Tracking Classical Monsters in Popular Culture
Liz Gloyn
Bloomsbury Academic
228pp, 23 black-and-white illustrations
Paperback, £25

From muscular Minotaurs to manipulative Medusas, monsters have been evoking a mixture of fear and fascination in the human heart since the dawn of time. Do they represent a primitive fear of external, or internal, horrors? Liz Gloyn addresses this and many other questions in her lively survey of mythical monsters from Classical literature onwards. She is not interested in heroes (about which plenty of studies have been made) but in the monsters they face.

Gloyn, who is Senior Lecturer in Classics at Royal Holloway, University of London, clearly states her intention when she says: 'This book belongs to a strand of classics known as "classical reception studies" which asks what happens to the culture of Classical Greece and Rome in the post-classical world.' What indeed?

Enter Hollywood directors, such as Ray Harryhausen, whose iconic Jason & the Argonauts of 1963 was followed by Clash of the Titans (based on a tale by Ovid) in 1981, which inspired Wrath of the Titans in 2012. These are just a few of the films and television series that portray monsters and their slayers, who include Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even, dear old Dr Who.

But what actually makes a monster? Gloyn says he or she is usually large, very violent, and often a hybrid, something unnatural who does not conform to either human or divine norms? Hannibal Lecter is a monster but he is a human monster and Gloyn is not covering these – although the face on the cover of her book has a Lecterish look about it. In fact, it shows the star of Harrison Birtwistle's opera The Minotaur whose success at Covent Garden in 2008 showed the bull-man at the centre of the labyrinth still has pulling power.

Lindsay Fulcher

 

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