CLAS 436
Interspecies beings: demigods and monsters in art and culture, ancient to modern Fall 2023
Division I
Cross-listed ARTH 511

Class Details

Horse-men, cat-women, bull-men, mermaids, snake-people: interspecies creatures are everywhere in ancient Greek and Roman art and poetry. Embodied in satyrs, sphinxes, centaurs, nymphs, and other part-human, part-animal beings is an alternative evolutionary and cultural history. In it, humans and animals live as one. There is no distinction between nature and culture. Male and female are equal. The industrial revolution never happens. This course traces the history of interspecies beings from their origin in ancient Greek art and poetry until today. Three points are important: 1) the relationship between the imagery and ancient political theory about “primitive” life; 2) evolving conceptions of biology and the environment, and 3) the role played by interspecies beings in the conceptualization of what is possible in art. The first half of the course examines the origins and character of interspecies beings in works of ancient art such as the Parthenon, and in ancient writers including Hesiod and Ovid. We examine relevant religious practices, materialist conceptions of nature, and biological theories of speciation, in Empedokles, On nature, Euripides’ Bakchai, Plato’s Phaidros, and Lucretius’ De rerum natura. The second half of the course investigates the survival of classical monsters in the work of early-modern artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Titian, and Dürer, and the rediscovery of ancient materialist theory. We consider the role played by interspecies beings in the formation of late modernism in art and literature. Key texts include Rousseau and Hobbes, Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy, Mallarmé’s “L’Apres midi d’une faun,” and Stoppard’s Arcadia. Problems include the relationship between nymphs and sex-workers in Manet, the meaning of the Minotaur in Picasso, and the interest in interspecies beings in the work of women surrealists such as Leonora Carrington. We conclude with contemporary popular culture such as the Hunger Games.
The Class: Format: seminar; Lecture and discussion.
Limit: 15
Expected: 10
Class#: 1943
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: The requirements of the course include: attendance and participation in discussion; preparing summaries/analyses of reading assignments for discussions; one presentation on a research project, and one 20-page paper on the research project.
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Priority goes to graduate students in art history. If space is available, senior art-history majors, classics majors, and environmental studies majors may enroll.
Unit Notes: This course will satisfy the seminar requirement in art history.
Distributions: Division I
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
ARTH 511 Division I CLAS 436 Division I
Attributes: ARTH pre-1800 Courses

Class Grid

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