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Ancient Monsters

Course Times & Enrolment

(Code AC103-303) • (0 classes) Course location to be confirmed •
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Course Summary

Supernatural, composite creatures, and fear-inducing monsters were prominent in the imagination of peoples of the ancient Near East and the classical world.  They were personifications of the people’s fears and featured in religion, art and literature. This course examines the iconography of these ancient awe-inspiring monsters.

Course Details

Content of Course

Starting with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, this course will discuss the concept and definitions of monsters. We shall examine questions relating to their nature, their representation, and also look at the difference between monsters, demons and gods.

Our focus will then move to ancient Mesopotamian monsters, both benevolent and malevolent ones, examining epigraphical (myths, incantations) data, as well as material evidence (amulets and art work).

We shall examine ancient Egyptian art and archaeology in terms of the monstrous and ask 'how did the ancient Egyptians conceive of the monstrous?’ and ‘what was the significance of monsters in funerary art?’.

Religion and Monsters:  This topic will explore representations of the monstrous in Jewish and Christian biblical tradition, as well as the religious background of some of our more popular twenty-first century monsters.

Finally, we shall focus on Greek mythology, getting to know in more depth some of the best-known monsters.

Teaching method(s)

Teaching will be based on lectures combined with illustrated examples and short DVD clips of relevant materials. This will be followed by a group discussion of issues raised in the lecture and hand-outs. Opportunity will also be given to conduct short research on topics and present findings to the group (research material will be provided).

Learning outcomes

On completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify, name, and compare key figures of Ancient Near Eastern monsters.

  • Recognise the ideas behind the iconography of these creatures.

  • Identify and discuss the concepts that these monsters personify and the ideas that lie behind their representations in art and literature.

  • Discuss and critically evaluate previous and recent scholarly research on these issues.

  • Explain the impact these ancient Near Eastern monsters have on modern conceptions of the imaginary.


Core Readings


  • Beal, T. K., 2002. Religion and its Monsters. New York and London: Routledge.

  • Black, J. and Green, A., 1992. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary. London: British Museum Press.

  • Goodnick Westenholtz, J., ed., 2004. Dragons, Monsters, and Fabulous Beasts. Jerusalem: Bible Lands Museum

  • Shelley, M., 1994 (first publ. 1818). Frankenstein. London: Penguin Books.

  • Wilkinson, R. H., Reading Egyptian Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Egyptian Painting and Sculpture. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.


  • Cartwright, M., 2012. Sphinx. Definition. [online] Available at:

  • Gilmore, D. D., 2003. Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press

  • Kearney, R., 2003. Strangers, Gods and Monsters. London: Routledge

  • Wright, D., 2001 (first publ. in 1914). Vampires and Vampirism: Legends from Around the World. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.