Beauty in the Beast:
Mutants, Monsters, and Monstrosities in the Ancient World
A Graduate Student Symposium at the Johns Hopkins University
Keynote Speaker: Robert Garland, Colgate University
Monsters, as it is often conceived, have neither beauty nor kindness. However, the Latin word monstrum merely indicates the manifestation of something extraordinary, whether it be a physical being, a psychological disposition, a supernatural apparition, or a divine portent. Mutants, on the other hand, are beings with abnormal abilities. However, the word is a derivative of the Latin verb mutare, meaning “to change.” Yet, in the ancient world, these terms were commonly used to describe monstrosities, which challenged normativity.
Myth in both literature and the visual arts can challenge our common perceptions of mutants and monsters. Beautiful Arachne was punished and transformed into a horrid spider by Athena, but her weaving was nonetheless marvelous. Polyphemus, a cannibalistic ogre, still fostered all-consuming love for beautiful Galatea.
History tells of a different monster. The tyrants and kings of questionable sanity may have been unjustly incriminated and [mis]identified as monsters, while their clemency faded from memory. Conversely, deformities and disabilities, veiling inner-beauty, oftentimes warranted inequity and discrimination. Moreover, physiognomy could indicate inner moral values or contradict them, as in the case of Socrates, whom Plato and Xenophon describe as having a satyr-like appearance, all the while bearing moral excellence.
The goal of this graduate symposium is to explore the beauty, physical or abstract, in monstrosities of the ancient world. This may include, but is not limited to, mutants, monsters, and villains in literature and artistic representations, historical evildoers, the maniacal, who may have been erroneously antagonized, and the common ugly, judged at face value.
We invite graduate students from the departments of Classics, Archaeology, History, History of Art, Near Eastern Studies, and Writing to submit their abstract of ca. 350 words or less by December 1st, 2014 to be considered for The Johns Hopkins Classics Graduate Symposium. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Accepted graduate students will receive reimbursement for part of their room & board and travel costs.
Co-chairs of the Symposium