Throughout history, great beasts and monsters fabled or not have terrorized, enchanted, and eluded humans. Join leading Penn scholars on an exploration of some of the best stories from the around the world, and meet some memorable beasts, including Centaurs, Hobbits, and Sphinxes. (October 2016 through June 2017)
Dr. Steve Tinney, Associate Curator, Babylonian Section, Penn Museum The Penn Museum’s popular monthly evening lecture series kicks off with a fresh theme: Great Beasts of Legends. Throughout history, great beasts and monsters fabled or not have terrorized, enchanted, and eluded humans. Join leading Penn scholars on an exploration of some of the best stories from the around the world, and meet some memorable beasts, including Centaurs, Hobbits, and Sphinxes. Dr. Steve Tinney, Associate Curator, Babylonian Section, starts off the series with an in-depth look at Anzu, one of ancient Mesopotamia’s iconic monsters, a giant eagle with a lion’s head, depicted in art from as early as 2500 BCE. As a symbol of the gods and friend of heroes, Anzu's early career seems benign, but somewhere along the way his ambition gets the better of him. Dr. Tinney follows Anzu from artistic masterpiece to cosmic threat to his eventual ignominious demise by a fatal twist..
Dr. Jeremy McInerney, Davidson Kennedy Professor Department of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania The Greek imagination was populated with all sorts of hybrids and monsters, from the half-horse, half man centaur to the chimaera, a blend of lion, snake and goat. What function did these creatures play in Greek culture? In this lecture we’ll look at some of the most extraordinary monsters and fabulous creatures of the Greeks and try to explain where they came from and why the Greeks were fascinated by them.
Dr. Jennifer Houser Wegner, Associate Curator, Egyptian Section, Penn Museum and co-author of The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia The varied roles of the sphinx in ancient Egypt are examined in this Great Beasts of Legend lecture. Egyptian religious imagery gives us an awesome assortment of fantastic hybrid beings and deities that are half-human, half-animal, or a composite of numerous creatures. Perhaps none of these beings are as evocative as the sphinx. Usually depicted as a human-headed lion, the sphinx was a protective entity and sphinx imagery appeared in Egyptian art, architecture, and texts for thousands of years. For further reading: Wegner, Josef, and Jennifer Houser Wegner. 2015. The Sphinx That Traveled to Philadelphia: The Story of the Colossal Sphinx in the Penn Museum. University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Philadelphia, PA). http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/2127.html
Standing at 3 ½ half feet tall, and about 75 pounds, Homo floresiensis is the smallest adult skeletal in the whole of human evolutionary history. Found in 2003, the “hobbit” or “halfling” was so named because of its diminutive size. Some have claimed that the hobbit is a pathological specimen, showing features of microcephaly, Down syndrome, or dwarfism, others consider it to be a new species within the human lineage eventually becoming extinct when modern humans arrived on the island. There seems to be no end in sight on the debates that surround this hot button issue in human evolution. As recently as half a year ago, reanalysis of the cave deposits, forced a new time frame for the sediments and fossils within the cave. Given the supporters and detractors, and the ensuring war in the literature, the hobbit find has confounded our view of human evolution. Beast? OR Ancestor? For further reading: Aiello, Leslie C. 2010. ‘Five years of Homo floresiensis,’ American Journal of Physical Anthropology 142:167-179. Callaway, Ewen. 2014. ‘Tales of the hobbit,’ Nature 514 (23 October 2014):422-426.
Dr. Simon Martin, Associate Curator, American Section, Penn Museum The Maya universe was populated by a variety of strange beasts and hybrid entities, some as actors in mythic narratives, others as symbolic representations of the sky, earth, and netherworld. However bizarre and complex their form, each had a coherent part to play in a wider religious system. One of the more energetic areas in Maya studies today is the effort to fathom their meanings and, by doing so, enter the imagination and consciousness of an ancient American people.
Annual Petersen Lecture: Dr. Megan Kassabaum, Weingarten Assistant Curator, American Section, Penn Museum Archaeologists generally agree that certain beliefs about the cosmos are broadly shared among indigenous peoples of the Americas. Though the details vary wildly, the world is generally seen as consisting of three layers—the Above World, the Middle World, and the Beneath World. While we live our every day lives in the Middle World, the Above and Beneath Worlds are inhabited by a variety of supernatural beings. One of the most intriguing characters to inhabit the Beneath World is the underwater panther, a composite creature with both feline and serpentine characteristics that is associated with the dangerous yet beneficial powers of rivers, waterfalls, whirlpools and caves. For further reading: Howard, James H. 1960. ‘When they worship the underwater panther: a prairie potawatomi bundle ceremony,’ Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 16(2):217-224. Saunders, Nicholas J. 1998. Icons of Power: Feline Symbolism in the Americas. Routledge (London). Townsend, Richard F., and Robert V. Sharp, eds. 2004. Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South. Art Institute of Chicago in association with Yale University Press (New Haven, CT).
Dr. Patrick Glauthier, Department of Classical Studies, University of Pennsylvania Aries the Ram, Taurus the Bull, Cetus the Sea-monster - there's no shortage of mythical animals among the constellations of ancient Greece and Rome. But why do such creatures populate the heavens in the first place? And what did they mean to the societies that first identified and named them? Although it can be hard for us to clearly identify two Bears circling up above, the ancient imagination saw animalistic drama and intrigue all over the night sky, and the particulars of these narratives were often felt to impact life on earth. This talk will explore the history of some of these constellations, their representations in ancient art and literature, and their role in ancient Greco-Roman society more broadly.
“BLOOD-SEED” DEMONS, AND WISH-FULFILLING COWS: ASSORTED BEINGS FROM THE INDIAN IMAGINATION May 3, 2017 Deven Patel, Associate Professor, Department of South Asia Studies The Beast in early South Asia runs the gamut of imaginative possibilities. Visualized in mythological literature and the plastic arts, unique and yet oddly recognizable Beings bubbled up for centuries from the psychic depths of Indian peoples. This presentation will highlight some of the great Beasts of these lands – menacing demons; divine emanations both majestic and hideous; sublime animals that defy all expectations; hybrid human/animal forms shuttling between mortal and immortal worlds. Special attention will be given to the distinctive ways these imaginings continue to shape the culture of this region. For further reading: Dimmitt, Conelia, and J. A. B. van Buitenen, eds. 1978. Classical Hindu Mythology: A Reader in the Sanskrit Puränas. Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA). O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. 1980. Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts. University of Chicago Press (Chicago).
The Story of the Chinese Winged Lions in the Penn Museum June 7, 2017 Dr. Adam Smith, Assistant Curator, Asian Section, Penn Museum The earliest examples of monumental stone sculpture from East Asia in the Penn Museum are the two Winged Lions that confront one another across the space of the Chinese Rotunda. A tradition of large-scale stone sculpture in China appears rather late, and suddenly, at around the time the Penn Winged Lions were carved in the 2nd or 3rd century CE. These examples are unmistakably Chinese in style, but by the time they were made, Winged Lions had long been in use across Eurasia as far as the Mediterranean as components of monumental architecture. The process by which Winged Felines reached China is complex and not fully understood, but their arrival is unmistakably part of a package of innovations that included rock-cut and masonry architecture, fluted stone columns, the first translations into Chinese of Buddhist literature, and the first Chinese representations of the Buddha. For further reading: Danielson, Eric N. 2012. Adventures in China blog, ‘The southern dynasties imperial tombs in Danyang,’Adventures in China blog dated May 19, 2012. https://archive.fo/odJw Paludan, Ann. 1991. The Chinese Spirit Road: The Classical Tradition of Stone Tomb Statuary. Yale University Press (New Haven, CT). Till, Barry. 1980. ‘Some observations on stone winged chimeras at ancient Chinese tomb sites,’ Artibus Asiae 42(4):261-281.