Book review: Making Monsters

Making monsters“We have always made monsters: in art, in myth, in religion; out of clay or bronze, pixels or hybrid flesh; from the stuff of human nightmares; by cursing women with bestial traits. This anthology brings together fiction and accessible academic writing in conversation about monsters and their roles in our lives—and ours in theirs.”

So says the blurb from the back cover of Making Monsters. A collaboration between Emma Bridges (Public Engagement Fellow at the Institute of Classical Studies) and Djibril al-Ayad (a speculative-fiction editor and publisher), it’s an anthology collecting a mixture of short stories, poems, and essays about (mostly) classical Greek and Roman monsters and our responses to them. Medusa, as shown on the wonderful cover illustration, and Sirens seem to be the most popular of the monsters – and are used by many of the entries to explore the ways in which women in particular are viewed as monsters – but the Furies, Circe the sorceress, and Talos the bronze giant all make appearances too, and there are even some monsters from further afield like the Japanese tengu. It’s a wonderfully varied collection – some of my favourites are Megan Arkenberg‘s re-imagining of Danae as an inventor of living mechanical creations that I would have loved to have seen animated by Ray Harryhausen; L. Chan‘s “Field Reports from the Department of Monster Resettlement”, in which a harassed Singaporean civil servant attempts to get a group of monsters to agree to relocate from the locations they haunt; and Margaret McLeod‘s poem “Helen of War”, putting a different spin on the mythological tradition that says that Helen of Troy never went to Troy at all. There’s definitely something for everyone in this anthology, and I’d highly recommend getting hold of a copy to anyone who likes mythology and/or speculative fiction!

Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds (review)

P1070168 I recently went to see the British Museum’s current blockbuster exhibition, ‘Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds’ (on until November 27th), which showcases recent finds from the cities of Thonis-Herakleion and Canopus, port cities on the edge of the Nile Delta which are now largely underwater; the exhibition also includes material from the BM’s excavations at Naukratis (a Greek trading settlement upriver from the two ports) as well a large number of loans from Egyptian museums. It’s a pretty stunning collection, particularly the sculptures – a giant statue of Hapy, god of the Nile’s flood, opens the exhibition, and later on there’s another pair of giant (i.e over 5m tall) statues, representing a Ptolemaic king and queen; some of the smaller statues are equally impressive, like the beautiful one of Queen Arsinoe II wearing an essentially transparent piece of drapery that shows incredible skill in carving.
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Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum – Review

The British Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition has proved incredibly popular – tickets are already sold out until late June, and it’s been getting rave reviews. Going to visit seemed like a good way for a group of classicists to spend the Bank Holiday, so as promised, here are some thoughts arising from the exhibition itself and the lengthy discussions we had afterwards. I know other people who’ve already visited may have very different opinions – I look forward to continuing the discussion in the comments!

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