Monster, is from the same root as ‘Demonstrate’ – and interestingly, the ‘Mon’ within this is a form of PIE ‘Men’ (i.e. Spirit, Mind, Mental Activity .. and a potential root for ‘Man’/’Men’ as our species (self-)designation … a perhaps rather better one than ‘Doubly Wise Man’ (‘Homo Sapiens Sapiens’), but, then, I digress). It would be tempting to misread this and suggest that the Monster is thus a spirit sent amongst us, especially given the truly terrifying force of certain other ‘Men’ derived figures in our theology – consider The Manyu, foremost of the Vedic War Gods, or Minerva for instance. However this is, as I say, quite the eminent misreading. The PIE ‘Men’ formulation in question is the causitive one.
The ‘Monster’, in other words, is something sent to ‘Demonstrate’ something – it is sent to Cause Us To Think. Moneo, in Latin, is ‘To Warn’. Monstrum is taking that ‘Warning’ and making it an Instrumental. The sending of the Monster is something designed to implicate that, to put it bluntly … “Stop Doing What You’re Doing”. Or, potentially, that it is already far too late to abide by the earlier portents of doom (‘Judgement’), and now the only thing left to do is beg forgiveness and placate the Angry Gods.
In the sense of the ‘signifier’, the Minotaur is of obvious saliency here – conceived, as it was, as a very deliberate revenge by Poseidon against Minos’ impropriety in withholding a particular fabulous bull from the sacrifice. “Since you love this bull so much…”, indeed. What had resulted from that union was a perversion of the natural order – and a deliberate one, so as to represent the tacit and tangible consequence for the earlier perversion of the natural order undertaken by the arrogant mortal king. Contrapasso, we might suggest.
However, a somewhat different ‘Monstrous’ typology is what intrigues me in these circumstances – that of Cetus, or, rather, the Cetea (i.e. in plural) … a term which also gives us our modern ‘Cetacean’ (i.e. ‘Whale’), and which referred in Classical times to the formidable sea monsters dispatched by Poseidon to enforce His Judgement upon certain upstart mortal regents and realms. Intriguingly, in both of the major cases – that sent against Troy in reply to Laomedon’s refusal to properly pay Poseidon for wall-construction, and that sent against Ethiopia following Cassiopeia’s boast as to the beauty of Andromeda – what we find is that the sea-monster is to be assuaged via the sacrifice of a young maiden. Perhaps this may help to inform the later Christian-era understandings around rescuing such a maid from being slain by a dragon, as we see with St George. Of further interest for us is that in both cases, what we see is that this sea-monster is confronted by the Striker/Thunderer in the pseudo-euhemerized Greek understanding – Herakles fights the Cetus sent against Troy, Perseus fights the Cetus sent against Ethiopia.
It would be tempting to suggest that this is therefore a ‘disruption of the Cosmic Order/Balance’ as the result of an intercession by the Striker/Thunderer ‘gainst His Father’s Divine Will … yet while it is unquestionably the case that we find the Striker/Thunderer (Herakles, Indra, Thor, Hanuman, Perseus, Krishna, etc.) hailed as the ‘Friend to Man’ and our Protector and Intercessor in such dire circumstances, I do not think it right to extend this typological explication further to such an an-ordained conclusion. In the case of Herakles at Troy, it is the case that Cetus is slain – however, Laomedon then proceeds to replicate the exact same failing which he had committed with regard to Poseidon, refusing to pay Herakles for his (and Troy’s) protection. Thus leading to Herakles making war against Troy and slaying Laomedon. The cycle is complete, the Divine Judgement is carried out anyway, following the mortal’s refusal to learn the lesson which had necessitated the sending of the Cetus in the first instance.
– An excerpt from my recent ‘Towards An Indo-European Theory Of Demonology – Chaos, Devourers, Outsiders, Messengers and Monsters‘