Dissecting the classical hybrid

Hughes, Jessica (2010). Dissecting the classical hybrid. In: Rebay-Salisbury, K.; Sorensen, M. L. S. and Hughes, J. eds. Body Parts and Bodies Whole. Changing Relations and Meanings. Oxford, UK: Oxbow, pp. 101–110.

URL: http://www.oxbowbooks.com/bookinfo.cfm/ID/88229//L...

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the anatomy of the classical hybrid, and its relationship to (whole) human and animal bodies. Both ancient and modern sources describe hybrid anatomies in the positive terms of construction and creation, of grafting and fusion. However, in this chapter I draw attention to a parallel tradition, which experiments with the theme of deconstruction, of disaggregation. The material introduced shows how ancient authors and artists often chose to highlight the instability of the hybrid body, by distributing its parts across the surface of an object, or through the lines of a written text. Once this trend has been established, I move on to explore the implications of this shift in emphasis – from construction to deconstruction – for how we see ancient hybrids functioning in their environment. Working from the insistent connection made in ancient thought between animality and fragmentation, I suggest that the hybrid’s ‘partible’ body can be seen to challenge the cultural as well as the biological boundaries that separated humans and animals in the Graeco-Roman world. The idea that the form of hybrid bodies reflects broader discourses about human-animal relations in a particular historical context is reinforced by looking at hybrid images from the 21st century, whose anatomies are radically different from those of their classical ‘ancestors’.

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