Bad Dads of Art History

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With Fathers Day around the corner, it’s natural to reminisce about our Pops. Sure they may be annoying and overbearing at times (I mean lets face it, there is nothing worse than corny dad jokes), but most dads have nothing but the best intentions and love for their children. That is unless they are they lived in olden times apparently. 

Turns out dads from the good old days were often callous, if not flat out sadistic. So here are some of the worst dads in history, let us rejoice that they aren’t ours!



Lot and His Daughters by Hendrick Goltzius at the Rijksmuseum

Lot has two strikes against him when it comes to the whole parenting thing. One day, on a trip to earth, two angles appeared in his hometown of Sodom. I guess the people of Sodom are not used to tourists for the locals decided to try to gang bang the angles. Since homosexuality was a big no no at this time, Lot decided to offer up his virgin daughters to the angry mob in hopes of saving the angels. Strike number one. Shortly after, Lot learned that the town of Sodom and its questionable inhabitants were going to be destroyed, so he packed up his wife and daughters and left. While fleeing, Lot’s wife decided to look back at their home and was quickly turned into a pillar of salt, leaving just Lot and his daughters alone in the world. With their biological clocks ticking and no man in sight other than their father, the daughters decided to liquor their father up and rape him for his seed. This may seem like a strike against the daughters, but I blame their father for instilling in them a questionable relationship with sex. Any dad involved in incest is a bad dad in my book.

Ivan the Terrible 


Ivan the Terrible and his Son Ivan on November 16 by Ilya Repin at The State Tretyakov Collection in Moscow 

With a nickname like Ivan the Terrible, it is easy to surmise that he may not have been the best parental figure. Ivan was the Tsar of Russia, and while he was a progressive diplomat in the office, he was from that in the home. One day, Ivan spotted his pregnant daughter-in-law in a scantly dressed getup and proceeded to beat her. Learning of the harm his father brought upon his baby mama, Ivan the Younger decided to confront of his father. Upon doing so, Ivan the Terrible broke out in a fit of rage and killed his son. Needless to say, killing your child will definitely land you a spot on the bad dads list.

Herod the Great


The Feast of Herod by Peter Paul Rubens at The Scottish National Gallery 

Herod the Great, now that’s a misnomer if I have ever heard one. Sure, he built one of the strongest aristocracies and largest empires in the ancient world, but his people skills were just not on point. Lets start with his questionable relationship with his stepdaughter. He once enjoyed an exotic dance from his stepdaughter Salome and was so mesmerized by her moves that he granted her anything she could wish for…which ended with John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Sexy dances from stepchildren are not okay! Gross, but not the worst thing Herod did with his kin. Herod also has the blood of countless children on his hands, including his own. Yes, in an attempt to secure his spot on the throne, Herod killed three of his own sons so that they could not overthrow him. Tisk tisk.



Saturn Devouring His Son by Francisco Goya at The Prado National Museum 

Saturn is another great example of how the combo of an intoxicating lust for power and children is a recipe for disaster. Here we have yet another instance of filicide getting to the best of us. Somewhat ironically, Saturn is the god of agriculture and liberation, which would lead one to believe that he loves life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Turns out that is not the case. When prophecy foretold that Saturn would be overthrown by one of his sons, Saturn decided to turn into a crazy cannibal and eat his children. As we all know though, the prophecy is never wrong and a son his wife hid away in a cave ultimately dethroned him. Justice for all! Well, except for maybe the first five children he ate…



Noah’s Drunkenness by James Tissot at The Jewish Museum in New York

Most of us know Noah as the ultimate doomsday survivalist. With his track record of saving all the critters of the earth, most would identify Noah as a man of compassion and nurturance. Wrong! While the man can keep his composure in the face of destruction, turns out he really can’t hold his booze. One day after a heavy dose of the sauce, Noah proceeded to pass out in nothing more than his birthday suit. Soon after, his son Ham finds him in this compromising position and rather than help cover him up with his other two brothers, he just sits there and stares. Upon waking up and discovering the atrocity that has unfolded, Noah decides that the only logical course of action for his son seeing him naked is to curse Ham’s son Canaan, thus turning him into a slave. Perhaps a bit of an overreaction if you ask me.

King Laius


The Child Oedipus Revived by the Shepherd Phorbas by Antoine-Denis Chaudet at the Louvre

We are often quick to pin Oedipus as a bit of a perv for having the hots for his mom, but it is really his father, King Laius, that we should be blaming for the tragic mess that was Oedipus’s life. When visiting the Oracle of Delphi as a young lad, the prophecy he received warned that if he ever had a son, this child would kill him and marry his wife. In an attempt to make sure this never happened, he swore he would never get it on with his wife. This plan was quickly foiled when he got a little too hammered and impregnated his wife one evening. Upon the birth of their son, King Laius abandoned the child on a mountainside where he would soon die. Not surprisingly, this plan backfires when Oedipus is found by a shepherd and nursed back to life. Long story short, the prophecy is always right and Oedipus kills the king anyways. I guess that’s what you get for trying to abandon your kid.

Turns out that the fables of antiquity have a lot of solid lessons to teach the fathers of today including don’t offer your children up for rape and don’t eat them. So unless a prophecy has foretold that you will overthrow your father one day, I am going to assume that your relationship with your old man will continue to be just fine. So that’s something worth celebrating on this father’s day!

By: Jennifer

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Jennifer Tucker


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