Lecture 6: Hirsute Women

This lecture considers hair as a marker of monstrosity, beginning with ancient accounts of the hirsute women, who lived on an island on the west coast of Africa (possibly the Canary Islands or the Cape Verde Islands). From there we look at the theme in later times, travelling to Japan to visit the Harionago or ‘Barbed Woman’, familiar from modern horror films; the Hairy Women of Klipnocky, believed to roam the Appalachian Mountains; to the sideshow attraction of the ‘Bearded Lady’; the Medieval trend for a hirsute Mary Magdalene; and the long locks of Rapunzel. Join us and share the hair!

For a peak preview of some of the topics we’ll be looking at in this lecture, read Cindy LaCom’s ‘Ideological Aporia: When Victorian England’s Hairy Woman Met God and Darwin’, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, Issue 4.2 (Summer 2008): https://www.ncgsjournal.com/issue42/lacom.html

You may also be interested in M. A. Katritzky’s ‘A Wonderfull Monster Borne in Germany’: Hairy Girls in Medieval and Early Modern German Book, Court And Performance Culture’, German Life and Letters, Vol. 67.4 (September 2014): https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/glal.12054

Image for Lecture = Portrait of Barbara van Beck. c.1650. Wellcome Images


Marguerite Johnson is Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Queensland. She is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality, gender, and the body, particularly in the poetry of Sappho, Catullus, and Ovid, as well as magical traditions in Greece, Rome, and the Near East. She also researches Classical Reception Studies, with a regular focus on Australia. In addition to ancient world studies, Marguerite is interested in sexual histories in modernity as well as magic in the west more broadly, especially the practices and art of Australian witch, Rosaleen Norton. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

Bodies Behaving Badly – From Vagina Dentata to Wandering Wombs – 6 part Lecture Series

This is the final lecture in a special six-part series, Professor Marguerite Johnson takes us on an uncanny journey across time and space into the wilds of human imagination. Each lecture introduces a particular case study – from vaginas that bite to penises that disappear – and is extensively illustrated along with written accounts of these bodily anomalies. Participants will also receive a reading list for those interested in pursuing the topics in more detail.

Image for Series: Mary Magdalene, 15th century, wood, from Altschwendt, Austria

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