Sunday, April 05, 2009

Konrad Von Gesner - Details From "Historia Animalium" (History Of Animals) 1551-87

"Historiae animalium ("Histories of the Animals") published at Zurich in 1551-58 and 1587, is an encyclopedic work of an inventory of renaissance zoology by Conrad Gesner, a doctor and professor at the Carolinum, the precursor of the University of Zurich. It is the first modern zoological work that attempts to describe all the animals known, and the first bibliography of natural history writings. The five volumes of natural history of animals consists of more than forty five hundred pages.

The Historiae animalium was Gesner's magnum opus, and was the most widely read of all the Renaissance natural histories. The work was so popular that Gesner's abridgement, Thierbuch ("Animal Book"), was published in Zurich in 1563, and in England Edward Topsell translated and condensed it as a Historie of foure-footed beastes (London: William Jaggard, 1607). Gesner’s monumental work is a record that attempts to build a connection between the ancient knowledge of the animal world and modern science. He then adds his own observations to formulate an all-inclusive description of the natural history of animals.

Gesner’s Historiae animalium is based on the Old Testament, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin sources. The encyclopedic work is a compilation from folklore and ancient and medieval texts. The work compiled the inherited knowledge of ancient naturalists like Aristotle, Pliny and Aelian. Gesner was known as "the Swiss Pliny." For information on mythical animals he relied heavly on the material from the Physiologus. His research style was based on four principles: observation, dissection, travel, and an accurate description of the animals. These viewpoints from actual experience were new to Renaissance scholars. They had usually depended on information obtained solely on previous Classical authors for their reference material.

Though in his large work Gesner sought to distinguish facts from myths, his encyclopedic work also included mythical creatures and imaginary beasts, intermixed with the strange newly discovered animals of the East Indies, those of the far north and animals brought back from the New World. The work included extensive information on mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. It described in detail their daily habits and movements. It also included their uses in medicine and nutrition. " - quote source

Illustrations from this work were previously mentioned here a few years ago.


Al Bruno III said...

I just wanted to pop in to say how much I have been enjoying these illustrations you've been sharing. My public school library used to have a book abou monsters and mythology that had a lot of the same illustations. It is nice to see them again.

Aeron said...

Thanks Al.

In the future I plan to check out books from libraries to scan pages from for posting on here. We'll see what I come up with when I get around to that!

Al Bruno III said...

In my fiction I prefer to use the more obscure beasties. I liked the old medeval myth of the Squonk the best.