John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress

Christian's Combat With Apollyon, by H.C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo, circa 1850.

Christian’s Combat With Apollyon, by H.C. Selous and M. Paolo Priolo, circa 1850.

In the middle of the road of life, having left the City of Destruction on his way to the City of Zion, in the depths of the Valley of Humiliation, Christian (who was once called Graceless) meets the foul fiend Apollyon, who had “wings like a dragon, feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke, and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion.”

The above print reflects the recurrent image of the devil myth that has haunted American war culture from the days of origin. There is always a devil to fight, a beast to overcome, Beelzebub to defeat, or Apollyon to engage in combat.

Bunyan’s description of the last moments of the battle tells the story that we tell ourselves in every conflict:

Then said Apollyon, I am sure of thee now; and with that he had almost pressed him to death; so that Christian began to despair of life. But as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching his last blow, … Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy, when I fall I shall arise, and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that had received a mortal wound.

Bunyan tells us in his splendid allegory that Christian continued on his way, and soon after entered the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And there “Christian was worse put than in his fight with Apollyon, as by the sequel you shall see.”

An illustration in one of the early editions of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) had this caption underneath:

A Christian man is never long at ease

When one fright’s gone another doth him seize.


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