Lecture 3: Shapeshifters – 3 Nov 2024

Imagine being able to use witchcraft to change form. To the ancient Romans, witches were able to do this, assuming the form of birds to fly about at night to wreak havoc and evil. In this talk, we meet these fearsome witches, along with werewolves, who did not choose to transform but had transformation forced upon them. Fairy tales are also important to our investigation, and we look at stories such as ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ which may be tied to ancient beliefs in werewolves. As shapeshifters are present throughout time and space, we consider some from other cultures, ending with some modern-day monster-hunters who claim to have found evidence of ‘real life’ shapeshifters.

Interested in some background reading? Try Clare Mully’s ‘Women Who Fly,’ History Today 68.6 (June 2018): Women Who Fly | History Today– a book review of Serenity Young’s Women Who Fly– and April Holloway’s ‘Bizarre Discovery of Werewolf-Like Skull in a Chained Box in Bulgaria,’ Ancient Origins (October 30, 2014): Bizarre Discovery of Werewolf-Like Skull in a Chained Box in Bulgaria | Ancient Origins (ancient-origins.net)

You may also like: Tanika Koosmen’s articles: ‘The Origins of the Ancient Werewolf,’ The Conversation (October 29, 2018): The ancient origins of werewolves (theconversation.com); ‘Why Werewolves Eat People: Cannibalism in the Werewolf Narrative,’ Folklore Thursday (January 18, 2018): Why Werewolves Eat People: Cannibalism in the Werewolf Narrative – #FolkloreThursday

Image: Dolon. Detail from an Attic red-figure lekythos, c. 460 BCE.


Marguerite Johnson is a cultural historian of the ancient Mediterranean, specialising in sexuality and gender, 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 Honorary Professor of Classics and Ancient History at The University of Queensland, and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day


This Lecture is Part of the Folk Belief in The Ancient Mediterranean a 5 part lecture series – tickets may be booked for this lecture here or for the whole series

In this five-part series, Marguerite Johnson takes you on a journey over land, sea, sky, and into the ethereal world of folk belief in the ancient Mediterranean. Complete with illustrations and the words of the ancients themselves, we look at the strange creatures believed to inhabit land and sea, the terrifying demons that threatened to snatch your child, the werewolf and other shapeshifters, the ancient prototype of the fairytale, ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and some old-fashioned tall tales.

Series image: Sebastian Münster from Olaus Magnus’ Carta marina (Basel c. 1544).

Nov 3rd 2024 - 8.00 pm - 9:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

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