Diablo: The Real Mythology Behind the Great Evils
Diablo contains fictional evils so great, they could only be inspired by the real world.
While some of us speed through the Diablo franchise riding a storm of mouse clicks conjured to defeat our enemies and get to the sweet loot, there is a more patient breed of player who chooses to explore the reasons behind the game’s chaos. They analyze every tome and moment of seemingly inane babbling. In doing so, they have come to know that the Diablo games are rich in story and mythology. At the heart of that mythology are the Great Evils.
Diablo‘s Great Evils are the beings responsible for every dark cloud that hangs over the games’ grim landscapes. Some characters worship them, but nearly all fear them. You’ll come to fear them as well once you are staring down their monstrous forms in some cramped room loaded with minions willing to die for their lords.
The truly frightening aspect of these Great Evils, however, is that many of them have roots in our own mythology. Their appearance, lore, and mannerisms can be traced back to beings that ancient civilizations came to fear as much of the denizens of Diablo do. These are their origins.
In Diablo lore, Azmodan is the Lord of Sin and a renowned commander of demonic hordes. He has personally staged assaults against the angels as well as the mortal realm.
His mythological influences are tricky to identify with absolute certainty. Azmodan’s name almost certainly comes from the Hebrew demon Asmodai, who manipulates people’s sexual desires in the Book of Tobit. Asmodai, however, is almost exclusively portrayed as a demon of lust whereas Azmodan is a general Lord of Sin. Although Satan is sometimes referred to as a Lord of Sin, there really is no one mythological demon in particular that holds that title. Many religious mythologies hold to the idea of each sin having its own lord and representative.
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The closest any demonic figure comes to equaling Azmodan in that respect is the Islamic devil Shaitan (also known as Iblis). He too commands an army of demons who are notorious for their ability to persuade men to sin. The Grimorium Verum (an 18th-century textbook) also names the demon Agaliarept as the grand general of Hell’s army.
Azmodan’s obese build and six insect-like legs also don’t have a strict mythological equal, but the design of the demon does resemble the creature Keralith of the Ultima series. The demon Buer also had multiple legs, but those were the legs of a goat.
Belial is cheerfully referred to as the Lord of Lies. He is not just a master of stretching the truth, he’s actually capable of using lies to distort the truth so much that a new reality is seemingly formed in the process.
He also has a very clear equivalent in real-world mythology. Beliall (also known as Belhor, Baalial, or Beliel) was once depicted in the Old Testament as the lord of all evil. This was before Satan was given a proper name. The Dead Sea Scrolls also make reference to Beliall as an “angel of hostility” that rules the dark side of existence. The Bible also alludes to Beliall being a master of lies.
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Belial’s design in Diablo appears to have been influenced by a different source. The Christian demon Beelzebub (another alias of the devil) is typically depicted as a demon constantly surrounded by flies and insects just as Belial is. The two even share a roughly similar physical design if you are going off of Beelzebub’s description in The Pilgrim’s Progress. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, Milton noted that Beelzebub was second only to Satan in the demon hierarchy.
As the only female member of Diablo’s seven Evils, Andariel immediately stands out. She is commonly referred to as the Maiden of Anguish and specializes in destroying her victims emotionally.
Her heritage is tricky to trace to any one historic demon. Her physical design is certainly reminiscent of the StarCraft character Sarah Kerrigan, who became the Queen of Blades. As for real-world influences, she’s likely inspired, in part, by the Jewish demon Lilith, who is one of the earliest known female demons. There’s even a reference to Lilith in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which identify her as a creature that preys on the desires of man in order to lead them astray.
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There are also quite a few female demons in Japanese mythology, but there are few which seem to directly translate to the character of Andariel. In Bali mythology, however, there is a reference to a demon queen named Rangda who leads an army of witches. Rangda, however, enjoyed preying on the realm of men whereas Andariel felt that the true war was with Heaven. Both were scorned by a former master.
Duriel is the twin brother of Andariel and the infamous Lord of Pain. He rules over Hell’s Realm of Pain and is a master of torture.
You would think that there would be many mythological demons that would fit such a billing. The truth is not quite so simple. There have been many demons that inflict pain, but few famous ones that specifically deal in torture. The idea of demonic torture is one that has been popularized by modern fictional creators more than it necessarily was in ancient texts. Of course, it was Dante’s Inferno that helped popularize the concept of a circle of Hell devoted to pain.
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In that respect, Duriel is influenced just as much by the creations of Clive Barker as any ancient tome describing demonic torture in Hell. Similarly, Duriel’s maggot-like physical build was clearly an influence for the Zerg in StarCraft.
Duriel’s name is quite noteworthy, historically speaking. In Hebrew, it means “God is my home.” This can either be seen as mocking (Duriel was a proponent of attacking Heaven and not man) or a play on the idea of Duriel being the spawn of a fallen angel.
Mephisto, the Lord of Hatred, is often described by those who fear him as an evil more consuming demon than any other. His desire for widespread carnage certainly has few peers. This makes him quite beloved among his fellow demons.
The origins of Mephisto’s name are easy enough to identify. There was a German demon named Mephistopheles (sometimes shortened to Mephisto) who was a demon in the adventures of Faust (a popular German literary character). His design was classically devilish, but he is clearly described as a servant of the Devil as opposed to the genuine article. The Lord of Hatred moniker is almost certainly a reference to Sonneillon, who is regularly described as a demon of hate. It’s also likely that Diablo’s developers came to know Sonneillon from his appearances in D&D campaigns.
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As for the matter of Mephisto’s other title (Odium), that word means hatred or disgust. It’s also used in the phrase Odium Theologicum, which refers to hatred derived from theological disagreements.
The Lord of Destruction Baal is one Diablo Evil whose origins don’t require much investigation.
Baal is a name that has appeared throughout history in several cultures. It was first used as a proper title (Ba’al), which was regularly used by common people of that era to describe many gods. However, the title was seemingly most often used to reference Hadad, the Mesopotamian god of storms. Hadad was known to bring destruction through weather on occasion.
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It seems much more likely that the name Baal as it is used in the game is a reference to the demon Baal, who first appeared in Goetia occult writings sometime in the 17th century. At that time, Baal was described as a Prince of Hell and sometimes its ruler. Indeed, we see that many of the influences behind Diablo’s Evils have carried that title. Over time, he was eventually seen as more of a demonic assistant.
Baal also has an association with Beelzebub, historically speaking, although that demon’s characteristics seem to have been transferred to Belial.
Ah, yes. We finally come to the Lord of Terror himself.
You certainly won’t have to search too hard to find the origins of the name Diablo. As you may guess, it comes from the Spanish word for devil. However, Diablo, as he is depicted in the game, is not necessarily a direct reference to “The Devil.” Co-founder of Blizzard North David Brevik once uploaded a copy of the original pitch for Diablo that makes reference to the character Diablo being the Devil, but it is believed that the idea was altered prior to launch.
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Still, the easiest way to classify Diablo is as a general representation of demonic evils and of evil itself. Many elements of his design (such as his ability to take the form of a man and his horned head) can be references to several famous demons, with the most obvious being the classic depiction of Satan as we commonly see him.
One clearly Christian reference the Diablo character does make is his famous proclamation, “I am Legion.” This is taken from Mark 5:9 in the New Testament in which a demon states to Jesus, “My name is Legion: for we are many.”
Tathamet’s place in Diablo lore is a peculiar one. He doesn’t really play a hands-on role in the games, yet he is the creature that spawned all of the seven Great Evils.
The first evil is an idea that many cultures have explored. It is, in fact, usually more of an idea than a physical presence. It’s possible that Tathamet’s dragon-like design is a reference to the Bulgarian demon Ala, who controlled the weather, but the most popular theory is that Tathamet’s name is derived from the Babylonian demon Tiamat. Legend states that Tiamat mated with the god of water in order to produce the first line of gods. Much like Tathamet, Tiamat’s death also created Hell (or some version of it).
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There’s also a striking similarity between the legend of Tathamet and that of Angra Mainyu. Angra Mainyu was a deity in the Zoroastrianism religion (a pre-Islamic religion) who was born of the first creation (Ahura) much as Tathamet was born of Anu. Both Anu and the Zoroastrianism god Ahura cleansed themselves of evil and created a being through their efforts. Angra and Tathamet are both often described as the precursor to many evils and masters of chaos.
Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014.