Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Affe mit Schädel: The Rheinhold Monkey

I don't think it is any sort of secret that I have a certain fascination for skulls. I must also admit to a similar obsession with monkeys. Put monkeys with skulls and you've got me all night. Over the years I have been given a number of variations of the Monkey with Skull theme: lamps, bookends and a small statuette.The basic elements of each are the "Philosophizing Monkey" holding a human skull, sitting on top of a stack of books, one of which has "Darwin" inscribed on the side. Inscribed on an open book at the base of the stack is the Latin phrase: "eritis sicut deus" from Genesis 3.5. The statue, Affe mit Schädel (ape with skull), was created by Wolfgang Hugo Rheinhold and first exhibited in 1893.

From the excellent pamphlet Rheinhold's Philosophizing Monkey .pdf (via Wikipedia):

The excised Biblical quote possibly suggests that good and evil cannot be known, or told apart. With the ape's study, the library of books and the caliper instruments, the suggestion is that the statue is warning against the application of rationalism in the absence of morality. Furthermore, when a human is depicted holding a skull it is usually a comment on mortality and the inevitability of death, famously Hamlet bereaves Yorick in one instance but is soon repulsed by this macabre souvenir as it brings him face-to-face with all life's grim destiny. But, for Hugo Rheinhold's ape it is something quite different. The ape is engaged in assessment and measurement (confirmed by the calipers). That we should even consider this level of intelligence in another species is a bold examination of ourselves through eyes that bear witness to the disproportionate leverage historically awarded humankind. Hugo Rheinhold's original inscription "eritis sicut deus" (sometimes wrongly "eritus …."), either suggests that Darwinian understanding may lead to Frankenstinian abuse of life's essence, or a more inclusive innocence that recognises a place for other advanced life‑forms on our intellectual podium, if only we can just accommodate those guests.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

pleased you like the statue and pamphlet. plenty more information at the Darwin Monkey website.