The Centaur’s Smile

The Human Animal in Early Greek Art

J. Michael Padgett; With contributions by William A. P. Childs and Despoina Tsiafakis et al.

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Human animals—such as centaurs, satyrs, sphinxes, sirens, and gorgons—as well as other composite creatures like Pan, Triton, and the Minotaur are extremely common in Greek myth, literature, theater, and the visual arts. Understanding the phenomenon of combining human and animal elements into composite creatures is central to our knowledge of the Greek imagination. This landmark book is the first to investigate representations of these human animals in early Greek art (ca. 850–450 B.C.).

The Centaur’s Smile discusses the oriental antecedents of these fantastic creatures, examining the influence of Egyptian and Near Eastern models on the formation of Greek monsters in the early Archaic period. Essays also explore the nature and origin of horse-men (centaurs and satyrs) and the ways in which they are represented in early Greek art. Furthermore, the book surveys the broader range of Greek composite creatures and discusses their evolving forms and changing roles and meaning.

Over one hundred exquisite objects—all beautifully reproduced in color—are described and analyzed in detail. Among the featured works are reliefs and statuettes in stone, bronze, and terracotta; jewelry and metalwork in gold, silver, and electrum; engraved sealstones in rock crystal, jasper, and cornelian; and painted ceramic vases from Athens, Corinth, Rhodes, Miletus, Cyprus, and Etruria.

J. Michael Padgett is curator of Ancient art at the Princeton University Art Museum; William A. P. Childs is professor of art and archaeology at Princeton University; Despoina Tsiafakis is assistant professor at the Cultural and Educational Technology Institute, Xanthi, Greece.

“This copiously illustrated and superbly produced exhibition catalogue provides a useful overview of ‘the human animal’—composite creatures such as satyrs, sphinxes, etc.—in Geometric through Early Classical art. . . . The catalogue is clearly written and accessible to an audience of students and casual museum visitors as well as scholars. . . . [It] fills a gap in the English-language scholarship on early Greek art.”—Rachel Kousser, Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“This elegant, superbly illustrated book is both a catalog of a recent exhibition of 100 objects, mostly in the minor arts, and a thoroughgoing interpretation of the role of the ‘human animal’ as a transgressive creature, straddling the bounds between humankind and beasts. Highly recommended.”—Choice

"Although highly specialized and unique in the English-language coverage of this topic, the text is accessible to general readers. . . . Recommended for larger academic and special collections."—Library Journal

"For those interested in Greek art, mythology, or the relationship between animals and humans (this reviewer's special interest), the book is a must read. . . . A door on an overlooked part of Greek antiquity has been elegantly opened for the rest of us to walk through." —Kenneth F. Kitchell, Jr., The Classical Outlook

"Richly illustrated. . . . Inexpensive, accessible, and useful for both the general audience and specialist.  The particular attention to global issues of reception, in addition to the more usual stylistic and mythological discussions, places The Centaur's Smile firmly in the current stream of scholarship on the experimental period of early Iron Age Greece."—Alison E. Barclay, University of Toronto Quarterly

"[An] impressive volume. . . . The Centaur's Smile provides a valuable service in bringing together the objects it surveys, especially the Near Eastern material, and in posing important questions. It provides fertile ground for further investigation."—Mary Ann Eaverly, Classical Bulletin

ISBN: 9780300101638
Publication Date: September 10, 2003
Publishing Partner: Distributed for the Princeton University Art Museum
424 pages, 9 1/4 x 11 1/4
50 duotone + 225 color illus.
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