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"He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee. [...]" --Friedrich Nietzsche

Noble and Ignoble Grotesque from the The Stones of Venice
Noble and Ignoble Grotesque from the The Stones of Venice

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Monster is a term for any number of terrifying, dangerous bizarre or whimsical legendary creatures that frequently appear in mythology, legend, and horror fiction. The word originates from the ancient Latin monstrum, meaning "omen", from the root of monere, "to warn", also meaning prodigy, miracle.

Metaphorically, it is also the name given to a badly behaved child or to an extremely antisocial person, especially a criminal.


Monsters in legend

Ancient Greco-Roman, Celtic, Semitic, Norse, Chinese and Sumerian folklore all had a wealth of legendary beasts. Some of the most famous include:

The Roman world


A monstrum is a sign or portent that disrupts the natural order as evidence of divine displeasure. The word monstrum is usually assumed to derive, as Cicero says, from the verb monstro, "show" (compare English "demonstrate"), but according to Varro it comes from moneo, "warn." Because a sign must be startling or deviant to have an impact, monstrum came to mean "unnatural event" or "a malfunctioning of nature." Suetonius said that "a monstrum is contrary to nature <or exceeds the nature> we are familiar with, like a snake with feet or a bird with four wings." The Greek equivalent was teras. The English word "monster" derived from the negative sense of the word. Compare miraculum, ostentum, portentum, and prodigium.

In one of the most famous uses of the word in Latin literature, the Augustan poet Horace calls Cleopatra a fatale monstrum, something deadly and outside normal human bounds. Cicero calls Catiline monstrum atque prodigium and uses the phrase several times to insult various objects of his attacks as depraved and beyond the human pale. For Seneca, the monstrum is, like tragedy, "a visual and horrific revelation of the truth."

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Monster" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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