Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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What does Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mean?

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, or Four Horsemen for short, originates as a Biblical personification of the end of the word. The Four Horsemen have become symbols of things that bring about some catastrophe, often used in a humorous way.

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Examples of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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Examples of Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The Four Horsemen of A Really Nice Time That I Enjoy Very Much Thank U
@RedMinus, September 2019
I've seen the return of what I've called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse ... Populism, ... nativism, ... isolationism and protectionism.
Condoleezza Rice quoted by John Bowden, The Hill, September 2019

Where does Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse come from?

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse appear in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament of the Bible that presents an allegorical battle between good and evil. They appear in Revelations 6:2-8, when the first four of the seven seals on the holy scroll are broken. (Revelations, yes, goes heavy on the symbolism.)

The Four Horsemen are named as riders with different powers to plague mankind. Conquer rides a white horse, War a red one. Famine‘s horse is black and Death rides a pale green horse. Conquer, perhaps because of the similarity of this name to War, is generally replaced with Pestilence, which is also mentioned in the passages from Revelations.  

The specific symbolism of the Four Horsemen have been widely analyzed in theology and literature. They have also been widely depicted in art, as in this woodcut by Albrecht Dürer from 1498:

Wikimedia

The Four Horsemen have become adopted more broadly in culture, as both a phrase and characters that represent the ushering of end times.

Treatment of the Four Horsemen is often humorous or irreverent. Adapted in a 2019 TV series on Amazon, Good Omens is a 1990 book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman that satirizes the apocalypse. In this story, the Four Horsemen ride motorcycles. Pestilence has been replaced by Pollution. Since War is female, they are also more accurately referred to as The Four Horsepersons of the Apocalypse.

Who uses Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

The Four Horsemen remain discussed in literary and religious contexts, including imagery.

Viktor Vasnetsov / Wikimedia

More broadly, The Four Horsemen are refashioned in many ways as symbols of catastrophe. To do this, people find some new, natural set of four, like politicians one disagrees with …

… or something that is considered suspicious, unlikeable, or “evil” in some way.

In popular culture, references to the Four Horsemen are often humorous. The humor often comes from how what is labelled as the Four Horsemen or the Apocalypse is actually very low stakes.

You don’t always have to specify what the Four Horsemen are horsemen of. Sometimes just using the phrase Four Horsemen on its own is enough to get across some connected set of four. Here, all these guys are wearing goofy hats:

What started with the apocalypse ends with silly hats.

Note that The Four Horsemen also refers in sports to four members of the Notre Dame football team back in the 1920s. It’s also a type of alcoholic beverage. LeBron James even has a sneaker called Four Horsemen, a reference to himself and three friends from Ohio who went into business together.

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