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Monsters: From ancient mythology to modern cinema


Monsters are everywhere.. under our beds, in our closets.. lurking in the dark, and ever present in our nightmares. But how unique are these monsters? And what makes up a good demon? We’ll take you on a journey through 2.500 years of monster design.. and show you that our demons actually haven’t changed that much. Stories of monsters and demons are as old as time.. and can probably best be explained because
we’ve always feared the unknown. And Greek Mythology gives us the first elaborate visual representation.. of monster- and demon designs. What stands out is that most of them are hybrid creatures.. Which means they’re human and animal combined in one body. Often the more animal-like the monster,
the more demonic it was supposed to be. It appears that.. Humans are as close to divine creatures as you can get. Animals however, represent immortality,
lust and overall demonic behavior. This explains why the Ancient Greek
gods more resembled the human form. One of the most iconic creatures from Greek Mythology is the Sater. Their goat-like characteristics, their horns, legs and hoofs.. have since become symbolic for all things demonic,
even in our present time. It was such a strong image that the Catholic Church
adopted these features for the devil himself. And we continue to see this design over and over in movies. On of the Saters leading figures was Pan.. although he was the god of sheep herders and and the
forests, he is best known for chasing Nymphs around. Driven by his sexual desires and scaring
sheepherders with his grunts and low noises. This is where the word ‘panic’ originates from.. it’s derived from Pan himself. This all leads us to arguably one of the
best monster designers of our time.. Guillermo Del Torro. His 2006′ masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth
is clearly inspired by Greek Mythology. Although Del Torro himself actually stated that the Faun
in his film is not the Greek Mythological figure Pan. But the goat-like design and the title of the film is linked
directly to two and a half thousand years of history. Artists throughout the ages all followed upon Greek Mythological monster design. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance we see a large
quantity of demonic creatures in the visual arts. It’s important to understand that we’re discussing
this subject from a modern perspective.. The bestiary tradition of the Middle Ages
is probably the best example of this. Bestiaries can be described as early encyclopedias
containing all known animals of the time. But in these bestiaries you’ll find depictions
of mythological animals and monsters as well. Described as if they’re as real as any other
being in the animal kingdom. The main goal of these bestiaries was the
promotion of religious and moral values. As an effect of the popularity of these books, people
in the Middle Ages started to find all sorts of proof.. of the existence of mythological animals and demons. Like these unicorn horns, which were only found
on the beaches on the shores of the northern seas.. which is quite an odd place for unicorns to hang out. In reality, these horns turned out to be
the tusks of the not so mythical narwhal. The mythological animals in these bestiaries can for
a large part be traced back to Greek Mythology. However many of these creatures have their
roots in the actual animal kingdom. As many exotic animals to the west were seldom seen in real life.. they were often misinterpreted. It’s said that the medieval dragon is actually a
misinterpretation of a boa constrictor. And when looking at early depictions of dragons
in bestiaries, you can see the resemblance. Over time, the appearance of the dragon has changed to
the dragon’s we know from Game of Thrones for example. It appears that the creators of Game of Thrones got their inspiration.. almost directly from the visual culture of the Middle Ages. The dragons, hybrid creatures and even the mythological kraken.. they all can be traced back to the Medieval folklore. In Medieval and Renaissance art, monsters and demons were abundant
and linked to stories from the Old and New Testament. And again, in their design, we see the same characteristics as before.. weird mixed creatures that should warn the
viewer to control their animal-like impulses. Although the scientific revolution of the following centuries.. condemned most of these monsters and demons to the realms of fantasy.. their visual nature was already imprinted in our collective memory. There’s one more popular element of monster
design that we would like to point out.. Extremely deformed creatures, with limbs
and eyes in the weirdest places. Take the Blemmyes for example, which were described
as lacking a head with a face placed on their torso.. and in Medieval times were believed to live somewhere in Africa. This element of monster design is still very popular. On of the most iconic examples of our time comes again
from Guillermo del Torro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth.. the Pale Man. His eyes are embedded in the palms of his
hands and his fingertips resemble eyelashes. The Pale Man is linked not only to western mythology and folklore.. but also to the Japanese stories of Tenome,
which literally means ‘eyes in hands’. This is what Del Torro has to say about his use of monsters: I think that I’m interested in monsters.. not because the have a specific value.. I actually think they have multiple
values depending on how you use them. They are symbols of great power. I think that at some point when we became thinking creatures.. we decided to interpret the world by
creating a mythology of gods and monsters. We created angels, we created demons,
we created serpents devouring the moon. We created the mythology to make sense of the world around us. And monsters were born at the same time as angels or any other
mythical creature or characters were created. So I don’t assign them a specific value.. but I’m very mindful of the way I deal
with them in the movies and the books.. because I assign them a specific function
and try to take them to the extreme.. I make them big tims or I make them sympathetic
or i make them brutal parasites.. they become a metaphor for something else.. obviously monsters are living breathing metaphors.. that for me, half of the fun is explaining them
socially, biologically, mythologically and so forth. It isn’t that hard to understand that movie directors
reuse the same monsters and demons of our past. As a society, we’ve learned to fear them over a period of 2.500 years.. and they’ve proven to be quite effective! Or as Del Torro says himself.. the first glance of the monster should tell
you it’s story, purpose and what it represents. So next time you have a nightmare, analyze your demons.. chances are that it’s just the Ancient
Greeks messing with your mind again. But what do you think, Is This Art? Let us know in the comments whether
you think monsters can be art or not.. and let us know your suggestions for future episodes of is this art. Thanks for watching!

24 Comments

  1. Rachel Losacco Author

    It would also be interesting to compare monsters and mythological creatures & beasts of the Western world to those of Asia. Chinese mythology also has dragons, but aren't usually as brutal, destructive, and animal-like. Their gods shapeshift into animals as a divine power, which is the opposite of ancient Greek gods being the furthest from animal form.

    Reply
  2. Lorenz Haushoch Author

    As expected you guys put on a great show once again! I stared out worried you were gonna talk about 'IT' – a really cool novel but it’s kinda boring as an adaptation I think. Let me see: is journaling as in writing a diary or a biography an art from?

    Reply
  3. Michael Fregoso Author

    I've never considered monsters as a symbol for moral violations. Seems to me then that anyting which represents a contrary value could be seen as monstrous.

    Reply
  4. BloodManticore24 Author

    Well also Aztecs, Mayans and other civilizations on the Americas also had gods that had animal characteristics. Some of these gods could be either in their human form or in their "beast" form.

    Reply
  5. miroslav cibula Author

    you guys are crazy! This is a fantastic series AND to read where the word PANic comes from… that is like when I discovered why americans say Aluminum instead of Aluminium like the rest of the world. That would be cool if you would make a video about art that influenced the way we talk and speak …

    Reply
  6. ArenaDestroyer Author

    Is this art, or educational channel? 🙂
    Liked this very much, want to see more examples of old monster in art and references to where it is from.

    Reply
  7. ArenaDestroyer Author

    Don't remember if I said that already: you might need to do something controversial to have the attention of people, my suggestion:
    1) religion – is this art?
    2) reaction to art – is this art?
    It can be crew of channel, narrator, museum employee or invited guests modern artists of art, also a way to know of current day agenda.
    3)more politics will couse some attention to you:
    Protests in China – is this art?
    Or that Russian "selfclaimd artist" who nail his balls to the red square breeks and lit bank door on file – is this art?
    Now that I think in that direction, i believe the first time in history art is mentioned is in "art of war" some Chinese old book that everyone heard and never seen nor read.
    Hope I've been helpful.

    Reply
  8. M. Light Author

    Monsters came from more places than just the greek mythology. Therefore it is a little closeminded for you to attribute all monster related nightmares to the greek concept of gods and monsters at end of the video.

    Reply
  9. mohamed adel Author

    Tracing monsters and gods/heroes to ancient greeks is not very current, our human mythology is far rooted in our common unconscious, then the begging of the greek civilization. Early humans draw a picture of a mix between human and animals in caves.

    The symbolic meaning of Monsters is as old as our existence even before our conscience existence.

    Reply
  10. Zan Völker Author

    A nice video!, however, we have created and feared myths and monsters for far, far longer than 2500 years. For instance, the myths of ancient Sumerian culture predate the Greeks and also appear to have inspired them. Human beings have always carried these beliefs with them throughout evolution, as justifications and explanations of the world before science (as you stated). Man creates lies — it’s what we do well and it helps us to cope with that which makes no sense in a given era. A monster or god that can be given offerings and appeased is easier to handle than the true chaotic nature of natural disaster for example, something that may have instilled crippling anxiety and panic in ancient peoples.

    Reply

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