Jack the Ripper. Jeffrey Dahmer. John Wayne Gacy. Locusta of Gaul. If that last name doesn’t seem to fit with the others, it’s likely because our modern society largely believes that serial killers are a recent phenomenon. Not so, argues Debbie Felton—in fact, there’s ample evidence to show that serial killers stalked the ancient world just as they do the modern one.
Felton brings this evidence to light in Monsters and Monarchs, and in doing so, forces us to rethink the assumption that serial killers arise from problems unique to modern society. Exploring a trove of stories from classical antiquity, she uncovers mythological monsters and human criminals that fit many serial killer profiles: the highway killers confronted by the Greek hero Theseus, such as Procrustes, who tortured and mutilated their victims; the Sphinx, or “strangler,” from the story of Oedipus; child-killing demons and witches, which could explain abnormal infant deaths; and historical figures such as Locusta of Gaul, the most notorious poisoner in the early Roman Empire. Redefining our understanding of serial killers and their origins, Monsters and Monarchs changes how we view both ancient Greek and Roman society and the modern-day killers whose stories still captivate the public today.
Debbie Felton, Professor of Classics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the author of Haunted Greece and Rome: Ghost Stories from Classical Antiquity and editor of Landscapes of Dread in Classical Antiquity: Negative Emotion in Natural and Constructed Spaces.
This is the first serious, fully documented book to prove that murderous psychopaths—individuals we would now recognize as 'serial killers'—can emerge in any culture and were roaming the world thousands of years ago. I found the ancient cases from myth and history entertaining, educational, and provocative, and Felton’s interpretations and conclusions are persuasive and worthwhile. Murder plus mythology: irresistible.
Felton’s use of a wide range of examples and sources to document the existence of ancient serial killers, her willingness to cite and discuss ambiguous examples (and make that ambiguity explicit), and her frequent comparisons to modern examples of serial killers make this book thought-provoking, persuasive, and a lot of fun to read.
[Monsters and Monarchs] is engagingly written and presented...it would serve as a good introduction to Greek mythology for a reader largely or wholly unacquainted with the material.
~The Classical Review
An interesting, thought-provoking read about classical stories of violence…Recommended.
This book is a complex and fascinating interweave of classical myth, ancient history, and true crime as manifesting in both our modern imaginations and those of generations past.
~New Books in Ancient History
Is there any actual evidence for the presence of serial killers in ancient Greece and/or Rome?...[Monsters and Monarchs] seeks to answer that question in the affirmative, thereby not only providing the first cultural history of serial killing in antiquity for the benefit of classicists and ancient historians, but also adding a significant amount of depth and breadth to the persistent and enthusiastic discussion of contemporary serial killers and killing that occurs in various types of media and has seen a significant rise in popularity over the last few years.
~Bryn Mawr Classical Review
Introduction. Serial Killers in the Ancient World
Chapter 1. Identifying Serial Killers Then and Now
Chapter 2. Methods to the Madness
Chapter 3. Motives for Serial Murder across the Ages
Chapter 4. Murderous Greek Roof-Tiles and Other Legal Problems
Chapter 5. Murder and the Advantages of Roman Citizenship
Chapter 6. The Popularity of Serial Poisoning
Chapter 7. Heracles and the Headhunters
Chapter 8. Theseus and the Highway Killers
Chapter 9. How Boxing Evolved from Murderous Contest to Olympic Sport
Chapter 10. Serial Murders in Local Legends
Chapter 11. Serial Slaying of Suitors and Spouses
Chapter 12. Witches and Other Child-Murderers
Chapter 13. Serial Murder Then and Now, There and Here
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