Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences

Living Edition
| Editors: Dana Jalobeanu, Charles T. Wolfe

Reptiles in Early Modern Culture and Natural Philosophy

  • Spencer J. WeinreichEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-20791-9_181-1



Reptiles are those animals grouped by modern taxonomy within class Reptilia – crocodilians, lizards, snakes, turtles, tuataras, and amphisbaenians – together with the other animals, real and legendary – frogs, toads, salamanders, fish, dragons, and so on – with which they were grouped in the early modern imaginary.

The Natural History of Reptiles

The modern taxonomic category of “reptiles” (class Reptilia) did not exist in the early modern period: no clear line divided snakes, lizards, crocodilians, and turtles, on the one hand, and frogs, toads, salamanders, and caecilians on the other. “Reptile” meant “creeping thing,” which might include reptiles, amphibians, insects, cartilaginous fish, and fantastic beasts like dragons and basilisks (Weinreich 2017). In Carl Linnaeus’s Systema naturæ, all these creatures were gathered into class Amphibia (1758–59). Only in the nineteenth century did biology begin to divide...

Related Topics

Animal biology Biology Natural philosophy Taxonomy Zoology 
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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Justin E. H. Smith
    • 1
  1. 1.HPSU. de Paris DiderotParisFrance