In my last post, I talked about "ghost words," words that entered the dictionary by mistake. There is a very common ghost word that became well established in our language--a ghost name, to be more accurate.
Almost everyone has heard of Lucifer, and knows him to be one of the fallen angels, indeed, the leader of the fallen angels, as famously portrayed in Milton's "Paradise Lost."
Lately, I've been doing research into angels and fallen angels, in preparation for a new novel. The novel will be using a Biblical mythology--it's set in a universe very like our own, only it really was created in seven days about five thousand years ago. Angels and devils play major roles in the plot, as the Judgment Day draws ever nearer. One thing that confused me about the Biblical fallen angels was the identity of the devil. Was the devil Lucifer, or Satan, or were they actually the same character?
Lucifer appears only once in the Bible. His name is variously translated as Lucifer or Morningstar, and is identified with the planet Venus. The relevant passage is Isaiah 14:12. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, that didst lay low the nations!" Yet, in context, it is plain that Lucifer isn't a name, it's a title. The author is addressing Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. It's like referring to Louis XIV as the Sun King--Isaiah is saying that Nebuchadnezzar is riding pretty high and mighty right now, the brightest star in they sky, but that being up that high is only setting him up for a bigger fall.
St. Jerome, translating Isaiah from Hebrew to Latin in the 4th century, made the choice to use the word Lucifer, meaning "Light Bringer", and not long after, Lucifer began to seep into Christian mythology as a fallen angel. By the time that Milton wrote "Paradise Lost," it was well established that Lucifer was the devil--all due to a simple misreading.
So, Lucifer as a fallen angel stands out as a "ghost word" that made it big--a mistake that caught on, eventually taking on more life than its literal meaning of Venus or metaphorical meaning of Nebuchadnezzar. The chief fallen angel of popular culture not only didn't rebel against God, he didn't even exist!
I was building up to a joke about Lucifer being the ultimate fall guy, but now it no longer strikes me as funny.
So. Never mind.