Thu • Mar

Thursday, March 30, 2017



The New York Academy of Medicine, 1216 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, New York, NY 10029


$35 for Friends of the Rare Book Room; $50 general admission. Dinner and wine provided during the talk.

To join the Friends of the Rare Book Room, click here.

Friends: enter your email address below to receive your discount. Your discount will be applied at checkout.

In the medieval and early modern periods, fantastical descriptions and images of conjoined twins, one-eyed giant cyclops, and dog-headed cannibals appear in manuscripts and books. These monsters are found on church capitols and in eye-witness historical accounts. Later, in medical collections, their biological counterparts are preserved as effigies in wax and as skeletons of conjoined twins, giants and dwarfs—evidence that anomalous beings were born not only at the edges of civilization but also at home.

Are these are fantastic as they seem? A bird twenty feet high with eyes “as red as fire” who “rose up roaring from its bed.”  (Madagascar 1641) 

“Ants as big as dogs” that dig for gold. (Herodotus) 

“Men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders” (Othello)

In 1575, Thevet writes of a fish like a snail, big as a barrel, with horns like a deer. In the ‘The Book-Fish” John Firth writes that beasts on land have parallels in the sea: the Dog-fish, the Hog-fish, the Sword-fish (or Soldier-Fish!)

In certain seventeenth and eighteenth century Dutch collections, a two-headed kitten in spirits is placed next to a double carrot, conjoined apples, or a baby with two heads. Similar anomalies are found across the kingdoms of life. This talk will cover ideas about hybrid beings, the illusion of the monstrous and the fluidity of natural forms.  

Friends of the Rare Book Room are invited to come at 6:00pm to look at selected books with the speaker in the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room prior to the talk; limit is 20 people. This event is part of our series for Friends. To join the Friends please click here.

Dinner and wine are provided for all during the talk.

For the Friends of the Rare Book Room (limit 20), Ms. Purcell will show work from anatomical collections (seventeenth to nineteenth centuries) from Leiden, Bologna, Madrid, Saint Petersburg, Calcutta and the United States. She will also discuss and show a few photographs from “Very Like a Whale,” an exhibition of natural history themes from Shakespeare as curated by Rosamond Purcell and Michael Witmore for The Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC.

About the Speaker

Rosamond Purcell is a photographer known for her work in natural history collections and for the recreation of the seventeenth century Danish museum of Ole Worm. Her books include Egg & Nest, Bookworm, and Dice: Deception, Fate and Rotten Luck with Ricky Jay.  She is the author of Owls Head: On the Nature of Lost Things, a biography of a junkyard. 

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