Infernal Associations

James H. Johnson

in Venice Incognito

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780520267718
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520948624 | DOI:
Infernal Associations

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter discusses negative connotations linked to the act of masking and carnival. Although masking had become an everyday practice in Venice, it required a lot of great effort for the Venetians to overcome the ancient associations of the mask with sacrilege and the underworld, associations which clung to the mythological and theatrical masks of the Renaissance. Masks to the disapproving were associated with the words: masca which was used to designate witches; lamia which denoted a monster woman; and larva which had diabolical connotations. These etymologies enforced the association that linked the donning of the mask with invoking the spirit world. This connection dates back to the age of the Greeks. Dionysus was then the god identified with masks. Dionysus wore many guises. The attributes of his mask were the same as the qualities of Dionysus himself. Some of these outlived his cult to survive in the frenzy of carnival.

Keywords: masking; carnival; sacrilege; underworld; masca; lamia; larva; Dionysus

Chapter.  4782 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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