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

Abstract

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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References

Primary Literature

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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