The Godly and the Grotesque I: The Monstrous Body in Antiquity and Beyond (Panel)


Comparative Literature / Interdisciplinary Humanities

Claire Sommers (Washington University-St. Louis)

In the modern era, the word “monster” has taken on a negative implication, frequently referring to an entity that is fearsome or even harmful. The term has its origins in the Latin monstrum, which meant demonstration or divine sign, and the Greek word teras, which may be translated as strange, wonderful, or marvelous and can signify any entity composed of multiple parts. The “monstrous” figures prominently in descriptions of hybrid creatures originating in Greco-Roman mythology, but these images were often deployed in order to render philosophical, religious, and political ideas. Classical sources frequently highlight the tension inherent to the monstrous body, an entity that could simultaneously represent deformity and divinity, existing as both marvel and abnormality. This panel will explore the various conceptions and uses of the monstrous body in Greco-Roman literature, drama, philosophy, and art, as well as the influence of these Classical ideas on subsequent time periods. Possible approaches include, but are not limited to:

· evocations of monstrous bodies and/or mythological creatures in Classical and post-Classical literatures

· the relationship between the ancient monstrous body and more modern theories of the body (including disability studies)

· the monstrous body as philosophical and/or political symbol

· the monstrous body and education

· the relationship between the monstrous and the divine

· the religious aspects of the monstrous

· visual representations of the monstrous in art and theatre

· the monstrous body as boundary-crossing hybrid.

By contemplating the many contexts and depictions of the monstrous body in Classical thought, this panel will not only gain a better understanding of the multiple connotations of the term, but will also trace the evolution of the “monstrous” from antiquity to the present day. 300 word abstracts.


This panel will examine Classical conceptions of the monstrous body, focusing on its simultaneous evocations of divinity and deformity, marvel and abnormality, and trace its influence on subsequent literature, philosophy, drama, theory, and art. Possible approaches include: monstrous bodies and/or mythological creatures in Classical and post-Classical literature; the ancient monstrous body and modern theories of the body (including disability studies); the monstrous body as symbol in philosophy, politics, and education; the monstrous and religion; visual representations of the monstrous; and the monstrous and hybridity. 300 word abstracts.