Science Art: Puer Capite Elephantino…. from Gaspar Schott, 1662.


I was going to post something else here, but then I saw this on nemfrog this morning and had to share.

It’s the Elephant-Headed Boy (Puer Capite Elephantino) and the Horned Infant (Infans Cor Nutus Ore Patulo) from Gaspar Schott’s 12-volume Physica curiosa, sive, Mirabilia naturæ et artis, an encyclopedia listing “angelis, dæmonibus, hominibus, spectris, energumenis, monstris, portentis, animalibus, meteoris, &c. rara, arcana, curiosaq[ue] circumferuntur, ad veritatis trutinam expenduntur.” I’m sure even without much Latin you can get the gist: miraculous creatures and natural curiosities.

It was one of many “monster books” of the late 1600s, trying make old magic stuff fit into the new world of science, or at least of scientific cataloging. From that (recommended!) Biodiversity Library blog link:

Books depicting monsters were extremely popular, and many recycled the same illustrations repeatedly, introducing them to new generations (case in point: Gessner hydra, 1560; Aldrovandi hydra, 1640; Joannes Jonstonus hydra, 1657). Furthermore, global exploration had begun on an unprecedented scale, and those that traveled published accounts of biodiversity from regions they visited. However, they recorded not only the creatures they saw with their own eyes, but also those described by locals – many of which were beings of myth and folklore. While fantastic to us today, for most during this time, there was no division between magic and reality – they simply coincided. Thus, these fabulous beasts could be a reality. Many were based on briefly-glimpsed real creatures given religious or superstitious twists. What’s more, many “monsters” heralded during the time were actually humans or animals with deformities.

That article also has a good description of what Schott was up to, and why his encylopedia was important to the development of modern science. Like:

Indeed, within Physica Curiosa, Schott writes regarding many accepted beliefs, “I do not approve of all, because I know that some are doubtful, if not false; others superstitious; others perhaps even manifestly false.” Schott also acknowledges that many unexplained phenomena may indeed be scientifically true when he “implores the reader not to be so inhuman as to refuse to believe anything unless he sees it with his own eyes, [as] many things which antiquity thought fabulous are now proved true by frequent experiment.”

This seems like a real gift for D&D players, too.