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Institute of Advanced Study

Metamorphosis - angles of approach


This paper takes as its point of departure the demotion of metamorphosis in a variety of discourses and systems of belief. In Western culture in particular, the notion of ontological fluidity has received hostile treatment, from literary critics to religious thinkers, and the ability of humans or other beings to shift shape (and belief in the possibility thereof) have variously been associated with the devil or the primitive. In the light of this traditional demotion of metamorphosis to the margins of cultural hegemony, this paper surveys current research on the phenomenon of transformation, before proceeding to explore the interface of metamorphosis and Judeo-Christian monotheism. Its main thesis is that there are more points of contact between cultural traditions that endorse or explore the possibility of metamorphosis (such as Greek and Roman mythology) and the world view of the Bible and, more generally, Christian theology than appears to be the case at first sight, especially if one approaches the topic from the perspective of reception: authors and artists in the Western tradition have frequently 'enriched' an orthodox Judeo-Christian outlook on the world by drawing on the metamorphic thought of the pagan classics.

Insights Paper