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Mythologia: Gods, Heroes, and Monsters

Heinrich Aldegrever (German, 1502-ca. 1561), Hercules Killing the Dragon, from the series the Labors of Hercules, 1550, engraving on paper, The Vivian and Gordon Gilkey Graphic Arts Collection, no known copyright restrictions, 81.81.42


The lives of the ancient Greeks were profoundly shaped by the stories they told about gods, heroes, and monsters. Tales of the exploits of the gods varied from region to region, but held a common currency throughout the Hellenic universe for more than one thousand years, from roughly the time of Homer (the ninth or eighth century BCE) to the fourth century AD, when Emperor Constantine adopted the new religion of Christianity. Although some critical thinkers cast doubt on the existence of the gods—it was Plato who coined the term mythologia to denote these stories and separate them from scientific knowledge—Greek myth subsequently formed an integral part of life for the Romans, who adopted the Greek pantheon. They blended the characteristics of the Greek gods with their native deities and called them by Roman names.

It is not hard to understand the lasting appeal of these stories, which deal with the most elemental facets of human existence, from birth to death, love to strife. Fantastical metamorphoses, heroic exploits, and miraculous interventions enliven the narrative and ensured that these engaging tales would be passed on for centuries via the poems, epics, histories, and plays that survived from Greek and Roman civilizations. The rediscovery of antiquity during the Renaissance marked an explosion of interest in classical mythology, and artists were quick to adopt the dramatic narratives as the subject for their work. Fortuitously, this was also the dawn of printmaking, and prints, which were both inexpensive and portable, were indispensable in fueling and spreading the vogue for mythological subject matter. This popularity for mythological themes has waxed and waned over the centuries, but it has never disappeared from the visual arts. Mythologia: Gods, Heroes, and Monsters explores the long and rich afterlife of classical mythology in prints, drawings, and artists’ books spanning five hundred years of graphic history.

Curated by Mary Weaver Chapin

Exhibition Title

Mythologia: Gods, Heroes, and Monsters



Curated by

Mary Weaver Chapin

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