Meet the B-List Monsters of Greek Mythology

Pity the second-tier monsters of ancient myth. “Ethon, no one’s heard of him,” laments mythology buff John Harris. “And what about the little-known Teumessian Fox? He was way cool.”

Text and image for Ethon from My Monster Notebook

B-list beasts might finally win your love with My Monster Notebook, the newest monstrous creation from John, former editor at Getty Publications and author of Greece! Rome! Monsters!. That book introduced the big guns of Greek mythology, from Basilisk to Unicorn, and featured pictures by mad illustrator-genius Calef Brown.

Some of the monsters in My Monster Notebook you’ve probably heard of—like Argus with his 100 eyes, or Circe who turned men into animals. But have you spent quality time with Ethon, the eagle who tore out Prometheus’s liver to start the morning? Or the Teumessian Fox, a ravening beast sent to punish ancient Thebes for its collective crimes?

Teumessian fox spread from My Monster Notebook

As concocted by illustrator Mark Todd, whose überwacky drawings you might have seen in the New York Times, and designer Jim Drobka, My Monster Notebook poses as a scrapbook put together by a tweenage monsterologist. It combines found objects (tufts of beast fur, torn pages of research) with John’s snappy monster synopses, which go something like this:


Bet you’ve never heard of him…I know I never had till I wrote this book!

He was a fox—a HUGE, HUGE fox, and—guess what?—yet another offspring of the dreadful Echidna.

The Teumessian Fox ran around the great city of Thebes, terrorizing everyone. And no one could figure out how to get rid of him, because his destiny was never to be caught. By anyone. Ever.

The King of Thebes thought and thought about this terrible problem. Finally he had a brainstorm. He would turn lose the magical dog Laelaps, whose destiny was to catch every single thing he chased after.

Zeus, king of the gods, was now faced with a tricky situation, fate-wise: if you have a fox who can never be caught being chased by a dog who catches everything he runs after, who is going to win?

Thinking about this gave Zeus a major headache, and so he turned them both to stone. Which is one way to solve a problem.

John, who also wrote Strong Stuff and Pop-Up Aesop, crafts monsters that, while not exactly cuddly, aren’t completely terrifying, either. “I wrote the books in a wise-guy, smart-alecky voice that kids seem to like,” he told me. Ancient myths can be “gross and violent”—organs plucked out, flesh devoured. “The jokey voice makes the violence seem goofy rather than horrible. Otherwise, you’d end up with an awful lot of heads being cut off.”

Cover of My Monster Notebook by John Harris

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      Photography of Troubled Dreams

      Japanese photographer Shiga Lieko works with local communities, immersing herself in them and incorporating their histories and myths into her photographs. Her series Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore) was created between 2009 and 2012 in Kitakama, Japan, a coastal village devastated by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The images possess a dreamlike, postapocalyptic quality that evokes myth, natural disaster, and trauma.

      Six from the series are included in the exhibition The Younger Generation: Contemporary Japanese Photography (through February 21).

      Three images from Shiga Lieko’s series Rasen Kaigan (Spiral Shore), from top: Rasen Kaigan 39 and Portrait of Cultivation, 2009; Rasen Kaigan 21, 2012. Chromogenic prints. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council, 2015.1.2.–.4 © Shiga Lieko


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