn’t invalidate the existence of the big Olympian gods, and he certainly was no atheist.
Fair enough… but inventing little gods who talk to you is a far-cry from the pseudo-Enlightenment-style of philosophy envisaged by Flyseyes. And Ancient Athens had very alien notions of society generally. I have seen it argued by a fair number of people that Socrates was indeed very much guilty by the standards of his time, even if the death sentence may appal us today.
Furthermore, in contrast to the Castlevania demon, Socrates was not tortured into revealing his associates. People knew who his associates were, and their activities were not exactly secret. Plato, who was, of course, Socrates’ most famous follower, actually had some issues of his own, via a family connection to the recently over-thrown dictatorship (strictly, oligarchy). He accordingly responded by leaving Athens for Italy and Sicily. But it wasn’t as if Plato and the others in the Socratic circle were evading a religious Inquisition every step of the way.
Indeed, the charges against Socrates were very likely coloured by that ‘association with the ousted dictators’ thing. Socrates himself was not strictly a collaborator – he refused to dob in regime opponents – but at the personal level, the restored democracy of Athens was not entirely unjustified in seeing him and his friends in an unfavourable light. But that’s all just mundane politics… a far-cry from the Flyseyes situation of Free Thought versus Religious Dogma.
Let us fast-forward more than eight hundred years. We still, alas, do not find a real Flyseyes, but we do find a better candidate than Socrates, and one I personally find more interesting as an inspiration. Better, because at least the Philosopher in question was murdered by Christians, and more interesting because…
This Flyseyes was actually a woman.
Hypatia, a prominent Neoplatonic Philosopher in Alexandria, was murdered in A.D. 415 by a Christian mob.
If you want the gory details, she was dragged from her carriage as she returned home from teaching. She was taken to a converted Christian Church, stripped naked, and hacked up with sharpened oyster shells. From there, her mangled corpse was dragged through Alexandria, before being set on fire. Charming.
Hypatia’s story has attracted a lot of different interpretations over the centuries. The actual historical detail of the situation suggests that this was less about Paganism versus Christianity, much less Rationalism versus Dogma (sorry, Flyseyes), and much more about power-squabbles in local Alexandrian politics. Still, this hasn’t stopped later people reading a host of things into it. Much like a Rorschach Test, Hypatia is whatever you want her to be. An (ironic) Christian martyr in the Middle Ages, a victim of the Evil Catholics in the eighteenth century, the last glorious intellectual flowering of the Hellenistic World in the nineteenth century, and a Rationalist and Feminist icon in the twentieth. Castlevania – if it (by accident or design) imagined Flyseyes to be Hypatia – would actually be working entirely within this tradition.
(As an aside, we literally do not know how old Hypatia was at her death. Portraying her as young and attractive, as in the case of the above nineteenth century painting, is simply about making her a Sexy Victim, and people like to imagine victims as Sexy. It’s the same phenomenon that attached itself to Saint Sebastian over three centuries earlier).
The biggest black mark against Hypatia as Flyseyes is that, despite the wishes of the Enlightenment, she was not in any way some sort of proto-atheist. She was, explicitly, a Neoplatonist, the last great pagan philosophical movement of the Classical Era, and that meant mysticism. More specifically, Neoplatonism in late Antiquity functioned as a sort of fellow-traveller to Christianity, focused on interaction with the divine “One”. Christianity (via identification of the One with God) itself borrowed an awful lot from such philosophers, and Saint Augustine of Hippo actually used Neoplatonism as a sort of personal stepping-stone from Manicheanism to Catholicism.
However, as mentioned, there is a long and proud tradition of later commentators ignoring such details. What if Hypatia was somehow everything the Enlightenment thought she was? Well, if you imagine Hypatia as a (Sexy) martyr for Reason in the face of Blind Faith, that still does not line up with Flyseyes’ account. Hypatia’s death was a literal lynching off the street, not an Inquisitorial process. There was no trial of Philosopher and their Beliefs (at least Socrates had that!), nor even a round-up of associates. Hypatia was simply caught in the political cross-fire between the local Bishop and the secular authorities. And the result was a political scandal that rocked the Empire… a far cry from this being another victim of a Stalin-esque purge.
So yes. One can fantasise about what the death of Hypatia “meant”, and there is a long history of that. But as fun as it is to imagine Flyseyes as a woman, the facts diverge too greatly for this to be anything more than a loose inspiration.
A thousand words, musing on potential inspirations for a minor character in a (Western) anime series. I really am a sad geek, aren’t I? For all I know, the writer of the series had no-one in mind as inspiration for the character, and were simply contrasting enlightened enquiry with oppressive superstition. It is, after all, a Gothic fantasy, and there are few things more traditionally Gothic than musing on oppressive superstition. On the other hand, I think it pretty clear that the two suggested historical analogies for Flyseyes don’t really work. Socrates long pre-dates Christianity. Hypatia wasn’t tried, except via mob justice. And I am unable to think of anyone else who remotely fits the bill. Still, it is always fun to speculate. 🙂