From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The concept of death as a sentient entity has existed in many societies since the beginning of history. In English, Death is often given the name Grim Reaper and, from the 15th century onwards, came to be shown as a skeletal figure carrying a large scythe and clothed in a black cloak with a hood. It is also given the name of the Angel of Death or Devil of Death or the angel of dark and light (Malach HaMavet) stemming from the Bible. The Bible itself does not refer to "The Angel of Death;" there is, however, a reference to "Abaddon" (The Destroyer), an Angel whose true identity is a mystery, as is the identity of "The Angel of the Abyss".
In some cases, the Grim Reaper is able to actually cause the victim's death, leading to tales that he can be bribed, tricked, or outwitted in order to retain one's life, such as in the case of Sisyphus. Other beliefs hold that the Spectre of Death is only a psychopomp, serving to sever the last ties between the soul and the body and to guide the deceased to the next world without having any control over the fact of the victim's death. In many languages (including English), Death is personified in male form, while in others, it is perceived as a female character (for instance, in Slavic and Romance languages).
In popular culture
In Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal (1957), a knight returning from the Crusades during a time of plague plays chess with Death, ostensibly in a hopeless attempt to win his own life, but in fact to distract Death from other people for a time. This portrayal of Death has often been referenced or parodied, for example in The Dove (1968), Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey (1991) and Last Action Hero (1993).
The Grim Reaper appears in a humorous context in the film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983), when he appears at a dinner party.
The arcade game Gauntlet features Death as a powerful enemy character.
Death appears in the television show Supernatural. He is one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
- Beak doctor costume
- Danse Macabre
- Death deity
- Final Destination (film series)
- Prehistoric religion
- Santa Muerte