You are on page 1of 29

4

ASHGATE
RESEARCH
CCPANICN

Rejecting and Embracing


the Monstrous in Ancient Greece
and Rome
D. Fel ton

Introduction
The Creeks adapted many of their mon
sters trom the Near East
, but it was in
mcient Creek culture that monsters reached
an apogee of sorts, with both pictorial
md literary depictions of monsters flourishin
g to a degree not seen betore. For the
Creeks, monsters embodied a \ arietv of
fears: the potential of chaos to overcom
e
order, of irrationality to prevail over reaso
n; the potential victory ot nature
cigairiSt the encroaching ci
ilizations of mankind; the littleunderst
ood nature of
the female in contrast to the male. The Cree
k myths repeatedly present monsters
being conquered by gods and men; the
forces ot order, reason, civilization, and
patriarchy inevitably prevail in Creek thou
ght.
That is to say, to a large extent monsters
are culturally determined. Each
culture has its own preoccupations and
tears, its own definitions of normal,
its own manner ot looking at reality. As
Catherine Atherton observes, monsters
get defined in relation to communities and
to their standards of what is good.
acceptable, normal, or natural
In different times, places, and cultures,
or from
ditferent viewpoints within a single cultu
re, different answers ivill emerge
\lonsters often arise from the desir
e to domesticate and thus disempower v
hat a
...

David I) Ci more, \ a ttr: L cii Bii;is \1


t 6 ice! Bia C, ii iii ii \ lint liar a I iaii in ii
Tarrar, tPhiladelphia: University of lenn
cvIania Press, 20f)3), p. 7: also Jan Brem
mer,
Monsters en tabeldieren in di Criekse
cu ltuur, I hrcitiiin, ,nl I runt, lU,iri I tat flan
,\tii,tii,i 11i,sfcniain: ,Icdcd,htttt
riiad (8 (l9)7, pp. 2s, at 2. 11w author is
rwxpressihiv
cratefu Ito \sa \littman and Peter Dend le 6 ir all
of their thoughtiul u mments,
care tu
cii id end 1
ess patience in the dt elipment it this
hapter.
5
e
e

Bremmer, \leister tn Uheldieren in tie

\i Idn.t ill

(,rieLr cuituur,
p.

2.
C rt aid Rat nit, C LIt,,i a,
CIaoinI I itciifi,ic S rn iflari: I tant
i Fdittri, l)8t, P

Ca the rifle Atherton (ed),

ii is firs

ad

lain. fis a.

ii

til 6

THE AspG.4IE REsE4Icu Ctip \lO\ 1() Mo.\


SIERS 4ND IRE Mt3.\STROUS
culture tinds threatening) So, what the Greeks
and Romans considered monstrous
gives us insight into what those cultures feare
d. Among other things, monsters
were the opposite of the ordered, rational society
idealized by the Greeks.
But what, more specifically, defines the monstro
us in ancient Greece and
Rome? The Greek term teras referred both to a porte
nt and, in the concrete sense,
a physical monstrosity. Fhe English word itsel
f comes from the Latin monstrum,
which to the Rornans signified very generally
a supernatural event thought to be a
portent from the gods, a warning of some sort
(trom the root inonere, to warn))
But, as with the Greek term, the Latin word also
commonly denoted a physically
unnatural being of any sort, whether humans (or anim
als) exhibiting morphological
abnormalities, or mythological 5
monsters. What constitutes unnatural
or
abnormal, then, is often something that is not
clearly human or animal but rather
in-between, a disturbing hybrid mixture, what
Jeffrey Jerome Cohen refers to as
ontological liminality; a creature of amazing
size; a creature unlike anything
anyone has ever seen before; a creature that evok
es revulsion. As Atherton puts
it, monsters are often prime bearers of taxo
nomic perversity in relation to the
cultures that create them)
Thus, although the Greeks told of a very wide
variety of monstrous beings, the
creatures tended to have certain traits in com
mon. Greek mythological monsters
were indeed usually immense. They were near
ly always morphological oddities,
such as loathsome multi-headed or multi-lim
bed hybrids, often reptilian. They
usually had extraordinary physical powers, whic
h were at least partially a result
of their anatomical 5
superfluity. Some monsters were not even iden
tifiably animal;
they were closer to mere abstractions of frigh
tening concepts, as we shall see in
Hesiod. Many were also imbued with mali
ce; one does not tend to find giant,
hybrid, incredibly strong monsters in Gree
k myth that are also benevolent. The
Greek monsters, like those of many other cultu
res, tend to be inherently destructive,
exhibiting tremendous hostility toward hum
ans.
There were certainly other types of bein
g that the Greeks and Romans
considered monstrous. The Romans sometim
es referred to ghosts as monstra, for
example, and various supernatural creatures
abounded in the ancient imagination,
such as werewolves who fed not only on lives
tock but on human flesh, and the
Greek einpousae and lain iae, vampire-like fema
le beings who attacked new mothers
4

e
7
i

9
10

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen (ed.), Monster Theorp: Readin


g Culture (Minneapolis: Uniersitv ot
Minnesota Press, 1996), p. viii.
See Steels essay in this olume for more on the
otvmologx of ,noistrum.
Robert Garland, The Eye of the Beholder: Deform
iti and Diahilitii in the Grae o-Roman
World(lthaca, Cornell University Press, 1Q95)
, p.
.
4
Cohen, Monster Theory, p. 6.
Atherton, Monsters and Atoiictrositi in Greek and
Roman Culture, p. xiv. For a modern
example ot this relativism, consider The
Eve of the Beholder episode of The Tailiht
Zone (Sea.on 2. Episode 42, 1960).
See for example the discussion in Adrienne \lavo
r. The First Fos.il Ilunte, s: Pilonte.logy
in Greek aid Roman Timec (Princeton: Prince
ton University Press, 2000), pp. 19&-7.
Unlike, for example, the dragons of Chinese
mythology.

104

REJFc rii; 41)

Ei\IBRAcI \G

THE

MON STROLlS

.md their children or who sed


uced and dex otared oung men
. Roman literature
tells of witches who robbed graves
, pertormed gruesome necromanti
c ceremonies,
and murdered children. Chese
various beings,
it was believed by come, cou
he encountered in real life by ord
ld
inary men. And men themselv
es were capable
of monstrous, savage, lawless beh
avior that made them little diff
erent from the
terrifing hybrid creatures of my
th fought by heroes of the dist
ant past. In such
cases, the concept of monstrosit
y is based not on a physical def
ormity hut on
abhorrent moral values.
Non-human monsters almost inv
ariably dwelled outside of civi
lized, urban
areas. Mountains, rocks, caves,
cliffs, and other natural places unt
amed by culture
were home to most of the monste
rs of Greek myth. The Sphinx,
for example, lived
on Mt Phikion outside of Thebes
; the Cyclops Polyphemus live
d in a cave; the
Sirens sang from rocky cliffs. Sim
ilarly, bodies of water including
lakes, marshes,
and the often hostile sea, toward
which the Greeks had an ambival
ent attitude, held
many 2
monsters. As Jan Bremmer obs
erves, this is not surprising sinc
e wilderness
is where unordered things suc
h as monsters rightly 3
belong.
Because the Greeks regularly iden
tified women with the wildness
of nature
defined by the Greeks as wha
tever existed beyond the bounda
ries of an ordered
civilizationit is not surprising
to find that a very large propor
tion of monsters
in Greek mythology are female.
Sue Blundell explains that wom
ens capacity for
child-bearing aligned them wit
h natural forces beyond male 3
control. That women
could also sometimes produc
e children with physical abnorm
alities only added
to the perception of women as
potentially terrifying and des
tructive. Creatures
such as Medusa, Scylla and
Charybdis, the Harpies, and the Fur
ies, among many
others, all spoke to mens fear
of womens destructive potenti
al. The myths then,
to a certain extent, fulfill a mal
e fantasy of conquering and con
trolling the female.
But ultimately our interpretation
of monsters in Greece and Rom
e may remain
more general as we examine the
evidence. David Gilmore sug
gests: For most
Western observers the monster
is a metaphor for all that mu
st be repudiated
by the human spirit. It embodies
the existential threat to social
life, the chaos,
atavism, and negativism that
symbolize destructiveness and all
other obstacles to

11
12

13

14

For a discussion of people behaving


monstrously, see Weinstocks essay
in this volume.
Mountains in particular, far from
the bounds of ordered cities, were
often the places
where atrocious things happened:
Actaeon, killed by his own hunting
dogs for seeing
the goddess Artemis bathing; Pentheus
, torn to shreds by maenads
for his impiety
toward the god Dionysus.
Bremmer, Monsters en fabeldieren
in de Griekse cultuur, p. 3. Van
Duzers essay
in this olume discusses clim
ate as a main geographical principle
that traditionally
determined regions inhabited
by monsters, particularly in the
Middle Ages and earI
Renaissance. Although come

ancient authors, such as Hipp


ocrates and Diodorus
Siculus, mention climate as a facto
r in monstrosity (as Van Duze
r notes), climate does
nut seem as significant as top
ography in accounting for the
location or type of the
majority of mvthical monsters in
Greek and Roman literature.
Sue Blundell, l\ ,u,eo 0 Aiicie,,t
GTLcce (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
1QQ. pp. 1719.
Lniversity Iress,

TIlE ASHG1 FE REsE1Rcn Cofr4Io


N fO MONSTERS AND TUE MONSTR
OUS

order and progress. This was particular


ly true for the ancient Greeks. For the
Romans, too, monsters represented the barbaric
and uncivilized, but the Romans
also demonstrated a fascination with the mon
strous that the Greeks did not. The
Romans consequently sought out the mon
strous in a manner quite unlike the
Greeks, as we shall see.

Monstrous Origins
Some of the earliest monsters in Greek litera
ture appear in the Greek creation
myth, the most detailed version of which surv
ives in Hesiods eighth-century BCE
Theogony (origin of the gods). This 1022-line
poem describes the physical origins
and organization of the cosmos, At first there
is nothing but Chaos, an empty
void; then Gaia, the Earth, comes into bein
g, and Tartarus, a dim, underworldlike region. The fourth original entity is
Eros, an abstraction representing the
reproductive impulse, necessary for continue
d creation in the cosmos.
These early entities begin a tortuous, chao
tic, and essentially experimental
process of reproduction resulting in various
monstrous creatures. Chaos produces
several generations of abstractions that Hesi
od considered monstrous in the sense
that they brought misery to mankind: for exam
ple, from Chaos came Night, which
bore Doom, Ruin, Death, and Deception,
among many 7
others. Gaia, reflecting
the fertility attributed to the Earth by early
societies, produces many offspring via
parthenogenesis including Ouranos, the
Sky; thus, as in many early cosmologies,
the two primary beings are Earth and Sky.
Mating with Ouranos, Gaia births the
twelve Titans. Hesiod does not describe these
beings physically in any detail but
seems to conceive of them as semi-anthropo
morphic and even describes one of
them as 8
lovely. Hesiod envisions the other offspring
of Gaia and Ouranos as
deformed: three Cyclopes, terribly strong
giants with one huge, round eye in the
middle of their foreheads; and three Hecatonc
heires or Hundred-Flanders, each
15

Gilmore, Monsters, p. 12. He also offers a Freu


dian interpretation and comments that
monsters are impressive and fearful because
they break the rulesthey observe no
limits, respect no boundaries, and attack and
kill without compunction. Monsters
may be projections of a more general wish fulfi
llmentthe wish to be able to do as
we please. He suggests that monsters and their
behavior represent the Freudian id.
This theory finds a literal representation in
the 1956 film Forbidden Planet. Although
Freudian psychoanalytic theory has fallen som
ewhat out of favor, his many ideas about
the unconscious and dream symbolism can still
be helpful in the realm of myth, as
Gilmore demonstrates (pp. 1418).
16 The Greek word chaos indicates a vast emp
ty space or infinite dark void, and should
not be confused with the English word cha
os meaning disorder or confusion,
though the English derives directly from the Gree
k.
17 Yheogonti 21114.
18 The Titaness Tethvs, Theogony 136, The word
erat,ine, deriving from eros, means lovely
or charming, and Hesiod also applies it to Thal
ia, one of the three Graces, in line 909.
106

R1,?L

IIM,

1 1)

1 .f1PAc r.e;

In! AlL)\,IItOhlS

is ith 1110 hands and 30 heads. I lesind


desi.ribes the Jailer as not unIv immense
hut as ton terriLk. to be approached or esen spokcn of.
In short, the early Gieek cosmos tilled quickh isith
a is ide varivty of monatrous
reaturec during the process of creation. This tumultuou
s. eperimcntal early
unherce became the setting for a cosmic struggle
toward order that would ..ome
about in the third generation attn Gala is ith Zeu and his
dii inc siblings. The
conopt of cucce,sis e generations of gods battling both
their elders and monstrous
creatures for power en er the cosmos is as familiar
to the Greekc trom Near Eastern
myths, including the Bab lonian creation story foun
d in the epic Enun:a Elish and
the I furrian 1 littate poems Kingship in flea n and
Song of Uliukumnn In these
ctories a warrior god from the > ounger generatio
n gains co.mii. supremacy by
lefeating older generations of gods, some of who
m were depicted as terrifying
monsters, and others of whom enlisted fearful mon
strosities representatise or the
old unis ere to fight on their behalf.

Gods and Monsters


lany Near Fa.itern religions and social n stems reste
d on an allegorical origin mirth
of a man battling a monster. In every cae, a snun
g warrior-god who represents
harmon. and order as well as nationhood goes forth
to battle a chaos-monster
that threatens the world order. In the aftermath ot 4uch
apocalyptic confrontations,
cisillzations emerge, prosper, and flourish, and
humanitv takes its rightful place
is master of the Laith. The monster myths proclaim
our ownership over the world
irid justify the present order. So. for nample,
the Ba1) lonian warrior Marduk
conquers the monstrous riamat the embodim
ent of primeval chaos who also
happens to be hi mother: and the Sumerian
Ninurta defeats a multi-headed
drigon-like creature. The iucce,sion ms th of
tiesiods 1hno,mv pro. ides no
cc eption to the pattern.
After the uniserse came Into tumultuous exist
ence, the cosmos still lacked
order. The earliest beings were sas age and crue
l. poor rulers. When Gala bore
his children. Ouranos. ifraid of being oserthrow
n. forced them all back into
her womb. She conspired with the youngest of
them, Cronos, who castrated
Ouranos disempowering him and ss mbolical
lv separating Earth and cky.
Cronos treed the other I gaits hut was ito bette
r thui hi tathc r: when his

to
1

4
J
1
,I
t

I.

Mt. lAest tt.d. and .omnj, 14e.oI. 1% qa.q IOshr


d. (larintino Pies. l66m p
P ecpl un.. Ibis ta es..kn tith has par ilk Is .ii
orienta
l msthkis which are
.o stnkin hat a cnnneion .. inr.nte.table. Its..
.nur printipall.. in Hittite .
M
1
.kkaJan te.. 1w demos!., see his extended drwu..sion,
IP
,Imore .%fr.t. s pp. ZS Q.

Ihi. mirrors the Hurrian-Hmttmte source. n which the usur


ping od Kumnarbi bite oft
si alln the elder god mm. gumta
ls and boom.. pregnant.

amd

THE

ASHG.4TE REsEARcH CouPANIoN TO MoNsTERs


AND THE MoNsTRous

sister/wife Rhea bore children, Cronos, equally afraid of


being overthrown,
swallowed them himself. His unnatural and gruesome
attempt to prevent a son
from replacing him as universal sovereign empha
sizes the monstrous nature
of Zeuss predecessors, the 23
Titans. For the Greeks, Zeuss overthrowing
of
Cronos represented the triumph of civilization over savage
ry. This came about
as Cronoss youngest child, Zeus, escaped the fate of
his siblings when Rhea
substituted a stone for the baby. Gathering his
(regurgitated) siblings and
aided by the Cyclopes and Hundred-Handers, Zeus succee
ded in overthrowing
the older generation in a contlict known as the Titano
machy. This new, third
generation was more civilized, and Zeus began to
bring order to the cosmos.
His main obstacle, brought forth by Gaia as a final
attempt to circumvent
undisputed male rule of the 2
universe
4 and as a test of whether Zeus was fit to
rule the cosmos, was the monster Typhoeus, who
represented the old female,
chthonic order. The most fearsome creature in the
Theogony, Typhoeus appears
as an embodiment of violent nature out of control:
From its shoulders
sprouted a hundred heads of snaky, dreadful dragons
flickering sooty tongues; and under its brows, from its eyes
flames J1ashed, and fire burned from all its glaring heads.u
Add to this the unearthly shrieking which Hesiod
describes a few lines later
26 and
Typhoeus presents a frightening alternative to Zeuss
benevolent 2
despotism
7
.
In an explosive epic battle, Zeus defeats Typhoeus,
who hurls all the forces of
nature at him: earthquakes, fire, hurricanes, tidal
waves. The conflagration that
ravages Earth during Zeuss war with Typhoeus
represents a patriarchal assault
on the early female-dominated cosmos. As Sarah
Pomeroy observes: Hesiod
details the divine progression from female-dominated
generations, characterized
by natural, earthy, emotional qualities, to the superio
r and rational monarchy of
Olympian 28
Zeus.
23

24
25
26

27
28

See, for example, Francisco Jos de Goya y Lucientess


Saturn devouring one of his
children, which depicts Cronoss horrifying cannibalism.
Stephen L. Harris and Gloria Platzner, Classical Mythology:
Images and Insights, 6th edn
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012), 85.
p.
Theogony 8248, This and all other translations are
my own, unless otherwise noted.

Theogony 83035.

Harris and Planer, Classical Mythology, p. 85.


Sarah B. Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves
: Women in Classical Antiquity
(New York: Schocken Books, 1975),
. This is not to say that such a progression in myth
2
P.
corresponds to an actual historic change in Greek society
and religion, such as a shift
from worshipping female divinities to worshipping male
deities. Pomeroy is careful to
point out that the existence of a mother goddess in prehist
ory is still highly theoretical
and unproven, though it remains a popular theory
1314). The progression in
(pp.
myth is metaphorical, representative of the relative
importance that reason claimed
over irrationalit in Greek thought. A certain level of
misogyny, evident in the Greek
108

REJECTING AND E.IBRAc1.J; THE MONS TROLlS

r
Figure 4.1

Armed with his lightning bolt, Zeus battles the winged, serpentlegged Typhoeus. Greek (Chalcidian) black-figure hydria (water-jug),
circa 540 BCE.

The chthonic imagery present in Hesiods description of the earlier cosmic


generations becomes quite important when studying the monsters of Greek
myth. Typhoeus is only the first of many creatures to have serpent-like attributes
and a connection to the primordial mythological period before the ouranian
gods
gained power. The depiction of Typhoeus itself goes back to the Near Eastern
creation myths in which Tiamat, for example, is a snake-like monster. Serpents
represent many different concepts in ancient mythologies, but prominent among
them is the serpent as early goddess figure or consort of Earth goddess. Many
Greek monsters are either born of Earth herself or of Typhoeus and serve as
metaphors for the struggle of man over nature. Hesiod and other Greeks thus
conceived of Zeus as a bringer of culture, as echoed in Greek art. In Figure 4.1,
for example, Zeus with his lightning bolt, representing Sky, confronts Typhoeus,
whose snaky legs indicate his origin from Earth.
Zeuss status as a culture hero
3
is also borne out by his strongly anthropomorphic appearance and his ability
to control nature (particularly by subordination of the female), as well as his
progenysuch civilizing forces as the Muses and the Graces, for example.

29
30

archaic period, likely also influenced the creation story.


See, for e\ample, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford, The \fth of the Goddess: Eeolution
of
an Image (London: Arkana Penguin Books, 1991), pp. (46 and 499500.
In Greek iconngraphv, the wings on Typhoeus and other creatures, both
chthonic and

ouranic, indicate not that these beings are associated with the sky but only
that the

belong to the non-human realm.

109

Figure 4.2 Athena fighting the


giant Alkvoneus, who gained stren
gth whenever he touched his
mother, Larth. Fastern frieze, Grea
t Altar of Pergamon, first half
of the second century BCF.

Rrjrc TING

At) E\1BRACIJC TIlE

Al O\ STROllS

Other works than Ilesiods Theogonu, such as the Bibliotheca attributed to


1, add another battle before Zeus and the Olympian gods can truly
Apollodorus
bring order to the cosmos. This tradition holds that Gaia bore monstrous offspring
called the Gigantes, or Giants. fhese creatures were not only huge and brutish hut
had legs ending in the tails of snakes. fhe Giants challenged the Olympians for
supremacy, resulting in the conflict known as the Gigantomachv. In keeping with
their savagery, the Giants fought by hurling huge boulders and uprooted trees,
whereas the Olympians used the various crafted weapons representative of a more
advanced culture, such as arrows and swords. The tradition of the Gigantomachy
tells that it was after the Giants were defeated that Zeus fought Typhoeus, but
the ancient sources at least agree that after vanquishing these various creatures a
triumphant Zeus took his place as rightful ruler of the cosmos.
The Gigantomachy was perhaps even more popular in Greek art than in Greek
literature, appearing on monumental works of sculpture for centuries. In archaic
Greece, the Gigantomachy served as a metaphor for reason and order triumphing
over chaos, as, for example, in the pediment of the Temple of Artemis at Corfu
(circa 580s BCE). In classical Greece, after the Persian Wars (490479 BCE), the
Gigantomachy symbolized the victory of the Greeks (Olympians) over the barbarian
Persians (Giants), as on the east metopes on the Parthenon. The battle of the gods
and Giants thus became a visual expression of the victory of the Athenians over
their enemies. The most well-known surviving representation of the Gigantomachy
in art is that on the Great Altar of Pergamon (circa 180160 BCE).
2 Figure 4.2 shows
a scene from the eastern frieze of the altar, wherein the Olympian goddess Athena,
grasping the Giant Alkyoneus by the hair, separates him from his mother, Gaia,
who is attempting to rise from her earthly domain to aid in the battle. The winged
goddess of victory, Nike, approaches at the upper right, signifying the Olympians
impending victory over the Giants. For the Pergamenians, as for the Athenians, the
Gigantomachy symbolized their victory over their enemies. And, as Max Kunze
observes: Such representations also clearly conceal a rulership ideology which
saw the myth as a negative confrontation between divine order and barbarianism
to be interpreted not only to their own advantage but also to be used for their own
propagandistic ends. Their victory was the victory of order over chaos.
3

31
32
33

Apollodorus (second century BCE) wrote a Bibliotheca (Library) of Greek mythology,


but the extant work by that name attributed to him actually dates to the tirst or second
century CE.
Pergamon was an ancient Greek city in what is now modem Turkey.
Max Kunze, The Pec,amon Altar: Its Rediscoery, History. and Reconstruction (Mainz:
Verlag Philipp von Zabern, 1995), p. 23. In antiquity there were other interpretations
as well; for example, the Roman poet Claudian (early filth century CE) wrote an epic
G:gantomachia in which the battle was metaphorical for catastrophic geological change.
Similarly, as noted in Harris and Platiner, CIaial Mitholo,,y (p. 85), the massi\e
conflicts which Hesiod describes in the battle between Zeus and Tvphoeus have been
interpreted as pocsihly being a faint memory of some distant geological catastrophe,
such as the devastating prehistoric eruptions of [hera (Santorini).
Ill

THE ASH4IE RESE.4RCH Co1PizIvN 10 Af0STER5 .IND THE MOVSIROUS

The representation of Alkvoneus and the other Giants in this monumental


sculpture is worth a brief mention, Susan Woodford, noting that the subject ot
the Gigantomachy was popular in both art and literature fur a Very long time,
observes that: it is not always easy to decide which of the two took the lead in
the transformation of the ways in which the giants came to be represented.
4 In
fact, the earliest artistic representations focused on the actual fighting and the
Giants were regularly depicted simply as warriors with conventional armor and
conventional weapons. This is the case despite the literary versions of the myth
in which the Giants were not just warriors who attacked the gods but barbaric
enemies challenging the Olympian order.
35 The Giants barbarism was increasingly
stressed in the course of the fifth century BCE, and after the middle of the century
this barbaric aspect of the giants became increasingly prominent. In the fourth
century BCE, probably influenced by the images of other Olympian enemies such
as Typhoeus, artists began to depict the Giants not merely as barbaric but as partly
37 By the Hellenistic period, Giants whose torsos ended in snaky limbs had
animal.
become common, as we see on the Pergamon Altar.
The pattern of warrior-god fighting chaos monster was repeated by other
Greek gods, most notably by Zeuss son Apollo. To establish his importance as
a god, Apollo came to Delphi to found his own sacred sanctuary, only to find the
place terrorized by a monstrous serpent. Some accounts say that the serpent was
female, while others say it was male; some say it was nameless, others that it was
called Python; some say it was born of Gaia, others that Hera (sister/wife of Zeus)
produced the creature. But sources agree that the serpent was a remnant of the
older days when Gaias matriarchy held sway. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo tells
how Apollo slew the serpent, and it is not exactly an epic battle: Apollo fells the
serpent with one arrow. Despite the apparent ease with which Apollo kills the
serpent, however, the significance of this episode should not be underestimated.
As if reflecting the historical transition from chthonic powers to sky gods
apparent in Hesiods Theogoizy, the story of Apollos victory over the serpent of
Delphi also involves an epochal battle between female and male principles of

34

35
36

37

38

Susan Woodford, Images of Myths in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge


University Press, 2003), p. 122.
Ibid., p. 123.
Ibid., pp. 123-4: Woodford points out that this development was probably influenced
by the spectacular work of art that was Phidiass sculpture of Athena, placed in the
Parthenon sometime after 447 BCE. The shield held by the goddess was decorated with
a scene of Athenians fighting Amazons in relief on the exterior and with a depiction of
the gods fighting Giants painted on the interior. Only hints of what this painting looked
like survive, but apparently the Giants were mostly animal-skin-clad, savage creatures
who used primitive weapons such as rocks and tree trunks.
Ibid., p. 125.
Variation is typical in Greek myth because of its origins in oral tradition, and it is thus

not uncommon to find literary variants in opposition to each othersuch as versions


ot this Apoflo mth disagreeing as to the ex of the serpent.
112

R EJLC 11 \ ;

\ I)

E BR

ICI \

r; I HE

\ 5 HWUS

di init, gien the respecti\e origins of Apollo and of the serpent. ,q loreoer,
\pollo oluntarilv undergoes punishment and purihcation to atone for having
killed the guardian serpent of Gaias shrine, indicating that the new male order
must at least acknowledge the past power ot teminine diinitv.

Heroes and Monsters


The pattern set by Zeus and Fvphoeus in the creation of the Greek mvthologcal
comos carried down not only into stories of other Greek gods but into later
mythological generations of men in which heroes inevitably had to fight monsters in
a re-enactment of the battle for order in the cosmosthe younger, male generation
tr ing to overcome the elder female order; civilization and rationahtv trying to
oercorne savagery and emotion.
4 This, too, was patterned on Near Eastern
mythology such as the story of Gilgamesh and his companion Enkidu fighting the
gigantic primitive monster Humbaba. But added to the stories of heroes starting
ith that ot Gilgamesh was the concept of immortality: facing these monsters,
and in particular traveling to the land of the dead and facing monsters there,
represented coming to accept ones own mortality. Heroes such as Gilgamesh came
to realize that the only way for a mortal to become immortal is to do great service
to society and to leave behind a noble reputationd
2
In killing the serpent at Delphi, Apollo abolished the old savage, chthonic order
and brought reason and culture in its place. Similarly, the hero Cadmus had to kill
a dragon before founding a new city in Boeotia in central Greece. He first needed
to sacrifice to the goddess Athena and sent several men to bring water from a
39

49

41
42

Harris and Plazner, Clas.eal Mi,tho1ogr, p. 232.


In the literature of ancient Greece and Rome the serpents and other dragon-like
creatures tought 1w gods and heroes did not specifically represent E ii as they did
in Christian literature. In such stories as St George fighting the dragon or St Patrick
dri ing the snakes out of Ireland, for example, the serpents symbolize a variety of e us,
such as sin and paganism (respectively). The Christian concept of the snake as evil
hearkens hack to the characterization of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
Note, too, that in conquering Humbaha, the heroes cut doi n man trees in the Cedar
Eorest with their metal weapons: nature ersus culture (CilgamcIr, Tablet V).
the epic of Gz1camish opens and closes with the exhortation to the audience to look at
the alls of L ruk, a lasting physical monument and testimon to the accomplishments
of Gilgamesh. Similarly, the Greeks and Rornans recognized that immortality could he
a hieved unIv by leaving memorable works fur future generations, literature was a
main accomplishment to this end. The fifth-century BCE historian Herodotus opened
his work 1w esplaining that his reason for writing is to prevent the wars httw oen the
C reeks and Pci ..ici is fri rn being f irgotten, the Ii rstcentu rv BCE Roman poet Ccitii i
remarked of his work, 1rN row rriarriat js rt;rm saclt
rna it last for inure than one
age (Poem 1.1 1)). See also Horace, Ode T30: iran ornrris ma far, I will not die entireh,
a sentiment expressed in relation to his poetr ac a monument that would sur\ he him.
113

THE /ISHG.tTL RLSEARCFI (041P1qIO\ TO MO\TERS IND THE MO\SFROLIS

newbv spring for the ritual hut the) did not return, Upon irnestigation, Cadmus
found that a huge serpent. a guardian of the spring (which was sacred to Ares),
had devoured his men. [-Ic killed the snake and, after atoning for shedding the
guardians blood, was able to found the city of Cadmeia, which became Thebes.
The killing of a dragon to found a settlement represents, for the Greeks, the advance
of culture over natureJ
Essentially, in Greek mythology, once Zeus calmed the cosmos, order had to he
established in the world of men as well. The older generations of gods may have been
deposed, but their monstrous progeny lived on: Tvphoeus, for example, had fathered
the Chimacra, the Hvdra, Cerberus, the Sphinx, the Nernean lion, and Scylla, among
many others. The stability represented by the reign of Zeus was mythologically
concurrent with the age of men, and it was up to men to civilize the world in the
same way in which Zeus had tamed the cosmos. So among men, heroes arose who
would bring social order by ridding the earth of the monstrous creatures from elder
times, making the countryside and the roadsthe latter particularly emblematic
of civilizationsafe for their fellow man. Thus the monsters in Greek myth, such
as anthropophagus giants, tended to represent uncivilized, lawless forces, as did
untamed elements of nature often represented by the monstrous female. These
elements were to he conquered and replaced by the culture-bringing male.
The earliest generation of heroes included Perseus, Bellerophon, and Heracles
(Hercules to the Romans). Perseus is best known as the slayer of Medusa, one of
three snaky-haired Gorgon sisters. Perseus traveled to the Gorgons lair in the
far west to cut off her head, viewing her reflection in a shield to avoid looking at
her petrifing gaze directly. Ihis early myth reflects the theme of the younger,
patriarchal society replacing an older, pre-agricultural, Gaia-dependent world,
as the Gorgons had come into existence in the earliest days of the cosmos, their
snaky hair reflecting their chthonic 14
origins. Perseus also encounters one of the
first major sea monsters in Greek mythology. After slaying Medusa, Perseus
passes Ethiopia where he sees the princess Andromeda chained to a rock, about
to be sacrificed to appease a monster. Farly literary sources do not describe the
monster in detail, but its name. Cetus, also means 4
vhale. Perseus slays the
43

44

Uhe tact that images of monsters are scarce in Paleolithic and Neolithic art, and that
such images became widespread with the emergence of early cities and states in
the
Near East about fi e millennia ago, lends support to this primary theme underlying
stories of heroes tighting monsters.
The Gorgons ere either children or grandchildren of Gaia, depending on
the vari.ant.
\lso. [lelienistic .ercionsif the myth av that \ledusa was a lovely young woman
turned into a hideous Gorgon for angering \thena and as thus not one of the original
Gorgons.
Cetus and other i monsters of Greek myth represent not only the chthonic connection
(given their serpent-like bodies) hut also the dangers of the sea and ea travel.
Because
Pcrseus, \ndromeda, Cassiopeia, and een Cetus sere, according to myth, turned
Into con-teliations at their deaths, a detailed erdon ot their story appears in one of
the les.er-kno n Roman epic poems, Marcus Maniliuss .-4trouonuca
(first century
CF) Manilius includes a lengthy digression to explain the origin of the constellation
114

Rotc

Ji:\t

t\I)

cI\o 1111 UO\1Iu)11s

I bus, wielding the emblem ot a 1 ivi I ized (that is,


cretu i e with his sword
nwtalw )rking) culture, [erseus proves himself a worthy defender of society.
I wm Medusas severed neck the winged horse Pegasus was born, a hbrid
reature that w s, some\ hat ironically, instrumental in killing another h brid
reature the C hirnaera. One of Fvphoeuss man offpring, the firebreathing
she-rn nuter had three heads: those of a lion, a goat, and a snake.i the creature was
ra aging the countryside around Lvcia (in Anatolia), until the hero l3ellerophon,
atter taming Pegasus, flew on the stallion to Lvcia and killed the Chimaera with
\gain a hero sa e- society from a monstrous female hybrid remnant of
arrow
die oarlv femaledominated generations of the cosmos. Pegasus himself, though a
hybrid, was evidently considered by the Greeks to be a wondrous winged horse
rilher than a horrifying deformity, as so many of the other hybrid creatures of
myth were like the Olympian descendants of Gaia who rebelled against their
hthonic ancestors, Pegasus. also a descendant of Gaia, helped conquer another
representative ot the old order -but only after being himself domesticated and
manipulated by a male hero for this purpose
1 he deeds of Perseus and f3ellerophon seem minor, how ever, in comparison
with those of Heracles, best known for his twelve Lahors F-leracles was not only
physically stronger than any other hero of Greek myth; he esperienced more
hardships, more tortures, and faced more monstrous creatures than any of the
others, partially because the goddess I lera bore an unusually strong grudge
against him. Even in Heracless infancy Hera tried to kill him but, already
exhibiting prodigious strength, Heracles strangled the snake she placed in his crib.
this childhood incident was only a miniature predictor of the monstrous battles
to come. Assigned the twelve Labors to atone for killing his wife and children
which he did in a f-it of madness brought on by HeraHeracles faced increasingly
incredible obstacles; his tasks became more fantastical as they moved farther and
iarther from mainland Greece.
l-lei-acless first six Labors were confined to the Peloponnese, the landmass that
oImprisec southern Greece. Here his job was to clear the countryside of the various
monstrous creatures that were killing herds and inhabitants alike Most of these
creatures were basically exaggerated versions of known animals; 1-leracless Labors
would get more fantastical when he left the Peloponnese, presenting the familiar
trope that creatures become more monstrous as we move further from the heart
of cP ditation, his first task was to sae the region of Nemea from a monstrous
lion, a cave-dwelling offspring of fvphoeus sent purposely by Hera. this huge
rtattires hide was imper ious to weapons, so Heracles had to strangle it with his

\iid romeda i5538e 15). For a detailed terarr anal\ i., see Paul \ In rgatro 1, , I ,iiuea/
\ flew o: 0 t-ieai Lit, rju, (London: Put kworth fltiE), pp 1 4 ( I.
\tt, is the I 1 and 2fl I I turns (7ii , i
,,uld ha
in hcIic e, fs es ro-inp
.

\Itdusa s head.
Or, in some ariants, P e tr( nt p iris ot a lion the middle of a
snako
\w ording to I lesiod, P gasus as c en favorite ot the Muws
it ro

LI

goat,

and the tail of a

Ti-ir ASTIGATE

RLsL,4RCH C0iuPANI0N TO MOqSTERS


AND THE MONSTROUS

bare hands. After saving Nemea, Heracles proc


eeded to the neighboring region of
Lerna to confront the swamp-dwelling, multi-hea
ded snake known as the Hydra,
a daughter of 3
Tvph9
oeus. Hera had sent this creature, too, as a threa
t to F{eracles.
In addition to destroying the countryside, the Hyd
ra represented an actual danger
associated with stagnant pools in that it breathed
noxious fumes, fouling the air.
1-leracles tried cutting off its heads, but to his dism
ay every severed head grew back
until he hit upon the strategy of cauterizing each
neck stump. Gilmore comments:
The Hydras monstrosity consisted not only in
its multi-cephalic nature but also
in
its ability to grow back its nine heads when lopp
ed off by humans. But its
monstrosity consisted also in its association with
the chthonic.
Heracless other Peloponnesian Labors also brou
ght him up against unusually
dangerous anirnals. Then IHieracless Labors
became increasingly bizarre the
farther he traveled from mainland Greece, goin
g first to Crete, then Thrace, then
Scythia in the east before heading to the far 52
west. There, in the Garden of the
Hesperides, he had to kill Ladon, another giga
ntic, multi-headed serpent, guardian
of the Golden Apples. Heracless last Labor was
the most fantastical of all: he had to
fetch Cerberus, the watchdog of Hades. Another
monstrous offspring of Typhoeus,
Cerberus had 50 heads, according to 5
Hesi3
od, but only three according to most
other ancient 5
sour4
ces. Some writers and a number of vase paintings
also gave the
monstrous hound a snakes tail and snaky head
s jutting from his back, cementing
his association with the chthonic worldas if
being guardian of Hades were not
enough to do so. In Figure 4.3, for example, Hera
cles presents the monstrous dog
to the cowardly Eurystheus, who has taken refug
e in a large storage jar.
55 Heracles,
depicted with his traditional attributes, the club
and lion 55
skin, holds Cerberus
rather loosely on a leash while the dog, jaws agap
e, leaps forward. Note the snakes
emanating from Cerberuss heads and limbs.
Having successfully completed all his Labors,
Heracles had made the Greek
countryside and the world safer for mankind
. Lurking under his story, as with
those of other heroes, we find the same basic pair
of themes: first, of the younger,
male generation overthrowing representatives
of the older, female generation, as
..

49

50
51
52
3

54
55

56

The exact number of heads attributed to the Lernae


an Hydra varies widely
or six up to 100.
Gilmore, Monsters, p. 40.

from five

These Labors were the Erymanthian Boar; the


Ceryneitian Hind; the Horses of the
Augean Stables (or, more specifically, their
dung); and the Stvmphalian Birds.
These Labors were the Cretan Bull; the Mares
of Diomedes; the Belt of the Amazon
Queen Hippolyta; and the Cattle of Geryon,
near Gibraltar.

Theogonti 312.
See Woodford, Images of \4ths in Classical Antiqu
itu, pp. 1745, for discussion of the
number of Cerberuss heads as represented in
Greek art.
Eurvstheus, a king of Mvceneae and cousin of
Heracles, was in charge of assigning the
hAeke I aburs. After Heracles killed
his own wife and children in a Hera-induced fit of
madness, the Delphic oracle required the hero
to serve Eurystheus for twelve years.
Heracles wears the skin of the Netnean lion, retlecti
ng his own dual nature as a creature
of society but also as a creature of superhuman
strength and brutality.
116

REJECTING 4ND IBR.4CING THE Mox.isIRoLls

Figure 4.3

Heracles has captured Cerberus. Caeretan black-figure


hydria
attributed to the Eagle Painter, circa 525 BCE. Note
the snakes
emanating from Cerberuss heads.

many of the threats which Heracles faces are female or chthon


ic in their nature; and
second, the notion that the farther one goes from Greece, the
more barbaric, alien,
and monstrous the creatures that inhabit those far lands.
In between his Labors, Heracles participated in the hero
Jasons quest for
the Golden Fleece, a voyage that demonstrated once again
that the farther from
Greece the heroes traveled, the stranger their 7
adventures. The same was true of
Eheseus, who fought highway robbers on the road to Athens
but the Minotaur on
the island of Crete. The Theseus myth cycle arose relatively
late compared to other
Greek hero myths, having developed in the late sixth
century BCE as a political
7

The Argonauts were headed to Colchis on the far shore of the Black
Sea and encountered
first giants and then the Harpies before coming up agains
t fire-breathing bulls and
a giant serpent guarding the Fleece. The Harpies (Snatchers)
were hybrid female
monste

rs from the pre-Olvmpian generations described variously


as birds ith the
faces of women or women ith the ings and talons of birds
of prey. See discussion
below on Vergils Aeneid.
117

Fii .1cHC4 EL

RLSEIRCH C)El t\Ic)\ 10

\1LR 1\D IHI l0\TR0US

reflection of the Athenians desire to hae


their osn local hero in contrast to the
pan-Hellenic hero l1eracles. The rnth at inces
tuous fbeban hero Oedipus, unlike
that of Theseus, developed earlybefore the
eighth century BCE. The presence
of the Sphinx in the story, however, is gene
rally agreed to be a later development.
Vase paintings showing Oedipus with the
Sphinx are mainly fifth century BCE and
later, as is much of the literature narrating Oedi
puss encounter with the creature.U
The Sphinx (Strangler), mythologically vet
another of the monstrous, hybrid
offspring of Typhoeus, had the face of a wom
an, the body of a lion, and the wings
of a bird of prey. Sent down to a mountain
near Thebes to punish the city for the
pedophiliac crime of its former king Laius,
the Sphinx ravaged the countryside
around Thebes and killed any passers-by who
could not answer her famous riddle.
This made Thebes a rather unpopular desti
nation. Oedipus saved the city by
solving the riddle of the Sphinx, resulting in
her suicide. Oedipus, in some ways
the ideal rational and clever Greek hero, beste
d a monster that, like many others,
represented the less rational, more enigmati
c, more emotional female.
Perhaps the most detailed literary episodes of
heroes encountering monsters occur
in Greek and Roman epic poetry, particular
ly Homers Odysseij and Vergils Acneid.
Odysseuss journey homeward from Troy
starts off relatively realistically, with a raid
on a coastal town inhabited by the Cicones,
a tribe of men allied with King 2
Priam.
Similarly, his encounter with the Lotus-Eaters
is quite strange and disturbing, but not
entirely outside the realm of the possible.
From there, however, the progress of the
heros journey belongs to the realms of the
fantastic. Odysseus and his ships arrive
at the island of the Cyclopes, whom he desc
ribes as a race with no laws, no organized
society of any kind; worse, they show no
concern for each 4
other. The gigantic,
58

The myth may also reflect a shift in the cente


r of poer in the Mediterranean from
the Minoan society On Crete to the Mycenea
n and Athenian societies on the mainland
(Harris and Platzner, Classical 1ytiwlo,sy,
p. 299). Eheseus as a mythological character
does appear in earlier Greek literature but
is not specifically associated with Athe
ns
until the late sixth century BCE. On the possib
le origins of Theseus, see Henry). Walker,
Tizescus and Athens (Oxford: Oxford Universit
y Press, 1999), pp. 915.
99 See, for example, Odyssey 1127180.
that is, the myth of Oedipuss having killed
his
father and married his mother s as known
before the eighth century BCE, as these lines
make clear.
60 The Sphinx began to appear in Greek
art in the orientalizing period of the late
eighth
and seventh centuries BCE, hen Near Eastern
hybrid creatures gained popularity
in the Greek imagination. Early Greek
depictions of the Sphinx show her appa
rently
raping or killing young men; the Sphinx also
appearc as a decoration on grave steles in
Greece. See Emily Vermeule, A,petc of Death
in Earlij Greek At and Pedro (l3erkelev, I
as
Angeles, london: Univ ersit\ of California
Press, 1970) pp. 171
61 There are fes detailed literan desc
riptions of the Fheban Sphinx in ancient
literature.
One appears in the (
cclipu at the Roman playwright Seneca
4
(first century CE), lines
9 100.
Ehe Cicones lived on the south vetem
coast at Chrace,
t3 R J. Clare, Representing \4enstros
itv: Pal, phemus in the Odzrc.,eu, in Athe
rton ed
ienters nid A iozzstrozt:i, pp. 117, at 1.
64
Olziei ails
.

118

RE JEC rF\ C

F \1 BR

CI.\ U 1111

1 RVHS

oneeved Cvclopes lix e in caves on


mountaintops, and Odvsceus stresses
their lack
ot the technolog usually associate
d with advanced civilizations: not
only do they
not build ships. but they are pre-ag
ricultural/ When the Cx clups Polvphem
us finds
Odysseus in his cax e, his actions prov
e even more monstr

ous than his appearance:


seizing two of Odysseuss men,
he smashes their brains out on the
ground, and
then devours them, feasting on
their entrails and flesh and marrow
filled bones, /
lea ing nothing. The C dopes lack
of advanced technology is also apparen
t when
Odysseus and his remaining crew sail
away Polyphemus tears away the
top of a
huge mountain and hurls it at the ship
s, barely missing.
the next monstrous race which
Odysseus and his men encoun
ter is the
I aestrygones. This tribe appears to
he more advanced than the Cyclopes
because
they have a citadel, city, and society,
ruled by a king. But they, too, are
giga
ntic,
as tall as a 6
mountain-top, and when Odysseu
ss men are summoned to the
kings presence, he immediately eats
one of them. The Laestrygones, hur
ling huge
boulders from the cliffs, destroy
all but one of Odysseuss ships. Like
the Giants
fighting the Olympiansa similarity
Odysseus points outand like Pol
yphemus,
the Laestrvgones do not have the
technology to produce advanced 6
weapon
9
s. And
the presence of a social hierarchy does
not guarantee xvhat the Greek con
sidered
civilized behavior: the farther awa
y one goes from Greece, the more
barbaric and
monstrous the races. After their unf
ortunate encounters with the Cycl
opes and the
[aestrygones, Odysseuss crew use
these episodes as warnings to Ody
sseus not to
he too curious to explore, as when
he wants to investigate Circes islan
d.
With Circe, Odysseuss adventu
res become increasingly fantastic.
The
enchantress turns Odysseuss men
into swinethough it should he
noted that she
considers men to be savages and give
s them a form to fit her opinion. Alte
r making
65

Charles

Segal, Divine Justice in the C)diseij:


Poseidon, Cyclops, and Helios, [he
American Journal of Philoloy 113/ (199
4
2), pp. 489518, at 495, explains

that the Cyclopes


make their appearance in an unstable
conjunction of opposites. Ehey occu
py both a
Golden Age paradise where trusting
to the gods they receive the earths fruit
s xx ithout
toil, and a subhuman condition of dwelling
in mountain cax es with only a rudim
entary
social organization and isolated nuclear
families (9.10615). Odysseus arrival
brings
out the negatix e side of their primitive
society, for just this lack of concern
for one
another prevents them from com

ing to Polyphemus aid (ct. 9.399412)


PoIx phemus,
in other xords, crystallizes the sava
ge side of the Cvclopes preciviliz
ed world. See
also Cohen, vIonstr Theory,
14.
)nieij 9.2921. Note that,p. altho
ugh this is anthropophagy, it is
not necessarily
cannibalism since the Cdops is not
eating his oxxn kind. [he same is
true ot the
[aestrygones. below.
...

67
68
09

70

Odiscij 10,113.
c)di,seu 10.12022.
But thex have spears of ome sort:
piercing the men hke rish, the carri
ed them ax,n
for a 06 less least (10 124) -josless
from Odx sseus s point ot view,
that is. [he phrase
corns to refer either tn lishing spears
r o roasting spits.
Modem audiences might consider
Circe a type nf monster, or at least
consider her
hehax ior monstrous. The Greeks cons
idered her dangerous because he
wa a witch,

119

THE A5HGAFE RESEARCH C0AIPANION TO MONS


TERS AND THE MONSTROUS

Figure 4.4

Scylla. Etruscan cinerary urn, circa second centu


ry BCE.

peace with Odysseus, however, she turns his crew


back into men and helps direct
them home, advising them on how to visit Hade
s to speak with the seer Teiresias
and warning them against the dangers that they
will later encounter: the Sirens and
Scylla and Charybdis. Homer does not physicall
y describe the Sirens and the text
gives us no reason to think of them as bird-like.
But post-Homeric tradition gives
them a genealogy and claws so that even now
they are thought of as monstrous,
dangerous, hybrid, cliff-dwelling female creat
ures that lure men to their deaths
with beguiling 1
song. In addition to reflecting the male/fem
ale conflict that we
but also referred to her as a goddess or as a nymph.
Odysseus refers to her as an
amazing deity with a human voice (Odt/ssei 11.8).
As Odysseus bests her with some

71

help from the god Hermes, the encounter betwee


n Circe and Odysseus does relate
to the overall pattern of Olympian-generation male
overcoming chthonic-connected
female. Circe also lives isolated on an island, fitting

the topography of monsters.


Bremmer, Monsters en fabeldieren in de
Griekse cultuur,
p. 4, suggests the
association of Sirens with birds may hae come
from

Egypt, and from Egyptian and


Creek depictions A the soul as a small winged
creature, but it is also possible that
they became associated in Greek thought with
the F-Iarpies (on which, see below).
For a detailed literary analysis of the Sirens,
see Murgatrovd, Mi,thicnl Monsters, pp.
120

REJUCIING tD EcII3RICING THE MOIcS


TRVUS

hose seen before, the Sirens also, perhaps more mundanely, repre
sent the dangers
i sea travel and this episode points out how sailors must not allow
themselves to
be distracted.
emphasizes the Sirens voices rather than their
appearance, hut in warning
Circe
od\ cseus about Scvlla, she describes the creature in great
physical detail. Scvlla is
baneful monster dwelling in a cave very high in
a cliff. Her voice sounds like
puppies yelping. Worse:

She iia twelze fret, all splaijetl out,


and si.x serpentine necks, on each a terrifying head
ci ozidcd with three thick rows oJ teeth
teemin with black death.
Front her waist she lies hidden in her hollowed catern
,
bitt stretching out her heads from the dreadful dwellin
g
she fishes there, glancing greedilii around the rock
s.
In this earliest literary description of Scvlla,
the monster has six snaky heads
emanating from her upper torso. In later depi
ctions in both literature and art, the
snaky heads emerge from her waist. In Figu
re 4.4, for example, a relief sculpture
on an Etruscan cinerary urn depicts Scylla with
vast snaky limbs comprising her
entire lower body, reaching out and grasp
ing passing sailors. The yelping
alludes to the tradition of Scyllas heads bein
g those of dogs, as also depicted in
later art and tm
literature. Despite Scyllas obvious connectio
ns to the chthonicher
cave, her snaky necksOdysseus does not vanq
uish her, hut instead loses six of
his men, having followed Circes advice to
pass closer to Scylla than to Charybdis,
described as an immense whirlpool sucking
in the sea and spewing it forth again.
An encounter with Charybdis would have
destroyed his entire ship. In this

72

3
4
3

4156, which examines the Sirens not only


in classical literature but also in medieval,
Renaissance, and later authors.
In ancient Greece, particularly in the archaic period
(eighth to early fifth centuries
BCE), serious concern about and aversion to the
hardships and dangers of seafaring
as a normal Greek attitude. See ML. West, Heciod
: horks and E)ns (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1978), pp. 31314.
Odysei, 12.8995.
In Vergils Aeniid, for example, Scvlla has a hum
an face and a maidens breasts, hut her
lower body is that of a sea monster, with a womb
of wolves (3.4268).
cvlla, along with other scenes from the Odiseii, was
5
a popular motif on cinerary urns
throughout the Ilellenistic period in Etruria.
\lythologicallv, Scvlla and Charybdis
were thought to inhabit the Straits of Messina by
Sicily, south of Etruria. See Richard Dc
Puma, The Tomb of Fastia Velsi from Chiusi, Etrusc
an Studies 1111(2008), pp. 13549.
A noteworthy artistic example is the Scvlla sculp
ture group (first century CE) from
Sperlonga, Italy, which depicts Scvlla with the
face of a woman hut with dogs heads
on nakv necks emanating from her waist. Severa
l unlucky sailors are caught in the
dogs laws. The sculpture group is very crowded,
however, and the details not easily
distinguished in images of the type reproduce
d in this chapter.

121

IHE SFIGt7E RFsF4Iujf COUPAs1O

TO

MOysi-ERS l\D

THE

MOSrROfb

instance, the dangers posed by the sea


or b female sexualityoverwhelm the
theme of male dominance.
The other hero who encounters monsters
on his way from [roy is Aeneas, as
he flees his destroyed city for Italy, In
the Strophades islands in the Ionian Sea, he
and his men encounter the Harpies, than
which there is no monster more dire
.
Aeneas describes the Harpies maidenly
faces but adds that they have:
a most disgusting disdiarge from their bellies,
clazeed hands, and faces always rale with hung

er.

Ehe Harpies are also filthy and emit a horri


ble odor. The description of discharge
dripping from their bellies suggests men
strnation, and the monsterization of this
essential female function is an even more
blatant expression of fear of the feminine
than Vergils descriptions of Scvlla and Char
ybdis, whom Aeneas and his crew go
on to avoid, just barely, after driving away
the Harpies.
Vergils epic describes mans other mon
sters, most notably the two vast serpents
that strangle Laocon and his sons, and
the various nightmarish creatures whic
h
Aeneas sees in Hades. In short, Gree
k and Roman hero myths contain a
grea
t
profusion of monstrous beings, most
of which demonstrate the same prev
alent
general themes: the male must overcom
e the female and various representatives
of
her chthonic origins; and the male mus
t control nature and replace disorder with
order, chaos with culture.

Monstrous Races and Unnatural Animal


s
Greek myths tell of various monstrous
races such as the Cyclopes and Laestrygo
nes,
the giant, man-eating tribes mentione
d above. Other monstrous races of class
ical
mythology are mostly animalhuman
hybrids such as the Tritons, half-hum
an
ea beasts; the satyrs and cilenoi, lustf
ul horse-men associated with the
god
77

78
7Q

00

01

For an extended discussion of Scylla as a proto


type for the zagina den tata, see s1illers
essay in this volume. Charvhdis, too, is
a frightening depiction of female sexu
ality: a
giant. de ouring black hole.
leneid 3 214.
leneid 321618.
flte more usual interpretation is that foed
rsima ventrisproluzzes (3.21617), a mos
t foul
discharge from the belly, refers to excremen
t, because of the Harpies constant hunger
(see N.Jicholas Horsfall, Urgil, Aene
id 3: A Cainmentari [Leiden: Brill,
20061, pp. 1878).
But tenter was an extremely common Latin
word for womb as e1l as belly in
the
late Republic and early Imperial period, and
proIuriLs often meant flood, and did not
e\clusivelv refer to discharge from
the bowels.
See also Millers esav in this volume, whic
h discusses the association of female fertil
ity
ith monstrosity.
122

Rip.

n G ifl

wi.

i\c. I u

\1

.i& uj..

1) uPs ,U. mci the ,entaurs, hilt human Ii ill h re hsbri I.. Hut
in iddition to
mi tholagic at dnrit . ts 0 li.is. sarina cthntgraphial a count nrite
n hi Creeks
.sho trai clod to flras as p1 ias mci sn t pndrou, .ghb
u heard im wing
rqnwr, aid r<i riled them. Sttph ii sma pI.iin.
.
e pkrer. oldier.. intl
ft idi r. pe.letr ited ,ft inge tin Is tlits absorbed Inc ii It tends md
encountered
.iataniiliar reature. bi inqing .111 thir. hat k to urh in t,rocs.e
and Rome. .\. in the
mi thokgkal is counts of hero jcsurntss, these rc ii icxoun
t of cthnographer.
uid historians de.a nbc raw. that ite tranqer. mi re hit hark
, cs. human md
Its,. hum mold the farther ass .ms from (,reat one tr.msels. \k.t
ancknt Creeks
and Romans ..on idernd all human ethnic gisup. other than
theii own to be
barbarians. tim it is. It... th,rlited. And. a .\.ma put it
the literature of the
ant ientc res eats tcintinuuin of degree., is herth rate. at
men decline further
and tut thor ass as Ire m their c thnecenlric starting place.
I or esample. foreign
iaces on 11w fringes of the Greek world such a. the
I hracians md Sci thians to
the north and eat or the Lqs ptians to the ,niith, have
ditfercnt custom. and
different pIn ical features from the Greks but ire not
nmonctrous farther away
race. that the (,rec$.s .ass rarely (or net at alh are much more
.trangt. deformed,
mud overall pIn 4ologically 3
unhkel it not impo sible such is the rates farther
auth in I itna and farther at in India. It .eem. that
the Greek. sublimated
nman instinctise fears in he monsters c t their nn ths.
but hei also rationall.d
those Fears in another. non m thological torni is ith their itc reaing
lv enaggerated
dcscnptions of monstrous raas md animals ni .tnt is
Inch tImes nnai,ined tetise
.vn tar

144.15.

The historian and ethnogsapher I h.rndotu.. (econd halt at


the fifth centuus
BC. F) pros ides in hi I U.tt e Dine of the earliest decriptic
n. of fantastic races,
recording neart even thing he .a. told thnuqh he rema
in bights keptical Tar
sample, regarding tales of a one-eyed race at m n in northe
rn
thia known
as rima.pians he remarks. I dont belies.. oncesed ,ime ii e*it. Sc>
Similarts, lie
remarks, doWt belie C in a race ot goat footed ncn
or reportc of m race c I men
nf

satin .scrc cuncns:d ci as I itt lcr.e halt.nan nit ditterng frcm


..entaur. in hismg
taenfiaIl human farm ith ant a h
i,,.. Lit nd poir%d . an. fl caionalh .atyr.
1
ncre clepk ttd s th gct it
i..
steph..n I A.ma C)., .Slnpg4 . is II,
U ... e
.ec\tord: c%rnre.

st

;p I%_

2ifi)

r r

Ih,i p in
tie:nf.iz. ctfen nit re. h.

14

.jflpce tiom tnt ., n

is

,ir

iinl
arid cc I

...r.

,, ,

5?,

ut
liii uiornat ii nih i crc m. ng
I. .1, tIer data,. .nd ft ii :gn I aiid.
,.

in ,,iacn I\satd an.l JuIn \larip..oh ,cd) : c..r.h;%t C %n ti


iCai Lndge C rnbidge I. psc ts,ts Ire- 1 fli
pp. lwi-Vfl
Ra.tcitU.tk.ncr . i,. * l.e f.m.. 5
0. ill ti 111 trv I o
t
n.tti,

viq

,.c.rn,Ic .I,,,.idI .t,t,

He,,,,ic.n iult
AMa c c cell m..,

2(7j.p 41

Jf.fl
ii.:. us

31i rp I

Sit

Ii.c%. tin
,q fi. i
.

.1 lt. I
: ;.
I

I
1

,.

ki

,,

,t

n as;d .5litii, 5ian Ii no aid


p, (h,f, id. c )fcud 1. mitt tv Prt.q
,

TilE ASHG1 TE RESEARCH Co1PAxioN FO MON


STERS IND 1 HE A4o\rSTR OtiS
who sleep for six months out of the 98
year. And in recording the existence in easte
rn
Africa of races of dog-headed men and headless
men with eyes in their breasts, he
cautions the reader: at least, thats what the Liby
ans say. Hearing a Scythian
belief that a tribe called the Neuri are werewolv
es, Herodotus comments: they do
not convince me that such things are 9
true.

Herodotuss Histories also contains desc


riptions of fabulous animals. He
seems less skeptical when describing the
gold-digging ants of India, smaller
than dogs but larger than 1
foxes; Arabian flying 2
snakes; and gold-guarding
griff1
9
ins. The gold-digging ants are, in fact, one
of the most famous Herodotean
mirabilia
9
4
. Uhe story of these ants continued to
be enlarged and modified by
subsequent authors and enjoyed great succ
ess in antiquity until the late Roman
period. Herodotus has followed here a moti
f centered on the theme of a treasure
guarded by fabulous animals and the dang
ers which its theft might involve, and
in keeping with tradition the Greeks set such
legends in the furthest regions of
the known world. Similar motifs also exist
ed in other literatures of the ancient
world: the Indian epic Mahabharata, for exam
ple, mentions the pipillika (gold of
the ants) in relation to northern
In fact, Herodotus also remarks that both
the animals and birds of India are much large
r than anywhere 97
else. India, as one
of the farthest-known countries from Gree
ce, was the source of much fascination
in the West. The first separate Greek treat
ise on India appeared in the late fifth
!
early fourth century BCE, written by Ctes
ias of Cnidos, a Greek doctor at the
court of the Persian king Artaxerxes II. Ctes
ias wrote his Indika mainly to record
Persian beliefs about India, and the work
survives only in fragments included
in later authors, many of whom doubt
his credibility but record the fascinating
tales anyway. Even these few fragments
contain far too many descriptions of
88
89

Herodotus 4.25.1.
Ibid. 4.191.4. The emphasis here and below is
in the original Greek.
90 Ibid. 4.105.2. See also Ashen et al.,
Cornmentart, pp. 656, 71314, for discussion
of the
Neuri.
91 Herodotus 3.102.
92 Ibid. 3.1078.
93 Ibid. 3.116. Throughout his Histories,
Herodotus alternates between being highly logic
al
and astonishingly credulous. For discussion
, see James Romm, Herodotns (New Haven
and London:

93
95
96
97
98

Yale University Press, 1998),


13247. Flerodotus also mentions these
griffins at 4.13 and 4.27. On griffins in the pp.
ancient Greek and Roman world, see Asm
a,
On Monsters, pp. 2730; and Mavor,
Flie First Fossil Hunters,
pp. 1552. For more on
Herodotuss descriptions of animal and
human monsters, see Van Duzers essay in
this
volume.
Ashen et al., Conrnentan, p. 498,

Ibid., pp. 4989. He notes that the motif of the


gold-guarding ants was picked up in the
Middle Ages, for example, in the epistle of
Prester John to Fredenik II.
Ibid., p. 499. Given the date of composi
tion of the Mahahharata (late fifth century BCE),
it is possible, thou

gh unlikely, that Herodotuss story influ


enced the Indian version.
Herodotus 3.106.
As Van Duzer also points out, Ctesias did
not himself travel to India.
124

Rigcrna; 4%f) E%IBR tcl\G lilt AhmsrRo


hls

rnon,lrOiP, races and animals to li4 here, but they certainly


agree with Herodotus
it inskting that the animals and birds of India are unusually large.
Ctesiac
twrds among other immense creatures, roosters ot enormou
s size, dogs so
huge that thei light with lions, sheep and goats larger than asses,
and a worm at
lea%t se en tuhits long (circa twel e feet). But it is the monstrou
sh
3 bnd animals
and binrre races ot men that received the most attention.
Besides mentioning the
gi4d guarding griffins familiar from Herodotus, Ctesias gives
us the flrct extant
dc% riptiun of the manticore (martkhora, man-eater), which
has a human face,
n the in at a lion, and is red like cinnabar:

It has three iv.es of teeth, human eats, and light blue eyes
like a man s It
has a tail like a land ccoqnon ott which there is a stinger motr
than a cubit
long. It also has tingers on either side of the tail as well ac
on the end like a

scorpion

...

But the most extensive surviving fragments of Ctesias


are devo
dog-headed men, mentioned briefly by Ilerodotus but given ted to the race of
the full treatment in
the lndika. Known as the Cynocephaloi (Dog-headed),
this race has larger teeth
than dogs and daws that are similar but larger and more
rounded, and tails that
ire just above the rear end, like that of a dog in addi
tion to their dog 2
heads.
[hey live in caves In the mountains, communicate by howlin
g
and
making
gestu
in
and live by hunting. Ctesias also describes people who
laiR necks and have eyes
i their shoulders, and the Monocoli (One-legged),
a race who have one leg but
show amazing agility by jumping. These same men are
also called the Sciapodes
because when it is hot, they lie on the ground on their
back and shade themselves
with their feet These races all live on the fringes of
civiliz
ed society and, in

c Andrew Nichols. The Complete rmgm


nt if Ctesias of Cdduc Tran4ation and
Commentary with an Intn,drn twit, unpublished PhD
dissertation, University of Florida,
2008, pp.111-25.
11$) Nichols, Complete Fraqments, pp. III and li6-17.

101 Jbid.,p.l1l.
102 IbId., 1
p. 13. Also see Steels esa in this volume for eitended diswsckn of medieval
accounts and images of Cynocephaloi.
103 See Nichols, Complete Fnvgnients, pp. 113 14 and
121-2: also fames S. Romm, The Ede.
of the Earth in Ancient Thought rairii4y frcpieratioi,
and Fietion (Prin,.eton: Princeton
Universih Press, 1992), pp. 7781.
ji)
fhe &iapodes(%hade-footed or Shady-feefl were also
described by an earlier writer,
Sq lax of Carvanda (fifth century BCE),
isha according to later sources recorded that
the Sdapodes hase iery broad feet and at midday
they drop to the ground, stretch
their feet out above them, and give themselves Jiade.

Stylax
other .$range marvels similarly recorded by Ctesias (Nichols,abc wrote of countless
Complete Fraqments, pp.
116 and 125: see also

Wittkosser, Manels of the Fast,


hO). It is pos.ibleperhaps
even likely that many of these acount. arose througp.
h mhinterpretatlon of Indian
stoiie. Various Indian epics for eiample, contain a
legend about the Ages of lan,
is herein the lengths of the Ages decrease along with
righteouwn and men gross

125

ilL

lSHr

IL

Ri

ii

Coii

4\1O It)

clO\ Ii

Rs 1\D 1111

,Io,ss (POlls

lk wild areas such as


addition to being geographtcall\ distant, li\ in topographica
caves, lacking the basics ot culture.
races and t iuna,
The Greek fascination s ith India, partk ubarlv n tb its bizarre
e\pedi tions Of
ing
the
rolIo
BCE
even more intene in the fourth century
d
and idded to
change
E
B(
326
\lexander the Great, shose ins asion of India in
those who
by
n
do
passed
atIon
the Western conception of the country. Inform
of arious
orEs
the
into
accompanied lexander on his c impaigns made itc way
Greek
lonian
an
BCE),
290
390
riters, including the [;idiia of \Iegasthenes (circa
a
ragupt
Chand
king
indian
ho went on se oral emba-o.ies to the ourt of the
Indika
s
thenes
viegas
e,
Phough marred b his credulous acceptance ot tolktal
the i1cxaidtr Rania;ic
provided the fullest account of India vet and, along with
the source for many
e
by PseudoCal1isthenes (circa third century BCE), becam
d much of ts hat
repeate
centuries for Western knots ledge of India. \Iegasthenes
to the list
erably
Flerodotus and Ctesias had already said, but added consid
t mouths,
withou
men
ith wings like bats;
of oddities, writing of serpents
flo ers;
and
truit
of
es
who lived on the smell of roasted meat and the perfum
ce
Roman
der
Alexan
and people with no nostrils, among others, Similarly, the
and
s
human
us
attaches to Alexander a number of encounters with fabulo
ephaloi and men
creatures in distant regions, hich, in addition to the Cynoc
six feet long,
pincers
ith no heads, included a crab the size of a mans torso with
race was
aded
and three-eyed lions. Wittkower notes that the belief in a dog-he
ha;ata
\1ahab
in
the
known in all parts of \sia, and that one-esed races appear
ic.
barbar
ered
and other Indian epics. where they were apparently also consid
races
us
fabulo
of
Nevertheless, it was the classical conception ot India as a land
the wa into the
and marvels that kept its hold on the Furopean imagination all
by tra, elers
reports
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, until tar more accurate
Jndia.m
made it impossible to maintain the old views about
.

hildren at age ten and


smaller in taturo and their Hfe.pan contract-, until they leget
174hi, C Eesas tell., of an
051/
.u;i
C
r-k,t,al:
pp
t,
at
Ii
(nest,
haired
re whiten are born
Indian tribe having eight digits on each hind nd loot, and rshose childre
01 \Ian
_\gco.
t
the
-ton
rical
metaph
the
(ward
white hair 1ra elers may lia e
n

ith

and taken it as in account 01 a real rave


rk survives onl in Iragments
1115 As u ith the u ritinis of Cte..ias, \Iegastheness
eral diffwent nanx:
piccer td in later iuthors. For I, hindu urta. he (ow k-. had
6 i v mae \an
in
r
chopto
hi
In
ttus
andrks ptos Sanin Kottos md \iidrrc
,
nO
n.
[Im er u-Ls andrc
,l se pp 1922 on
11)6 Se tVittkouer ,Iarsrl, of the b t p in2 (SO \ma Oim
hir ariousroccs
the
names
ing
Alexanders Cr counters ith mon-trous irumols. Regard
Llcrodtus icr
mhev
do.
here
nor
namepm
ha e been tollun ing he urce-, zi\ no
m a namu IS
ue
it
not
1
does
hut
lee
cub
the
to
cloP
xample, uses nr ceph
I tesiac, I ha e tolloms ed \0hoIs
,r
F,
tHan,
S.
mni
0cc
of
\cmir
c-c
posed to

text.
1)7 Murgatrosd, 1:ii 1
itS \\ ittkon cr tare dc
100 lhid,p (64,

ut r- p
the Fact,

REJECTI\G in

E \IBR.-tCl\G

THE

MO\STROIIS

1{omans and Monsters


Ehe Romans of the late Republic and earl Empire adapted the Greek prototypes of
monsters without changing much, just as the Romans adapted the Greek pantheon.
Despite their lack of innovation, however, the Rornans certainly appear to have
been just as entranced by monsters as the Greeks wereif not more so. Thus,
rather than keeping the monstrous at arms length as the Greeks preferred, the
Romans embraced the monstrous and allowed the grotesque and bizarre to spill
oser into every aspect of Roman life Phe Romans were, in short, interested
in what they considered freaks of nature, which included not only monstrous
animals but also what in their view were deformed and thus monstrous humans,
such as dwarfs and hunchbacks. The Romans predilection for the unusual may
have been in part an expression of their expansionist mentality, influenced by the
changing boundaries of the Empire.
The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (first century CE), whom Asma terms
one of the most important characters in the history of rnonsterology,
describes so many monstrous creatures and races in his Natural History that they
cannot all be listed here, though we should note that his work was so influential
that it became one of the main sources for medieval monster lore. Aside
from monsters mentioned by earlier authors such as the manticore, griffin, and
werewolves, Pliny gives us one of the earliest written descriptions of the basilisk,
noting that anyone who looks the creature directly in the eyes immediately dies.
He continues:

it is not more than tzvelve inches long


All other serpents flee at its hiss,
and it does not move firward by means of much coiling as other serpents do,
but proceeds upright with its middle held high. ft destrms plants not only
with its touch but with its breath; it burns up grass and breaks rocks.
...

Other bizarre creatures on Plinys list include the arnphisbaena, an African twoheaded snake; the catoblepas, a monstrous animal the size of a hull, with a horses
mane, and which, like the hasilisk, had a gaze fatal to anyone who met it; and a
tree-climbing octopus that was at home on land as well as in the sea.
6 In cataloging
such creatures, Pliny was not only reflecting the encyclopedic mentality that

110 (irliri A B,,ron, The Srrnrt el the ,1 iu hut Ronzans: The Gladiater iiid tl,e tenter
(Princeton: Princeton Ijniversitv Press, 1993), p. 85.
Ill Ibid., P. 85.
112 Ibid., p. 86.
I 13 Asma, On ,.kmq,rs, p. 33.
114 Wittkower, NIar\ els of the East, p. 166. Also, as Van Duzer notes, Plin s descriptions
of monstrous races sere themselves heavily influenced by (tesias (for example, his
description of the manticore Natural Histort 8.30.79).
119 Natural Hzfar, 8.33.78.
116 On this last, see Camilla Asplund [ngemark, lhe Octopus in the Sewers: An Ancient
I egend Analogue. [ounal f Fe/dare Recarc), 432 (2(1(18), pp. 145.70.

127

TIlE rISHGATE REsEARcH Coii

lO 10 MO\STERS .4D THE MOXSTROLIS

was becoming popular during his time, hut also aiming for that audience ot
Romans interested in the unusual and strange. Increasing curiosity in the world
around them, a result of Roman military and economic expansion, served only
to stimulate rather than modify such interest: the more extraordinary the actual
discoveries, the greater the hope of still more wondrous things to come.
17 Pliny
himself commented: Nature always persuades me, when I observe her, that
nothing about her is impossible to believe.
118
We also have a good example of the Roman interest in hybrids and other
oddities of nature in the Mirabilia of the Greek author Phiegon of Tralles (second
century CE). Phiegons work includes an entire section on monstrous births,
such as a child that had four heads, a child born with a head growing out of its
left shoulder, and a child born with the head of the Egyptian god Anubis (the
head of a jackal). Children with such manifest congenital abnormalities were
often believed to be portents sent by angry gods, which did not bode well for the
children: In Rome a certain woman brought forth a two-headed baby, which
on the advice of the sacrificing priests was cast into the River Tiber.
21 At the
same time, Plutarch, writing in the first and second centuries CE, describes
117 Mary Beagon (trans. and comm.), The Elder Pliny on the Human Animal: Natural History
Book 7 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), p. 17.
118 Natural History 11.2.6.
119 Phlegon of Tralless Mirahilin is probably the most famous classical example of

paradoxography, a genre of literature dealing with abnormal occurrences and


inexplicable phenomena in nature.
120 William Hansen (trans. and comm.), Phiegon of Tralles Book of Marvels (Exeter:
University of Exeter Press, 1996), p. 46. Hansen, p. 151, notes that Persons, mostly

infants, possessing a greater or smaller than usual inventory of extemal body parts
appear very frequently in the list of prodigies compiled by Julius Obsequens (Liber
Prediiorum). Garland, The Eye of the Beholder, pp. 155fl, discusses Aristotles theory,
set forth in his Geueration of Animals, that a fusion of sperm causes such deformities.
Regarding the child with the head of Anubis, Hansen comments (p. 153): Rather than
simply saying that the child had the head of a dog, Phlegon compares it to Anubis
either because the overall image of the childs human body and canine head was most
familiar as that of the mixed-form god Anubis, or because the childs head resembled
that of Anubis specifically in being jackal-like. Moreover, he may have wished to avoid
the word dog-headed, which was somewhat imprecise, since it might be taken as a
reference to the Cynocephaloi.
121 Hansen, Phleon of Frolics Book of Marvels, p. 47. Of course, it was not unusual for
children born with physical disabilities or abnormalities to he exposed in the wilderness
or alloed to die in some other manner, as such children would have been both a
tinancial burden and an embarrassment to their parents (Hansen, p. 150). Hansen (p.
128) addc that the usual term for strikingly abnormal offspring in Greek is teras, from
which derives the modem term teratology, the study of congenital malformations.
ihe Greek teras diftered from the term ektrapeloi, which meant deviants (literally,
turning from the path) and referred to humans whose deformities were not obvious
at birth but who developed abnormally as they grew. As Pliny the Elder notes, there
was no Latin equivalent term for the Greek ektraploi (Natural History 7.16.76).
128

t
Rziic ri

tsD

1113k U I%t. 1111 /1


1o%SIROUS

and it should be added deplores a monstrosities market frequented by the


ho is ould browqe for uch oddities as perd)ns is ithout cals Ls. is ith
uflIudlIsis .hort arms, with three ties, isith n.trith head., and in general for
.re attires ot mixed form. 2 It is unclear 1mm Plutarch s description whether the
hIri%trn.ities Market isa. an .i tual market-place for the busing and *lling of
hunan curiosities or a place for viewing them tor a 1e, much like the freak
.,laows popular in circuses and carnivals in the US in the nineteenth and early
cii entieth centuries. Ancient author. also reported the occa.ional
capture and
public di.plas of fabulnu. being. such as hippocentaurs and Tritons; doubtless
%me ot theM exhibits were instances of erroneous identifIcation or deliberate
tr.ud along the lines of P.1. Barnums Fiji Mermaid. [here isere semi
rrmanent collections of such wonders in sarious temples that basically served
a. museums: in the temple of Athena In legea, har example, iou could see such
mythological wonder. as the skin and tusks of the (alydonian Boar. Other
items on display around the ancient world included gigantic bones; the skeleton
ot the sea monster that threatened Andromeda; and the hair of Medusa (which
had es idently lost its petrifying effect;) In tact, aide from their gladiatorial
gaines, a favorite Roman pastime was the collection of monster artifacts, many of
which were commercial hoaxes, but no matter; they were still status symbols.
Many Roman patrician, were vastly ssealthv and able to afford such rarities and
curiosities. The Roman emperors in particular were avid collectors, not
only
of material curiosities such as giant bones but also of living human odditie
s.
Girland suggests that this is partially because a monster, like an emperor, is
something of a social anomaly, and their exdusion from the world of the ablebodied made the deformed ideal companions and confidants of emperors, a tad
that may have originated with the Egyptian pharaohs) [he Romans interest in
monstrosities may also have been related to their imperialistic tendencies, to the
emperors tier-lengthening quest in a shrInking world Mr something ness and

122
l2

the ft ititon agora (Plutarch, Pr Cu;actitte 10, .also Iloraha 20n.


Plutarch, fl Cia. 4mw 10 and Iloralia 20c; ice al.o Hansen, Phkqfi;r .W I kit Book of
lIa,rI. p. I0; Barton, The Srmas of the A natal Ro.nan%, p. Sb; and (.,arland, flu
Liie of

flit &Iwatr, p.c.


124 Hansen, Psleic.si r nail
. &oA of ll,znvi$, p 1 fl.
1
135 P.f. Barnum tnreampk. provided many human tunu4tie. to hi.
audienus starting in
the 1940, Se also End Browning 192 film Freak% sihidi staired men and women
is ith real deformities and Robert Bogdan. I i7k lu.. l.cuh
iu
t.ld,ta.. c.
4 iifIn .vcn ant Pait (Chkago: L niser.itv of t hicago Pit... IM).
Pt, fikecentaur,acreaturewzththeuppertodi ofahuman andthe
torsoandlegsofa
hare hut di.tingui.hed from the ccntaur of msth, which were a %pedtic ha kid race
from I he#.als fee Hanen, 1%leini of I slits 80t4 .fAfa, .ai. p Irma.
12 Ibid., pp. 19 o Gatand 1% lu ft4i Behold
, p.3
1
5
S Hansen. I ifrqns of Ii1lr Boc* f iIatnI%.
p. l,.
INd .
Gailand, (iv Iic 4k Peh.I.l pp. 34
130 (;ilmcw, II,usta p. 45; ste also Mawr, flp. fi,f Ic.d lIner.,
PP. 230 1.
I 3 Garland, 1.c I iwo ft &hc 1k, p 49.

129

Eui -lsii i r RI1SFARCH

Coios \1Oi

TO MO\STTRS 4isD OlE \TO\SIRO(I

exotic to relieve his aching boredom. u At the same time, we might consid
er wh
uc ourselves find such exhibits fascinating: people still flock to the dinosa
ur halls
in museums and to the mans Ripleys Believe It Or Not exhibitions
around the
country; Diane Arbuss photos of human deviants remain contro
.ersial but
highly popular; and the number of visitors to the Mutter Museum
(of human
pathology) in Philadelphia increases with each passing yearJ

Conclusion
Representations of monsters in the ancient world in both art
and literature
became so common that various ancient authors mocked their
countrymens
obsessions with them.
14 We have already seen Flerodotuss skepticism and
Plutarchs disgust at peoples gullibility and fascination with monste
rs. The Greek
geographer Straho (first century CE) and the Roman grammarian
Aulus Gellius
(second century CE) were also highly critical of such beliefs. The
second-century
CE author Lucian, in his True History, parodies the tales of monstr
ous creatures
and races found in Homer, Herodotus, Ctesias, and other author
s by creating
even more exaggerated creatures and races such as three-h
eaded vultures as
large as horses; birds with grass for feathers and lettuce-leaves for
wings; and
a race of eel-eyed, lobster-faced people, to name only a few)
These creatures
,ucceed as parodies in being hybrids even more bizarre than
those found in
previous authors: animals are mixed with vegetable matter, for
example. Lucian
also places his vastly exaggerated fabulous races at an even farther
distance than
any other ancient author: these races live on the 6
Moon. Lucian, in announcing
up front that the True History is a parody of Homer, Ctesias, and
others, invites
his readers to spot the allusions, exaggerations, and allegories. u
132 [hid., p. 90.
I 3

The Ripleys museum exhibits contain alleged examples and real


documentation of

human freaks, and the Mutter Museum includes such exhibit


s as a plaster cast of
o-oned twins Chang and Eng; skeletons of a giant and a midget
; and a collection of

fatai) baby deformities.

134 (,ilrnore, vloru4erc, p. 37, giving Horace and Vitruiu


s as examples. in iddition o

[.uclan.

139 Interestingly, Lucian, True Hzshry is also one ot the only


works ot fiction from antiquity

that ncludec giant insects and arachnids rather than reptilia


n or animal moncters.
I uJan desLrihes spiders as large as islands, ants 200 feet long,
gigantic mosquitoes,
and fleas the size of twelve elephants. .Although the gold-digging
ants were popular
from I [erodotus on (see aho e). no other vork from antiqui
t\ contains a proliferation
of gigantic insects and arachnids on [ucians wale.
136 n equally large number of strange races and tahulou
s creatures live on the Sun. On
the rnontrous n Lucian, see also Van Duzer- essay.
137 1 ucian, True Hbtory 1 2 4.
138 For a detailed analysis ott ucians True J-Iu.terw as parody and
philosophr, see Aristoula

110

.t.

I.i.

\V

it

,iii \0\.gOiI%

I )e.pit

flit it Wtit g It tL flfl ilk!


diit. t t
(I .1. fl%tII%tl% (I .itittc
d th
1 rj. t pula:itt hi it 1ut t !i qtaI tntiqiitv. F or the
C .vek. and Roman.
t. t.l.:rai 1.. iii .iti 1 ut flheIi .ttN 011(11 t ptse IIielt
.l
nuiet o F t% tnti ii
mt i,u flisIn. s iti h henie. U bl rI, ing H. tori.
,nUaiIiiiiiZ q: iit. ceinsitemmt. the
..:g4iu fsujt r.i,aiim chan%;ot tlak
noa i i a_i. I the;inknc n, thelarnilhiragain4
tit antamitar n.J t imote: ot th. ret,
mat .1 aI1 the Irraion ii dl I
iiexplttablt
U die .na%LlIline 14mnt 11w temlninL
ot tukuit
iin.t nature .1% the heruv..
.epe%ent P1 ... .* ii ill/mt fl ..nuf
n kd ii c.ti%ter% embidi. tag tlt
mntru1labte
ru 1 u.t the nabir II %%.lId. In .hoit (nonm
ttf. 4 IeClited the untamed toite

ut nitire ii it pa tted 1 11114eF. as thwat 1. ..ade


rl lit in.in .tit%. Hut tIlC%c
ri. i tel
1.ar. and til1 in.. rt %.1i B on tanti cI.al
.
.. rntnz nun attempt
In Ifl(Y.c. or4et flfl lii. en inmnrnu.nL t
fliOf
e
r
l% tIV,tlft iii it the ii. iii cii ouder is
.ept ilevible imit! tiim ublit to ch lngini ir.tirenct.
t
act .1 .taIue pomser that ha.
not et i.e 1 cii to ft m
\h.r tet re nmd U.. that our en
imnnwnt I. itt sIwa.
mntiollable. (It .itilm kut p di ingiag and
me ,imt, 4 ii ltjfl to adju% it e mu%t
continue lobe.. r tIn and htitnc non
1fot tc to bring .rdtr to the hao%i 011djnti%
Ctrc*n.img aPe, and thu. in atap
t iiu. .pun.tr.ui.. esen t h.Iv fri irig to keep it at
ham.
I he i ink .an I Rimun, in their lilt ratur Intl
eu.aktm, realand that t veIl a. we iejett
n enster.. % e ernt.r 1 V tjicpi: Ci (Ii 15 ii. Ii ir i
wn ii IiJO% Ifli aiii tim. a. hallenge.
t
illti ft$it.u nt fle .mnnot 1w s:thtv,t them
n ai.

.,

(.tniadu.i ut Inid
I p. t.. ; s . ,i a
a.

ill

i:.t;.:.. . s
$15)
Hiatt

1 .::n; t..i ne IIe.Iuarie..


II ci ..i..g. .t jo hit .irigiw.
Lit I u..aan
nun it.
iei. . ibm ii c I
neadet ittun i t .nample the
t.ii,ilien !i .. big tIet ft. i.!. .
,wpn.tte t.
uLt . I e II t: N a .ward
.netb,n: .i.ji i.e tupk Ia l..J iI v
%..e i It
( rU dc) md ( urba.ru.e
.

miii.

, it

cidtn

..

r
i l,

j 4.
a.
4 1

di
.1

j;

I.

1
..t ,i

1.

)ft,r..

ti

1
i
.,r

fl

p hi
ial
f..

ii.

I.
lb

ii

i.

:.

.1

a.

lille. ..

t.!

ii;

ii

I.

I tJ

iI,

P_),l?%

,,

;. ra. ut.

..

lit

Itt .1

I I.

lJ

I u

iMlI

n r

:..

4
flfl.
l
fl.

t.iIt tnng

ar j%Jjp II m eterns
1
, jj., a .nuh,imtt I2

. I J.t
I

rj .zi: ii

I..t

.tt ill

0.111

. fl

(s )Ia Pit t ample


tla i a a lit i pna.h

n..l

tj
1e

ptm

;i a.

lI_i

iiti

i.. u.it.m:l
Ii riurt . .

.ll.t .t.
.I[ in,. .i.i.
iamiI.r ..

.it.liti

%I tin

ma.

..

:j I
h:c.

.;I

) 171

.,

IIIPLICIT