GENETIC DEFORMITIES AND MONSTERS OF NATURE


De monstrorum Natura, Caussis, et differentiis. (and) Pyronarcha sive De Fulminum Natura.

Padua, Paolo Frambotto (and) Criuellario, 1634.

£5,950

4to. pp. (xvi) 262 (xxvi); (viii) 115 (xxv). i) Roman letter, woodcut headpieces and foliated initials, fine engraved frontispiece by Paduan artist Giovanni Battista Bissoni depicting monsters. 58 mostly half-page finely executed engravings of similar subjects, some repeated. Marginal foxing, otherwise very good and clean. ii) Roman letter, woodcut printer’s device to title page, woodcut initials and ornaments, full-page woodcut of an African effigy, repeated. Slight age-yellowing, marginal foxing, else a very good copy. In contemporary vellum over boards, paper lettering piece to spine. Contemporary autograph to foot of printed title page, all edges red.

i) FIRST ILLUSTRATED EDITION of a fascinating and exhaustive treatise on monsters of nature, amply illustrated with remarkably detailed and frequently disturbing engravings, with dates and locations to add authenticity. Beginning with an explanation of what it means to be a monster, the work then progresses through monsters of various different kinds. Book One contains those that have supposedly actually existed, in living memory or in history. While some are relatively conventional, suffering from congenital abnormalities, such as lacking or gaining limbs, or born with extra digits, others are more unusual, born with an extra face or torso in the stomach, one child was born in Rome with the head of Anubis. Others are more fantastical, with human heads attached to equine bodies and a cat with human legs growing ‘e parte posteriore.’

Ancient authorities are cited, among others Plutarch claiming to have witnessed the birth of a centaur. Purely animal abnormalities are also discussed and illustrated, with multiple limbs, heads and even tongues described as remarkably commonplace for every species from pigs to hens. The reasons for the higher frequency of deformations in animals than in plants are detailed, including a description of ears of corn with 15 heads, and of trees which grow countless different flowers. It concludes with a breakdown of the ten types of monsters: lacking, contorted, headless, conjoined, oversized, undersized, many-limbed from its own species, many-limbed from different species, of combined species, and half-demons.

Book Two focuses on human abnormalities, looking at those born without faces, lips, limbs or necks, with outsized or single eyes and deformed limbs. Various different pairs of conjoined twins are also illustrated, a remarkable achievement considering the extreme rarity of such a condition. Having assured his contribution to early scientific knowledge, Licetus then moves on to more imaginary creations, with limbs sprouting at all angles, ears on shoulders, eyes in backs and vertically amid the hair of heads, with hooves and horns and trunks. Finally, he examines the mythical monsters of various cultures, such as raven-child hybrids and lizard-men. The work is the earliest to address malformations of the embryo and to acknowledge randomness and heredity as probable causes. Excluding religious and superstitious explanations of departures from normality in humans, animals, and plants, Liceti is a pioneer of scientific thinking over divine retribution theories.

ii) FIRST EDITION of Liceti’s work on fiery heat, emphasising the parallel effects of lightning bolts on the natural world and fever in men. The first book discusses the historical perception of lightning, with copious side-notes and quotations, elaborating on such topics as why dogs will not eat animals killed by lightning, and the supposed lack of lightning storms in the North. The second book concentrates on the probable origins of fever, perceiving the heart as a heat-source and discussing inter alia the etymology of ‘fever’ in Latin and Greek, the divine nature of sickness, and why emperors are crowned with laurels, which will not burn easily.

Fortunio Liceti (1577-1657) was a doctor of philosophy and medicine at the Universities of Pisa, Bologna and Padua. Writing on various topics, from astronomy to biology, De Monstrorum is his most famous work.

i) BM STC It. 17th C p.486. Wellcome I-3786. Osler 3235 [Meyer 236] Not in Riccardi.
ii) BM STC It. 17th C p.487. Wellcome I-3787. Osler 3236: “containing a plate (in two states) of the effigy.” Wheeler Gift 106: “Tract on lightning and thunder consisting mostly of quotations of classical writers”. Not in Riccardi.

L889

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