Why do we need Monsters?

Why do we need Monsters?
17 October 2017, 6.00pm - 8.00pm
Other Events
The Beveridge Hall, Ground Floor, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Today we worry about chimaeras - organisms created by combining genes from more than one species - and science fiction writers imagine bizarre aliens on other planets, just as nineteenth-century novelists placed them in the Centre of the Earth, on Lost Worlds or in Lands that Time Forgot.

Almost every society has imagined monsters, often as hybrids of humans and beasts. This free public event brings together some of the most interesting researchers on ancient monsters and invites us to reflect on what purpose these nearly humans serve in societies ancient and modern.

Supported by the John Coffin Memorial Fund

This is a free event but booking is essential.

Prof David Wengrow, UCL

‘What is a monster, and do we really need them?’

I will offer some brief highlights from the argument of my (2014) book, 'The Origins of Monsters'. While we tend to think of monsters as free creations of the mind, their history is often remarkably conservative. The same ones appear, time and again, in different contexts. But how far back in human history do these stubborn, composite creations really go? Why is their transmission so often propped up by technologies of mechanical reproduction, like seal-stones and printing? Why are there so few of them in the art of prehistoric peoples, who lived before the rise of cities?

Dr. Dunstan Lowe, University of Kent

‘Real monsters in ancient Rome’

Strange and monstrous creatures were well known in ancient myth. But there are also fascinating eyewitness reports from Roman times, and not just from remote places but even in the city of Rome itself. 

People saw giant bones of ancient beasts and heroes, a stuffed mer-man, and a centaur pickled in honey. There were also living creatures that shocked and fascinated: wild crocodiles and elephants, and exotic pets such as eels and baboons. There were even humans with rare physical peculiarities, who were put together with other ‘monsters’ in a way that seems shocking to the modern world. 

The rich and powerful, including emperors, sought out ‘real monsters’ for public enjoyment, as attractions, and also for personal enjoyment, as possessions. Some called it disgraceful, but the evidence is undeniable: the ancient Romans were as fascinated by monsters as we are.

Dr Liz Gloyn, Royal Holloway

‘Why does the ancient monster survive in the modern world?’

Ancient monsters were created over two millennia ago, yet they continue to play an important part in our contemporary culture. From Clash of the Titans to the Percy Jackson series, and even video game villains, classical monsters are alive and well. But what has given these monsters such a strong lease of life, and prevented them from disappearing back into the shadows that they first came from? In this talk, I will look at some examples of classical monsters on film to explore how they operate, how we might understand them, and how they connect with wider patterns of monster theory.

Dr Valeria Vitale, Institute of Classical Studies

‘Making Monsters’

Does your house look too quiet during the night? Do you really want to scare off the annoying neighbour’s cat? Do you want to, literally, amaze your friends at parties? Nothing like having your own monster! Join us as we share our tips on how to make and customise the monster of your dreams! You can leave the clay at home as we’ve moved into digital technologies. We will start by looking at the most common features that make a class of imaginary creatures perceived as “monstrous”, and try to extrapolate the recurring rules behind their creation. We will then transfer the same concepts into 3D modelling, using free software to explore the combination and modification of different components in order to build brand new digital monsters ready for 3D printing and the monsters’ entrance into the material world.

Disclaimer: we cannot be held liable for the actions of your newly-created monsters.



Valerie James
020 7862 8716