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Why do we give things that exist in the world attributes that we recognize as human? For example, does a dog “talk”? The wind blows"? Does God get “angry”? By the way, what is “human” in our culture? These and other issues are described by a concept: anthropomorphism. Understand more below.

What is anthropomorphism? 

This word derives from the Greek, anthropos, that is, human, and morphe, which is form. Thus, anthropomorphism is, in general, the attribution of human forms to beings, things and phenomena that are not human.

Divine or theological anthropomorphism is considered to be the origin of this phenomenon. In this case, the term describes the characterization of the figure of God or gods with human aspects in appearance, personality or attitudes.

Currently, mainly in biology, anthropomorphism is the attitude of assuming human characteristics in other animals. For example, claiming that bees have maternal instincts, or the controversial issue of depression in dogs.

Anthropomorphism and Anthropopathism

Anthropopathism is a term more properly used in theology to refer to the act of placing specifically human feelings in the Christian God. Thus, love, sadness or longing are human properties, and not necessarily those of God, who is spirit.

In this sense, anthropomorphism describes a more general action of attributing human forms to any phenomenon or beings that exist in the world. It applies from theology to discourses present in common sense.

Anthropomorphism in religions

It is quite common for anthropomorphism to be identified in religions. Mainly, there is this characterization in so-called polytheistic religions (that is, having many gods, unlike monotheism) and anthropomorphic, giving the various phenomena a human form.

However, this classification should not be considered absolute. After all, “anthropomorphism” is a Western description, based on Euro-American notions of what is human and non-human.

Thus, in different cultures the concept of “humanity” is not exactly the same from the Western perspective, making no sense to say that they commit anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism in the Bible

Although considered monotheistic, the Christian religion is full of anthropomorphic elements. Using the Bible as a source, here are some examples:

God with human organs: “And the Lord smelt a sweet smell, and the Lord said in his heart” (Genesis 8:21). If God is spirit, he has no organs. To see him that way is to make his image human-like.

Talking donkey: In the book of Numbers, the story is told of Balaam, who was saved by his donkey. Balaam, who initially thought the animal was in his way, complained, and the donkey responded by saying that she had dodged an angel.

Anthropomorphism in Ancient Egypt

In Egyptian cultures, the concept of zoomorphism (the act of giving animal forms to human persons or things) appears in combination with anthropomorphism, although they appear to be opposites.

In this case, the caveat made above is valid, that is, that this is not the only way to understand non-Western religions. By the way, it is important to know starting with the name: in Egyptian, its original name is “KMT”, which means “black earth”.

Amon-Ra: this is one of the main gods classically present in Egyptian culture who has a generally human form in representations, although he is considered the sun god.

Sphinx of Giza: One of the largest constructions in the world, the Sphinx of Giza combines a human head with an animal body, being considered an example of anthropozoomorphism.

Anthropomorphism in Greek Mythology

One of the most classic illustrations of anthropomorphism is perhaps that of Greek mythology. In it, the gods represented supernatural and earthly phenomena. However, they often had a human form.

Zeus: is the god of the heavens, lightning and lightning, and is also the father of the other gods. There are several sculptures built by the Greeks at the time representing him in his human form.

Aphrodite: also well known, is the goddess of love, sexuality and beauty. Despite representing feelings and ideals, it also has a human form.

Therefore, anthropomorphism can be a way of visualizing how human cultures relate to their own notion of humanity. Furthermore, their religions and myths are a way to experience their possible imagination and creativity within their cultural context.

Anthropomorphism in Literature

Literature is a fruitful field for the imagination of possible worlds. Therefore, there are anthropomorphisms from different perspectives in this field. Below, see some examples:

Little Red Riding Hood: is an ancient fable that dates back to the 10th century, with the Brothers Grimm version being the best known. In history, the big bad wolf is the villain with human aspects, mainly in his evil.

The three little pigs: also with many versions, the fable dates from the 18th century and was published by Joseph Jacobs. Also having a wolf as a villain, the main characters are pigs who build houses, have laziness and also ambitions.

Garfield: in a comic book format made by Jim Davis, Garfield is a cat with feelings, personality and actions considered quite human.

Animal Farm: Authored by George Orwell, a writer known for criticizing authoritarian systems. In this satire, the animals are protagonists of a revolution, as the title indicates.

Book of Ignorance: Anthropomorphism is often considered an error or inadequacy. However, this book written by Manuel de Barros can open up creative possibilities beyond anthropomorphism itself.

Thus, more than considering anthropomorphism as inadequate, it can be a starting point to explore the possibilities of human imagination. Also, the stories tell about what kind of culture and society we live in. 


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