Sirens and Centaurs

Animal Studies and Gender Studies, from Antiquity to the Renaissance

Published on 21 June 2016 par Equipe GIS IdG

Medieval and Renaissance Center Conference NYU, April 14-15, 2017

Sirens and Centaurs Animal Studies and Gender Studies, from Antiquity to the Renaissance

Keynote speakers

  • Leonard Barkan (Department of Comparative Literature, Princeton University)
  • Andreas Krass (Institut für deutsche Literatur, Humboldt University, Berlin)

The sirens and centaurs of the Physiologus tradition make up an odd but notorious couple: they appear as monstrous, exaggerated incarnations of heteronormative notions of femininity and masculinity. This interdisciplinary conference will combine the theories and methods of gender studies and animal studies in order to examine how imaginary representations of nonhuman animals such as these were used to construct gender and sexuality in premodern times, and also how those constructions were subverted. To what extent did the bodies of animals – as imagined in premodern science, literature and art – serve as cultural signifiers of sex, gender and desire? In what ways did premodern mythology, theology and zoology contribute to the formation of gender stereotypes that corresponded (and often still correspond) to ideas of the “natural” or “unnatural”? How do perceived continuities or discontinuities between human and other animals support such notions as bestiality and miscegenation, and the taboos and fantasies surrounding them? In what ways are pleasure or disgust, attraction or loathing, desire or fear, conjured or manipulated in particular texts or images from this period? To what extent do the answers to these questions change over time?

The conference, to be held at NYU in New York on April 14-15 2017, will re-examine texts and images connected to:

· biblical stories, such as those of the creation and fall of humankind

· stories of metamorphoses of human beings into animals (such as Ovid and other myths)

· the tradition of the Physiologus and subsequent works on natural science (such as Thomas of Cantimpré, Konrad of Megenberg, Pierre Belon)

· the tradition of Aesopian and other fables

· beast epic

· romances and other tales in which monsters serve as protagonists (such as Melusine)

Please send abstracts (ca. 250 words) of proposed papers to the organizers Sarah Kay ( and Andreas Krass ( to reach them by November 4, 2016.

- Decisions will be notified by December 15, 2016.