Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Hallowe'en Special: Ambroise Pare's Sea monsters

Below is a translation from several pages (pp.767-772) from the 1581 Latin edition of the physician Ambroise Paré's 'Monsters and Prodigies', included in a compendium of his works, the Opera Ambrosii Paraei, prepared by another physician, Jacob Guillemeau. It treats on a selection of strange sea monsters, to follow on from last year's Halloween theme of forest monsters. 

Find the original: HERE



Ch.XXI Of marine animals and other wonders of nature
And these aforementioned animals are more marvelous either in birth or origin, or rather by growth, but those which follow even if they are not marvels in themselves, seeing that they are consistent in their own and proper nature, behaving  in the normal manner: nevertheless, they are marvelous to us, or even monstrous, since they are not that familiar to us, or very frequent or common. For rarity itself, and hugeness of body, is to a degree monsterous. Many of these types exist, especially in the sea, of which the deeper recesses are not accessible to man, such as tritons, of which the privy parts upwards are affirmed to be of human and manly shape. And Sirens or Nereids, which are (according to the author Pliny) are with the face of a woman, and the body rather rough body with scales, also they have a human shape, nevertheless, neither can the aforementioned confusion and conjunction of seeds have a place here, for as said already, they follow their own proper nature.

In the time when Mena was ruling Egypt as prefect, and was promenading on the banks of the Nile, he saw coming out of the waters a sea man, plainly of human form as far as the pubes, and with a solemn face, flowing golden hair, but somewhat covered with grey hairs, a bony stomach, and nicely defined and well formed arms, and the rest ends in fish.

Three days later at dawn appeared another sea monster with the face of a woman as the softness of the features of  the face, the flowing hair, and the swelling breasts, showed: both of these monsters that they could be contemplated at will.

The Nile Triton and Siren

In our age, says Rondelet, a monstrous fish is caught in Norway, to which whoever it saw immediately gave the name monk, on account of its appearance which was as you see [here].


In the year 1531 a marine monster was seen, covered in a bishop’s garment of scales, as Rondelet and Gesner described.

Gesner said that he received from H. Cardano this monster, which had a bear-like head and arms and hands like a monkey.

Not long before the death of pope Paul III there was taken in the middle of the Tyrrhenian sea this monster, and it was given to Paul’s successor, it was clearly like a lion in form and size, but with a scaly body, and uttered with a voice like that of a man.


It was taken to Rome to everyone’s great amazement, but there it didn’t live very long, deprived of its proper natural habitat and diet, inasfar as is related by Philip Forest.

In the year of our Lord 1523 on the 3rd of November, this marine monster was seen in Rome, of the size of a five-year-old child, of human form (down) to the navel, except the ears, and the rest is fish.

Gesner recalls this marine monster whose image he claims to have received from a draftsman who had seen it alive in Antwerp. The head was clearly frenzied, which it made a great show of, with a remarkable pair of horns and prominent ears, with arms scarcely dissimilar to human ones, and the rest is fish. It was caught in the Adriatic sea when it had emerged from the water on the shore to snatch a child who was standing there, it was wounded by stones thrown by fishermen who spotted it, and soon after expired returning to the shore from which it had fled.

This marine moster with the hair and chest of a horse, and the rest of the body like a fish, was seen in the ocean and brought to Rome, and offered to the Pope, as Gesner claims.

Olaus Magnus claims that he was given, as a gift by a certain English noble, this monster with a head and face of a calf, captured on the shore of Bergen [Or Bergues in Northern France], where it lived. Not long ago, a similar one was given to king Charles IX and kept in a wine vat at Fontainebleau, often coming out of the water on to the land. This fish is different from the common sea calf [seal].

In the ocean this great monster is seen, with the head of a boar, dogs' teeth, covered in notched and sharp scales arranged by nature in a marvelous arrangement, as can be gathered from this picture.

Olaus Magnus writes that this sea monster was caught at the Northern Island of Thyle in the year of our Lord 1538, of almost unbelievable size; in that it had a lenght of 72 feet, and truly a height of 14, an interocular distance of seven feet, a liver so large that five barrels were filled with it, something like a crescent moon on top of its back, three eyes in the middle of each flank, and an entirely scaly body.

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