The University of New Mexico Institute for Medieval Studies hosts its 28th Spring Lecture Series, "Medieval Myths and Monsters," a series of six lectures and a concert, Monday, April 15 through Thursday, April 18. The lectures are in Woodward Hall, room 101, on the main UNM campus; the concert is in Keller Hall located in the UNM Center for the Arts. The lecture series is supported by a grant from the New Mexico Humanities Council and is free and open to the public.

The series begins with an opening lecture on Monday, April 15, at 7:15 p.m. and continues with 5:15 and 7:15 p.m. sessions on the following three days. The five visiting speakers at the event are internationally prominent experts from the British Museum, the University of Leeds, Harvard University, Pace University and California State University. The concert, Thursday, April 18, at 5:15 p.m., features UNM's Early Music Ensemble directed by Colleen Sheinberg, founder-member and co-director of Música Antigua de Albuquerque.

Throughout human history, cultures and ethnic groups have evolved myths and legends to account for their own origins and to enshrine values and beliefs they hold most sacred. They also tended to demonize the unfamiliar, to regard cultures and belief systems different from their own as "The Other," casting alien cultures in monstrous guises. "Medieval Myths and Monsters" examines how these tendencies manifested during the European Middle Ages and especially in the early medieval period (sixth to eleventh centuries). A rich, stimulating series of presentations investigates how medieval cultures evaluated themselves and their rivals through their mythologies and through the monsters they invented and then depicted in both words and images. Individual lectures focus on Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian cultures, and on the deep-seated hopes and fears that gained expression in medieval religion. Broadly, the lectures stimulate reflection on ways human groups constructed their own identity and that of the world around them, and how they have charged those constructs with meaning. In today's world, as in the Middle Ages, the ways in which differing cultures and ethnic groups view one another can be deeply problematic and may depend upon underlying assumptions that often go unrecognized. The 2013 Medieval Spring Lecture Series may therefore have a message for our own time.

The lectures:

Monday, April 15, 7:15 p.m.
Leslie Webster, "Myth and Mission: The Riddle of the Franks Casket"

The Franks Casket is one of the most intriguing artifacts of the early Middle Ages. Made of whalebone by an Anglo-Saxon craftsman of the eighth century, its surfaces are intricately carved with scenes drawn from Germanic mythology and from Roman, Jewish and Christian traditions. How do these scenes relate to one another? Why do the inscriptions describing the various scenes use both the Roman alphabet and Germanic runes? What is the overall message that this small box—perhaps originally intended to contain a book or a relic—was meant to convey through its interweaving of references to different races and religions? Webster's lecture explores subtly constructed messages encoded in the myths and monsters depicted on the casket, and will discuss its riddling texts.

Tuesday, April 16, 5:15 p.m.
Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, "Early Irish Origin Legends"

Early Irish literature abounds in origin legends. The most imposing of them is the origin legend of the land of Ireland and its people, which is framed as a series of invasions, and which ultimately takes shape as Lebor Gabála eirenn, "The Book of the Taking of Ireland," commonly known as "The Book of Invasions." The compilation—and in some measure, the creation—of this national origin legend was one of the most ambitious scholarly enterprises undertaken by the medieval Irish. Ó Cathasaigh's lecture explores some of the origin legends, with particular emphasis on the Lebor Gabála eirenn, in which the Celtic gods are subsumed under the Túatha De Danann, represented as the fifth group of invaders of Ireland.

Tuesday, April 16, 7:15 p.m.
Leslie Webster, "The Staffordshire Treasure: Art and Power in Seventh-Century Anglo-Saxon England"

The most remarkable archaeological find of recent years was the chance discovery in July 2009, by an amateur working with a metal detector in a farmer's field in England's Midlands, of an immense deposit of Anglo-Saxon treasure. The Staffordshire Hoard, as it has become known, consists almost entirely of gold, silver and gemstone fittings removed from military equipment (swords, shields, etc.). Why was all this precious material buried in the ground and never recovered? Scholars have been wrestling with these questions for the last four years. Webster is chair of the Staffordshire Hoard Research Advisory Panel and is one of the very few people who have had the opportunity to study the entire Staffordshire Hoard firsthand. In her lecture, she demonstrates stylistic links between the hoard and the extraordinary objects excavated at the Sutton Hoo Ship-Burial in 1939. She sets the hoard in its political and religious context, discussing its powerful human and animal imagery and considering the new insights the hoard provides into the relationship between art and power during the period when Anglo-Saxon England was converting from paganism to Christianity. This lecture offers its New Mexico audience a remarkable opportunity to learn about this breathtaking archaeological discovery from one of the scholars most qualified to talk about it.

Wednesday, April 17, 5:15 p.m.
Rory McTurk, "The Uses of Norse Mythology"

Norse mythology is populated by such storied gods and heroes as Odin, Thor, Loki and Vølund the Smith. Legends of these characters appear above all in works written by the great Scandinavian mythographer, Snorri Sturluson (d. 1241)—especially in his History of the Kings of Norway (known as Heimskringla) and his Prose Edda, the most important of all sources for Old Norse mythology. McTurk's lecture— title adapted from Ken Dowden's book, The Uses of Greek Mythology—investigates different ways myths were used by ancient authors to transmit them and by modern scholars to interpret them. The lecture first discusses a biblical example from the Old Testament, then goes on to consider Snorri's use of myth in his writings.

Wednesday, April 17, 7:15 p.m.
Asa Simon Mittman, "‘Real' Monsters: Medieval Belief, Wonder, and the ‘Wonders of the East'"

Monsters are, of course, not real—but they were in the Middle Ages. In the modern world, we tend to define a "monster" as something terrifying but imaginary, as opposed to terrifying and real creatures, like great white sharks or giant squids. In medieval times, though, monsters were a very real—and important—part of the Christian European worldview. They were a vital component in a world that ranged from God and angels, through humans and animals, to demons and Satan, and as such, monsters appear all throughout medieval art and literature, in church sculpture, wall painting, manuscript illumination and metalwork, large world maps and tiny ivory combs. Such monsters are often dismissed as "pagan intrusions" into a Christian context, but they are no such thing. Instead, they are central to medieval understandings of the Christian universe. Mittman's talk centers on the Wonders of the East, a medieval catalogue of monsters believed to live at the far side of the world, in southern Africa and eastern Asia. The "wonders" will be used to push our understanding of the monstrous, and also of the "real" itself. Pre-Enlightenment Europe applied very different criteria to determine the reality of a phenomenon than we would today. An examination of the wild fantasies contained within the Wonders of the East serve to erode the boundary between the "real" and the "imaginary," between "here" and "there," and ultimately, between "us" and "them."

Thursday, April 18, 5:15 p.m.
Concert by the UNM Early Music Ensemble directed by Colleen Sheinberg: "Myths and Monsters in Medieval Music"

Thursday, April 14, 7:15 p.m.
Janetta Rebold Benton, "Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings"

A multitude of gargoyles are found atop the medieval buildings of Western Europe. Carved of stone in the form of people, real animals, or, most often, fantastic animals, gargoyles are found peering and leering down from the roof lines of chapels, churches and cathedrals as well as from secular buildings such as town halls and private homes. Gargoyles, functional fantasies, are elaborate water spouts—glorified gutters. Rainwater is removed from the roof of a building via a trough cut into the back of the gargoyle and exits, usually, through the gargoyle's mouth. The frequently asked questions about the meaning of gargoyles have a variety of answers. Because so much of the sculpture on medieval churches was instructional (essentially the scriptures carved in stone for an illiterate audience), it may be suspected that the gargoyles also were meaningful. Although medieval documents that might aid in deciphering their significance are scarce, it may be said that the underlying themes seem to relate to the Church's concern with sin and salvation. While most gargoyles appear to be part of the religious iconography, other gargoyles engage in antics of a very different nature and offer a bit of earthy medieval humor.

The speakers:

Leslie Webster was formerly keeper of the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, London, perhaps the greatest museum in the world. She is also honorary visiting professor of archaeology at University College London. During her many years at the British Museum she curated four major exhibitions on medieval themes, each of which attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. Webster is the world's leading authority on the Franks Casket, the subject of her opening lecture at the 2013 Medieval Spring Lecture Series. She is also chair of the Staffordshire Hoard Research Advisory Panel and is one of the few people who has intimate firsthand knowledge of the Staffordshire Hoard—the topic of her second lecture—which created headlines around the world when it came to light in the summer of 2009. Webster's many publications include her magisterial survey, Anglo-Saxon Art: A New History, published by Cornell University Press in 2012. She was president of the Society for Medieval Archaeology, 2007–10, and is a trustee of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Tomás Ó Cathasaigh is the Henry L. Shattuck Professor of Irish Studies in the Department of Celtic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University, where he has taught since 1995; previously he taught at University College Dublin. Ó Cathasaigh is perhaps the world's leading expert on Irish origin legends, the topic of his presentation at this year's lecture series. His research focuses on early Irish narrative literature, including its politico-religious ideology, its relationship to mythology, and its thematic content and structure. At Harvard he teaches Old and Middle Irish language and literature, early Irish historical tales and Irish heroic saga. His publications include "Aspects of Memory and Identity in Early Ireland" (2011), "The Literature of Medieval Ireland to c. 800: St. Patrick to the Vikings" (2008) and "Irish Myths and Legends" (2005).

Rory McTurk is emeritus professor of Icelandic Studies at the University of Leeds, U.K, where he taught from 1978 until his retirement in 2007; he previously taught at University College Dublin and at the Universities of Lund (Sweden) and Copenhagen (Denmark). McTurk is recognized as a distinguished expert on Old and Modern Icelandic language and literature as well as on Old and Middle English and Gaelic. He has been the holder of a Snorri Sturluson Fellowship awarded by the Sigurður Nordal Institute of the University of Iceland. He was a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., in 1998–99 and was UNM's visiting scholar in medieval Scandinavian studies in spring 2011, teaching a popular course, "Viking Mythology." He is the translator of two Icelandic sagas and is currently working on a new edition of The Saga of Ragnar Loðbrok. He is the author of Chaucer and the Norse and Celtic Worlds (2004) and the editor of The Blackwell Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature (2004). McTurk is a former president of the Viking Society for Northern Research.

Asa Simon Mittman is associate professor of Art History at California State University, Chico, having received his Ph.D. from Stanford University. His research focuses on medieval textual and pictorial representations of the monstrous, medieval maps and medieval representations of Jews. He is the author of Maps and Monsters in Medieval England (2006), co-author of Inconceivable Beasts: The "Wonders of the East" in the Beowulf Manuscript (2013), and co-editor of the Research Companion to Monsters and the Monstrous (2012). Mittman serves as president of MEARCSTAPA (Monsters: The Experimental Association for the Research of Cryptozoology through Scholarly Theory and Practical Application), a group that he says was accidentally formed in 2008 "to create a home for walkers in the margins of academia." Mittman received several major grants for his innovative work in the field of the digital humanities.

Janetta Rebold Benton is distinguished professor of art history and director of the Pforzheimer Honors College at Pace University, Pleasantville, N.Y. An internationally recognized authority on medieval art, she is in frequent demand as a speaker: she has delivered many subscription lecture series at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution. She formerly served as art historian at the American Embassy in Paris and led lecture trips throughout the world for the Metropolitan Museum and the Smithsonian. In 2012, she received a Fulbright Foundation Senior Scholar Award and served as visiting professor at the Graduate School of Art History, European University, St. Petersburg, Russia. Benton's publications include Materials, Methods, and Masterpieces of Medieval Art (2009), Medieval Mischief: Wit and Humour in the Art of the Middle Ages (2004), Art of the Middle Ages (2002), and The Medieval Menagerie: Animals in the Art of the Middle Ages (1992), which was a Book of the Month Club selection.

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