Profs & Pints Charlottesville: Ancient Sea Monsters

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Sunday, April 21 2024 5:30 PM 8:00 PM EDT

Profs and Pints Charlottesville presents: “Ancient Sea Monsters,” an encounter with creatures that were dreaded by Greek and Roman sailors and still dwell in imaginations, with Georgia Irby, professor of Classical Studies at William and Mary.

We associate monsters with horror movies, but to the people of ancient Greece and Rome monsters seemed very real, and often were thought to be lurking just offshore.

Join Professor Georgia Irby, a scholar of the history of Greek and Roman Science, for a fascinating and richly illustrated look at the imagined horrors that aroused dread in ancient Mediterranean sailors and continue to be feared lurking beneath the waves.

To set the stage, Dr. Irby will discuss how the watery setting is by its very physics and optics one of change and mystery. The sea changes color as light shifts, with its appearance affected by fluctuating winds and currents and light refraction distorting what we see beneath the waves. Lacking the tools that we take for granted in studying marine creatures, Greek and Roman thinkers had to go by what they could observe with their eyes.

Hearing tales of ship-wrecking whales, sailor-strangling octopods, and human-eating sharks prompted ancient Greek and Roman imaginations to create fanciful and frightening sea-beasts whose anatomy and nature were as mysterious as the cryptic environment in which they were believed to dwell. They told of Scylla and other marine foes battled by their fearless heroes. They typically thought of marine fauna as either endearing, as was the case with dolphins or seahorses, generally unpleasant, as was the case with noisome seals, or terrifying—a reaction to most other marine animals.

These imagined horrors help give the seafaring denizens of the Mediterranean an ambiguous attitude toward the sea—a bias that left its mark on later writers such as Jonathan Swift, Herman Melville, and Jules Verne. Professor Irby will pay her respects to Moby Dick, Nessie, and the dinosaurs. It's a talk that will leave you wondering what lurks beneath oceans' waves. (Tickets must be purchased in advance at $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. No door tickets are available. Doors open to talk attendees at 4:30 pm and the talk itself starts at 6 pm.)

Image: A sea monster depicted on a Greek vase from about 530 B.C. (Stavros S. Niarchos Collection)