Hybrid monsters in the Classical World : the nature and function of hybrid monsters in Greek mythology, literature and art

Posthumus, Liane (2011-03)

Thesis (MPhil (Ancient Studies))--University of Stellenbosch, 2011.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The aim of this thesis is to explore the purpose of monster figures by investigating the relationship between these creatures and the cultures in which they are generated. It focuses specifically on the human-animal hybrid monsters in the mythology, literature and art of ancient Greece. It attempts to answer the question of the purpose of these monsters by looking specifically at the nature of manhorse monsters and the ways in which their dichotomous internal and external composition challenged the cultural taxonomy of ancient Greece. It also looks at the function of monsters in a ritual context and how the Theseus myth, as initiation myth, and the Minotaur, as hybrid monster, conforms to the expectations of ritual monsters. The investigation starts by considering the history and uses of the term “monster” in an attempt to arrive at a reasonable definition of monstrosity. In aid of this definition, attention is also given to themes that recur when considering monster beings. This provides a basis from which the hybrid monsters of ancient Greece, the centaur and Minotaur in particular, can be considered. The next section of the thesis looks into the attitudes to animals prevalent in ancient Greece. The cultural value of certain animal types and even certain body parts have to be taken account, and the degree to which these can be traced to the nature and actions of the hybrid monster has to be considered. The main argument is divided in two sections. The first deals with the centaur as challenger to Greek cultural taxonomy. The centaur serves as an eminent example of how human-animal hybrid monsters combine the familiar and the foreign, the Self and the Other into a single complex being. The nature of this monster is examined with special reference to the ways in which the centaur, as proponent of chaos and wilderness, stands in juxtaposition to the ideals of Greek civilisation. The second section consists of an enquiry into the purpose of the hybrid monster and considers the Minotaur’s role as a facilitator of transformation. The focus is directed towards the ritual function of monsters and the ways in which monsters aid change and renewal both in individuals and in communities. By considering the Theseus-myth and the role of the Minotaur in the coming-of-age of the Attic hero as well as the city of Athens itself, the ritual theory is given application in ancient Greece. The conclusion of this thesis is that hybrid monsters, as manifestations of the internal dichotomy of man and the tenuous relationship between order and chaos, played a critical role in the personal and communal definition of man in ancient Greece.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die doelstelling van hierdie tesis is om die sin van monsters te ondersoek deur te kyk na die verhouding wat bestaan tussen hierdie wesens en die gemeenskappe waarbinne hulle hul ontstaan het. Die tesis fokus spesifiek op die mens-dier hibriede monster in die mitologie, literatuur en kuns van antieke Griekeland. Dit probeer om tot ‘n slotsom te kom oor die bestaansrede van monsters deur te kyk na die aard van die man-perd monster. Hierdie wese se tweeledige samestelling – met betrekking tot beide sy interne en eksterne komposisie – het ‘n wesenlike bedreiging ingehou vir die kulturele taksonomie van die antieke Grieke. Die tesis kyk ook na die rol, van monsters in die konteks van rituele gebeure. Die mite van Theseus as ‘n mite met rituele verbintenisse, en die Minotaurus as hibriede monster, word dan oorweeg om te bepaal wat die ooreenstemming is met die verwagtinge wat daargestel is vir rituele monsters. Ten einde ‘n redelike definisie van monsteragtigheid daar te stel, begin die ondersoek deur oorweging te skenk aan die geskiedenis en die gebruike van die woord “monster”. Ter ondersteuning van hierdie definisie word daar ook aandag geskenk aan sekere temas wat herhaaldelik opduik wanneer monsters ter sprake kom. Dit skep ‘n basis vir die ondersoek na die hibriede monsters van antieke Griekeland, en meer spesifiek na die kentaurus en die Minotaurus. Die tesis oorweeg ook die houding van die antieke Griekse beskawing teenoor diere. Die kulturele waarde van sekere soorte diere, en selfs seker ledemate van diere, moet in ag geneem word wanneer die hibriede monsterfiguur behandel word. Aandag moet geskenk word aan die maniere waarop die assosiasies wat die Grieke met diere gehad het, oorgedra word na die aard en handelinge van die monsterfiguur. Die hoofargument van die tesis word in twee dele uiteengesit. Die eerste gedeelte behandel die kentaurus as uitdager van die kulturele taksonomie van die antieke Grieke. Die kentaurus dien as ‘n uitstekende voorbeeld van die manier waarop die mens-dier monster dit wat bekend is en dit wat vreemd is, die Self en die Ander, kombineer in een komplekse wese. Die aard van hierdie wese word ondersoek met spesifieke verwysing na die maniere waarop die kentaurus, as voorstander van die ongetemde en van chaos, in teenstelling staan teenoor die ideale van die Griekse beskawing. Die tweede gedeelte vors die doel van die hibriede monster na en oorweeg die Minotaurus se rol as bevorderaar van transformasie. Hier word gefokus op die rol van die monster in ’n rituele konteks en die maniere waarop monsters verandering en vernuwing teweegbring in enkelinge sowel as in gemeenskappe. Hierdie teorie word van toepassing gemaak op antieke Griekeland deur die mite van Theseus en die rol van die Minotaurus te oorweeg binne die konteks van die proses van inburgering wat beide die held en sy stad, Athene, ondergaan. Die gevolgtrekking van hierdie tesis is dat hibriede monsters, as uitbeeldings van die interne tweeledigheid van die mens sowel as van die tenger verband tussen orde en chaos in die wêreld, ‘n noodsaaklike rol gespeel het in die persoonlike en sosiale definisie van die individu in antieke Griekeland.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/6865
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