Monsters and Mythical Beasts
This summer, I’ve been researching monsters and mythical beasts, looking at dragons and sea serpents and long-forgotten creatures. The more research I did on the topic, the wider it became, and I ended up looking at not only mythical creatures but other ‘natural wonders’; hurricanes and fires, freak shows, and monstrous infants and animals, who were often seen as symbols of divine punishment.
One of the gems of the collection, and one of the main focuses of my research, is Edward Topsell’s History of four-footed beasts and serpents. Some illustrations are included below, showing how Topsell, a 17th century pastor, saw the wonders of the natural world. He gives detailed accounts of various species of dragon in Ethiopia, Macedonia and India, all of whom have differing colourings, temperaments… a few are even tame and kept as pets by local women.
Another is John Jonston’s pair of works, A Description of the Nature of Four-Footed Beasts and An History of the Wonderful Things of Nature. Jonston takes a more cynical and sometimes humorous view of natural historians like Topsell, calling them ridiculous and medieval. His accounts of dragons, unicorns and the Phoenix are full of sarcasm, but the illustrations are beautiful and almost scientific.
These books are valuable, rare, and easily available to students and the general public, so please, if your work has anything at all to do with the history of science and nature, or even if you simply have an interest in these topics, check the Cole Library and make use of it.
The biggest result of the project, though, was how much I enjoyed it. The research was fascinating, but the process was a real learning curve and it’s really encouraged me to pursue further education after graduation. It’s an experience I would recommend to anyone.