“Ariel Alarms” burglar alarm, City of London • I always thought Ariel was a version of wing-heeled Greco-Roman messenger god Mercury, whose alarm I featured yesterday. Which shows how little I know, becuse I now discover Ariel is a minor Judaeo-Christian archangel associated with health and the elements, whose name means “Lion of God”. Winged angels seem to go back to the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism and beyond, and in all faiths that feature them they are messengers of god; so there’s some connection with Mercury after all. The Jews are thought to have brought the archangels’ names out of Babylon, though in Abrahamic faiths the wings were always recognised by scholars as merely symbolic, showing the superiority of angels to mortals. In English culture the name was popularised by Shakespeare, whose play The Tempest features a flying spirit punningly called Ariel (aerial, geddit?) bearing similarities to both angels and Mercury. Since then the name has been used for anything from biological washing powder to the BBC’s in-house magazine, titled after Shakespeare’s character and not the wire thing that receives radio signals, which is spelled aerial. Although it looks like a 1960s book cover, I think we can be fairly sure the alarm’s not a tribute to the famous volume of poetry by suicidal American writer Sylvia Plath, who named the collection Ariel after her childhood horse, and successfully gassed herself shortly after completing it in 1963. Yet the Ariel alarm probably dates from the same decade, which means it’s definitely not named after the ubiquitous font Arial, which apart from having different spelling, was designed in 1982. It took 10 people to create it – and the result is just like Helvetica! • Spotted: Middlesex Street, City of London, London, E1, England, 2010 • Politics: In the Conservative constituency of Cities of London and Westminster
Above: Ariel, from religion to soap powder. Left: The archangel Ariel from a series the studio of Francisco de Zurbarán made in 1645-50 for the Monasterio de la Concepción, Lima, Peru – Ariel’s a bigger deal in Latin America than in Europe. Above right: Shakespeare’s Ariel in “Ariel between Wisdom and Gaiety“, a 1930s sculpture by old perv Eric Gill on the facade of BBC Broadcasting House in Portland Place, London W1. Below middle: Ariel in his guise as a pioneering biological washing powder from the 1960s. Below right: Also from the 1960s, Sylvia Plath’s posthumously-published hit poetry collection “Ariel”, a vintage cover from a recent writers’ residency at Nottingham Contemporary gallery by Wayne Burrows.