By R. D. Flavin


They say that they are called “monsters,” because they demonstrate or signify something; “portents,” because they portend something; and so forth.  But let their diviners see how they are either deceived, or even when they do predict true things, it is because they are inspired by spirits, who are intent upon entangling the minds of men (worthy, indeed, of such a fate) in the meshes of a hurtful curiosity, or how they light now and then upon some truth, because they make so many predictions.  Yet, for our part, these things which happen contrary to nature, and are said to be contrary to nature (as the apostle, speaking after the manner of men, says, that to graft the wild olive into the good olive, and to partake of its fatness, is contrary to nature), and are called monsters, phenomena, portents, prodigies, ought to demonstrate, portend, predict that God will bring to pass what He has foretold regarding the bodies of men, no difficulty preventing Him, no law of nature prescribing to Him His limit.  Saint Augustine, City of God, Bk. XXI, Ch. 8.

     Stay away!  Beware of monsters!  Actually, pay close attention and learn something from them as it's their lot to warn us.  Monsters have been around for a long time and they come in all shapes, sizes, and with the required horror, sadness, and absurdity.  It could and should be argued that we need monsters, though they are often regarded as unnecessary abominations.  Some are, alas, inevitable and appear as natural disasters or as diseased and defective.  They perish in their time, yet it's the new monsters, same as the old monsters, as the Preacher remarked (JSB Eccles. 1:9): “There is nothing new beneath the sun!”  Or, for that matter, the stars...  One might say that monsters have always been here and will likely be around for the foreseeable future.

     Our English word 'monster' is derived from the French monstre and mostre meaning, at different times, a prodigy or marvel and also ‘disfigured person’ and ‘misshapen being’.  Skipping around the other Romance languages, our 'monster' was first used in classical Latin as mōnstrum, a descriptive term signifying a portent (L. portentum), wicked person, or atrocity.  Mōnstrum is based on monēre or 'to warn' and we can well imagine a walk through the Latin-speaking countryside and encountering monsters at the outskirts of villages and villas admonishing all to stay away because of dire calamity and death.  Maybe they were hired for monster-ing or perhaps they did it because it's simply what monsters do.  Be mindful!  Stay away!

     The Greek and Latin philologist, Eduard Fraenkel, compared mōnstrum to the Greek τέρας or téras (a miraculous wonder, often horrifying) in discussing Horace's use of fatale monstrum to describe Cleopatra (Fraenkel 1957, p.160).  John V. Luce would later expand and expound on the comparison by naming Gaius Octavian Augustus as the 'hero' for subduing the doomed monster that was the Ptolemaic Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra VII Philopator (Luce 1963, p. 254).  Tragedy is separated from mythology as ungodly and godly beasts (e.g., Χάρυβδις or Kharybdis, Σκύλλα or Skylla, and Φίξ or Phix, the Sphinx) are outward manifestations of metaphorical divinities and δαιμόνιον or daimonion (demons).  The monsters of mythology were the stuff of fantastic stories, yet the monsters here and over there, the mutants and abnormalities of nature (e.g., hermaphrodites and cyclopes) have always been real.  However, as is understood, not all monsters were and are created equal.

     Ancient mythological hybrid monsters were a global occurrence with many animal/human, human/human, and animal/animal combinations.  Early hunting magic and extra-Tungusic shamanism are mentioned as inspiration, though allegory and metaphor must be considered prima facie with meanings sublime and occult.   The Homeric Ossa (later, Φήμη or Phêmê), the Messenger of Zeus (perhaps the daughter of Hope, who didn't escape Pandora's Box), is sometimes credited with being a child of Gaea of the Protogenoi and Earth Mother.  She was depicted with huge, outspread wings and often carrying a trumpet to facilitate her announcements.  Her Latin equivalent, Fama, appears much more grotesque with wings that have feathers tipped with eyes and ears and tongues and mouths.  'Rumor' is the name of this horrible monster-goddess, though she's better known as 'Gossip', she who slanders and scandalizes.  Phêmê/Fama hears all and tells all.  Yet some modern scholars believe the esteemed Roman poet, Virgil, confused some of her monstrous attributes when writing his The Aeneid.  Working on a suggestion by Mathilde Hajek, Prof. Robert Rutherford-Dyer (Classics – emeritus, University of Massachusetts) has argued that Phêmê/Fama was indeed described by the ancient authors as a monstrous hybrid bird/human messenger, but that Virgil used the ambiguous Latin term, subter, which could mean beneath (the feathers) or beneath the body of the mōnstrum (Dyer 1989).  One interpretation would have Phêmê/Fama hearing all and seeing all, and then flying about casting her rumor and gossip on the eyes and ears and tongues and mouths of those below.  As such, Phêmê/Fama, gains her fame by producing even more rumor and gossip monsters than χιδνα or Echidna, the half-nymph and half-snake who is often called the “Mother of All Monsters.”

     Whether it's one's hair or hackles standing at attention on the back of their neck or arms, or some unknown application of Spidey sense, we know monsters when we see, hear, or read about them.  Disfigurement isn't always an indicator, as Ezekiel the Prophet (JSB Ezek. 28:12) described the Prince/King of Tyre (a metaphor for Satan/Lucifer) as: “Full of wisdom and flawless in beauty.”  And, as we remember from our LOTR, quoting Frodo, “I would think that a servant of the Enemy would look fair and feel foul.”  And, such describes many of the monsters of today...

Media Monsters Part One: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Howard Stern.

Be mindful!  Stay away!  Beware of monsters!

Media Monsters Part Two: Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Jenny McCarthy, and Nancy Grace.

     Our childhood fears of loathsome creatures, spooky ghosts, angry aliens or rampaging robots, and other personifications of evil, can't actually compare to the depraved, immoral, and repugnant utterances that daily (and nightly) media monsters spew.  The resulting horror, sadness, and absurdity is argued as sponsored entertainment for financial gain.  I would name them collectively as Avarice, forgive them their sins, and also wish them a pleasant journey to the null and void.  Unfortunately, ya' get rid of a bunch of freaks and there are always new groups of super creeps waiting to become ...scary monsters.

Dyer, Robert Rutherford. 1989. “Vergil's Fama: A New Interpretation of 'Aeneid' 4.173ff.” Greece & Rome. 36, 1: 28-32.
Fraenkel, Eduard. 1957. Horace. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Luce, J. V. 1963. “Cleopatra as Fatale Monstrum (Horace, Carm. 1. 37. 21).” The Classical Quarterly. 13, 2: 251-257.

Always casually premonitory,

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