Fauna

Io. Baptistæ Portæ neapolitani De hvmana physiognomonia, libri III : ad Aloysivm Card. Estens em.

Giambattista della Porta (Italian, 1535?-1615)
De humana physiognomonia.
Vici Æquensis: Apud Iosephum Cacchium, 1586.
Special Collections & Rare Books
MU Libraries
Rare Folio BF840 .P65 1586

Kinship with animals is about recognizing a family connection between human and nonhuman animals. It recognizes difference but does not draw an arbitrary line that assigns dominion to humans over animals. Like any good relationship, a positive relationship between human and non-human animals hinges on respect for the other's being, communication, and the capacity to find the other in ourselves. Cat, dog, human, mouse, lizard, are categories. Ask the animal "Who are you really, in your own being?"

Lee Spark Jones, Kinship with Animals, 2004.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, a hundred years after Gutenberg set up the first printing shop, presses led to the wide dissemination of all sorts of knowledge. Interestingly enough, physicians were among the most published lay authors of the time. They were obviously interested in the nature of man, his place in the natural world and relations with flora and fauna. This case displays De Humana Physiognomonia of Giambattista della Porta, an Italian scholar, alchemist and polymath, published in 1568. This work draws on the pseudo-science of physiognomy, which held that a person's character could be determined from his or her outward appearance. In this publication, della Porta compares human and animal faces, claiming that visual similarities revealed underlying temperamental commonalities among animals and human beings. Della Porta thought that a man resembling a donkey was like a donkey: timid, stupid, and stubborn, whereas the horse, a noble animal, makes it dignified for a man to walk erect with his head held high.

We also show here various animal encyclopedias and scholarly works on fauna. Among them there is a sixteenth-century pioneering work by the Swiss physician and scholar Conrad Gessner, Historia Animalium(1551-1558). It was the first illustrated encyclopedia of all known (or little known) animals. Readers were surprised or amused by the looks of the quite anthropomorphic "Monk Fish" and "Bishop Fish", smiling mammals of the "New World," or a unicorn. One can see in our exhibit the book on marine animals by Gessner's contemporary, the French physician, naturalist and poet François Boussuet, De natura aquatilium carmen (1558). To continue our theme of kinship in the animal kingdom, we show here a charming children's Kellogg's Jungle Book (1909) with the heads of one set of animals interchangeable with the feet of others.

Gallery

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