Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Monsters in Renaissance Science

  • Whitney DirksEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_1102-1


The English word “monster” encapsulates a variety of distinct prodigious, medical, and natural phenomena. Prodigious, portentous, or miraculous monsters could provide the people of Europe with evidence of God’s will, warning, or wrath, when read emblematically by a contemporary expert. Monstrous births (physically abnormal humans and animals born to anatomically normal parents) might be interpreted as evidence of God’s ineffable variety or Nature’s mistakes or alternately in a political vein. If an entire human society were composed of such unusual individuals, all of whom shared the same physical or behavioral abnormality, they would constitute one of the monstrous races who lived far beyond the margins of civilized society. Similarly, fabulous beasts such as unicorns, griffins, dragons, and sea monsters were believed to populate the far ends of the earth and were interpreted as both warnings of the dangers of the unknown and representations of actual living animals. Monsters were reproduced in a variety of media, from lavishly illustrated maps and manuscript bestiaries, to Latin medical and wonder treatises, to cheaply printed pamphlets and broadsides in the vernacular. Despite their differences, such works repeated the same examples, often accompanied by the same woodcut illustrations; indeed, once printed in either Latin or the vernacular, a book about monsters was likely to be both translated and reprinted in multiple editions.

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Primary Literature

  1. Boaistuau, P. 1560. Histoires prodigieuses. Paris: Vincent Sertenas.Google Scholar
  2. Lycosthenes, C. 1557. Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon. Basel: Henricum Petri.Google Scholar
  3. Melanchthon, P. and M. Luther. 1523. Deuttung der zwo grewlichen Figuren Bapstesels zu Rom vnd Munchkalbs zu Freyberg jn Meyssen funden. Wittenberg: [Henricum Steiner].Google Scholar

Secondary Literature

  1. Crawford, J. 2005. Marvelous Protestantism: Monstrous births in post-Reformation England. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Daston, L., and K. Park. 2001. Wonders and the order of nature 1150–1750. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  3. Davies, S. 2012. The unlucky, the bad and the ugly: Categories of monstrosity from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. In The Ashgate research companion to monsters and the monstrous, ed. A. S. Mittman, and P. J. Dendle, 49–75. Ashgate: Farnham, Surrey and Burlington, VT.Google Scholar
  4. Friedman, J.B. 2000. The monstrous races in medieval art and thought. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Huet, M.-H. 1993. Monstrous imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Nigg, J. 2013. Sea monsters: A voyage around the world’s most beguiling map. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Spinks, J. 2009. Monstrous births and visual culture in sixteenth-century Germany. London: Pickering and Chatto.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.History DepartmentGrand Valley State UniversityAllendaleUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Hiro Hirai
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for the History of Philosophy and ScienceRadboud Universiteit NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands