Saturday, August 8, 2009

It’s a Secret to Everybody, Part Six: Final Fantasy IV and Dante’s Inferno

(This is a reposting of just one section of my rather extensive “It’s a Secret to Everybody” post on video game etymologies. Click the link to see the whole shebang. Links to other sections are at the bottom of this post.)


In the previous In the previous post in the “Secret to Everybody” series, I focused on Final Fantasy games in general. My big feat for this Final Fantasy-themed section, is the under-reported background behind some Final Fantasy IV villains who reference Dante’s Inferno in ways people might not have expected. In short, the situation is this: Even if someone knew Inferno well, the fact that any bit-parters had showed up in this particular video game would be hard to spot, mostly as a result of the translation process. Like any good Final Fantasy game, the four classical elements — earth, water, air and fire — come into play in a few ways, including in the form of four major bad guys known as the Elemental Fiends. In the original English translation, these four are introduced as Milon (dirty dude), Kainazzo (wet and wild), Valvalis (bag of wind), and Rubicant (flames aplenty).

left to right: flamey, drippy, dusty, and naked

However, the first three of these probably don’t ring a bell with Divine Comedy scholars, mostly because the character names from which they come didn’t survive the transition from the original Italian into Japanese and then into shoddily translated English that was even further complicated by space restraints. (Japanese text uses fewer character spaces than does English, leaving translators to choose between truncating names or futzing with game’s programming to allow for longer names.) Unlikely though it might have initially seemed, all four names do, in fact, come from demons in Inferno. They appear in cantos XXI though XXIII as the members of the Malebranche (“evil claws”), the guardians of the Malebolge (“evil ditches”), the eighth circle of hell. Included alongside such forgotten demons as Grafficane the Doggish, Dragnignazzo the Fell Dragon and Farfarello the Scandal-monger are Scarmiglione the Baneful (Milon plus some extra letters), Caynazzo (sic, more properly rendered as Cagnazzo, close enough to Kainazzo), Barbariccia the Malicious (a radically different transliteration of Valvalis) and Rubicante the Red With Rage (a recognizable version of Rubicant). Later revamps of the game featured the longer Italian names, and Final Fantasy IV DS featured an optional superboss called Geryon, who also takes his name from a member of the Mallebranche.

There’s one more Inferno boogeyman whose name appears in Final Fantasy IV: Calcabrina the Grace-Scorner. This name remains mostly intact in the game’s original English version as Calbrena, the name of a bizarre evil doll boss. And when I say “bizarre evil doll boss,” I actually mean to say that it’s a group of dancing puppets that assemble Transformers-style into one hulking instrument of pain. Weirdness aside, Calcabrina (whose name has also been represented as Calcobrena) is a minor character in Final Fantasy IV. That didn’t prevent the game’s sequel, Final Fantasy IV: The After Years from featuring controllable boy and girl robot characters named, Calca and Brina.

calcabrena: disassembled concept art on left, godzilla-size in middle, in-game sprite on right

Etymologically, these Final Fantasy IV names have little apparent relevance on what kind of video game monster they became associated with. It’s almost as if Squaresoft staffers chose the names in the same random fashion that they same to borrow elements from different cultures and literatures: Flip open a book to whatever page it lands on, take a name and then attach said name to something irrelevant — giant evil doll or fire-spitting dinosaur or fiend with the head of an ice cream cone, the body of a hot dog and rollerskates for feet. I found various sites that explain possible etymologies of the names. By most accounts, for example, Barbariccia means “curly beard,” which might imply that the Final Fantasy IV character’s namesake is male and not a hot half-naked chick. I wonder, however, if the original Americanization of the name, Valvalis, could have been influenced by the late, great platformer series Valis, which star warrior women in armor bikinis much like the one Barbariccia wears.

fatal flaw: lady battle suits that expose the very body parts they ought to protect

can be translated as something like “he who can walk on brine,” but other sources take this to figuratively mean “nimble-footed,” which would actually make sense, given that the character’s base form comprises dancing dolls. An 1890 engraving by Gustave Doré seems to represent that sense of the name, showing Calcabrina and another demon, Alichino, as flying things with pterodactyl-like wings.

calcabrina: less doll-like, and therefore less scary

Caynazzo — again, more correctly Cagnazzo — seems to confuse even the Dante know-it-alls. In reference to his analogue in Final Fantasy IV, the name is often cited as meaning “big dog nose.” In a literal sense, this could be true, as the Italian words for “dog” and “nose” are cane and naso. Some scholarly work even supports this: An annotated 1997 edition of Inferno notes that Dante uses cagnazzo as a generic word that the translators interpret as referring to the purple color of dog’s nose and lips. The same book explains the reference to the proper name Cagnazzo as meaning “evil dog,” with -azzo being a pejorative noun suffix.

tortoise-looking cagnazzo in on top; more doggish concept art below

It so happens that a Japanese person could also read the name as the characters kai, “sea,” and nazo, “mystery,” which would make a lot more sense, given the character’s water associations. There’s yet another guess that the name could have something to do with the Biblical Cain. This could also make sense, since the Cagnazzo reveals himself in Final Fantasy VI only after having masqueraded as an ally for the first half of the game. This deception and betrayal would really make him more of a Judas than a Cain, however. Furthermore, the game already includes a character named Kain who also betrays the heroes — repeatedly, in fact. Ugh.

Attempted translations of Scarmiglione are suspiciously rare online, especially compared to those for Cagnazzo and Barbariccia, but the 1997 Inferno edition offers “tangle head” as a suitable English version of the name. Another site offers “troublemaker,” which is perhaps a figurative extension of “tangle head” that works better in Italian than in English. Finally, Rubicante is translated variously as “he who grows red” and “ruby-faced.”

It’s also worth noting, however, that some Dante scholars suspect that the poet created the demons to reference the names of certain powerful individuals and wealthy families living in Italy at the time, so even these guesses at what the names may not properly explain what Dante was trying to accomplish in creating them.

So, now, with all that text I just spat out about Divine Comedy associations, you might think that the people who made Final Fantasy IV were huge fans, right? I’m actually not so sure, for although these characters each appear in Inferno, they also appear in Devils, a little-known 1904 novel on demonology by James Charles Wall. (It’s an entertaining read, if you have the time. Did you know that the demons of Hell marry and divorce, just as humans do? Back when I read it, I put up a whole post devoted to its non-video games-related aspects, if you’re interested.) Devils is often cited as an apparent inspiration for Final Fantasy IV by especially literate games-and-names folks, and with good reason: All five of the aforementioned monsters are in here. So is a sixth, actually, and this fact helps both to explain one of the stranger names in the Final Fantasy IV and also to indicate that Final Fantasy IV could have actually never read Inferno.

Throughout much of the game, the villain is an unreasonably evil dude who goes by the improbable name Golbez. As the story progresses, Cecil, the hero, discovers that Golbez is actually his long-lost brother. (This sort of thing apparently happens all the time.) Among many other questions are these: If the two are brothers, why did Cecil get a relatively normal name while the other was saddled with something as unfortunate as Golbez? Was having such a bum name what drove Golbez to villainy? And where does Golbez come from, anyway? For me, these remain unanswered, more or less, until just recently, with the release of the latest incarnation of the game, Final Fantasy IV DS. In it, the player even learns that before his days as big bad, Golbez went by a more typical landwalker name, Theodore. The game even offers a flashback in which Theodore is controllable. It’s short-lived, however, as the lad quickly falls under the influence of evil, so much so that the game’s ultimate big bad even renames him Golbez, calling him “an insect born from a dragon’s corpse.” The phrase has its own implications to the plot of the game, but it also recalls a relatively obscure legend that appears in Devils. Wall writes:
One legend places the scene of the combat between St. George and the Dragon in one of a range of caves near the castle of Golubaes, in Servia. These caves are infested by the Golubaeser Fly, a venomous insect resembling a mosquito [whose] presence is accounted for by the assertion of the peasants that the decomposed body of the dragon has continued to generate these insects to the present day.
As I understand it, Walls refers to the Golubac (or Galambóc) region of Serbia, home to the Golubac Fortress, which was allegedly was beset by bloodsucking insects at one point. The scientific name for the species seems to be Simulium colombaschense, which appears on the Wikipedia listing for the black fly genus Simulium but, notably, not as a specific page, which suggests that the species is rather obscure. In any case, Golubaeser or Golbaeser or some other form of the name went into Japanese — where it would be represented as something like Gorbeza or Golbezo — and finally came out as English as Golbez.

golbez: hey there, mr. black fly

Of course, the story has absolutely nothing to do with Inferno, making its mention in Devils potential evidence that the latter, not the former, inspired the people who made Final Fantasy IV. Even further evidence, now that I think about it: Wall’s book lists the demon’s name as Caynazzo, which is how it would be pronounced, rather than Cagnazzo, which is how it would be correctly spelled in Italian. If the game’s creators were working directly from Devils and not Inferno itself, it would make sense then that that American translation of the name would end up being Kainazzo, without the “G” it should have had. I’d call sloppy work on Square’s part if it hadn’t been so much fun to research.

Syntyche, the poster who pointed out the Golbez/Golubaeser connection, also theorizes that Golbez essentially means “pigeon house,” citing that golub means “pigeon” in Serbian. (And it does, and in Croatian Bosnian as well. It also means “dove” in all three languages. Golub is related to the Latin columba, also meaning “dove” or “pigeon.”) The theory is supported by Wikipedia, which notes that the town of Golubac is sometimes called “the town of doves.”

And believe it or not, that actually does it for Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy in general and all things relating to The Divine Comedy. There’s nothing much else left save for odds and ends. And, yes, I do realize that I began the original post stating that it would be a depository of odds and ends. We’re finally there. It just took us a while to arrive.

The whole “It’s a Secret to Everybody” series:

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