Tag: Zodiac

Digital Manuscripts

Elly over at Medieval Robots revels in how digital humanities are making medieval and early modern material available to broader audiences (see her “How Early Modern Animal Jetpacks Went Viral). I too am delighted to see digital resources making so much material available both for scholarly use and for the interested audience. Recently the Vatican has started making its collection of Latin manuscripts available (maybe they’ve been there for a long time, but I just learned of them): Manoscritti digitalizzati. Let’s hope they continue adding to the few hundred that are already posted.

Killing a few minutes looking through these manuscripts I came across a great copy of Rabanus Maurus’s encyclopeia, “De rerum naturis” from 1425 (Pal. lat. 291). There are wonderful illuminations throughout. A few caught my attention.

The chapter on portents opens with this great illustration of different prodigious creatures—a dog-headed person, a cyclops, monopod a Sciopod (thanks to Elly at Medieval Robots for reminding me what these creatures are called), headless people with faces in their chests—all pretty standard from the encyclopedia tradition, especially Pliny’s Historia naturalis (for a nice collection of monstrous race images, see Rensodionigi’s Flickr collection).

A standard set of prodigious creatures found in many encyclopedias (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).
A standard set of prodigious creatures found in many encyclopedias (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).

I don’t recall previous seeing, however, a small male figure with rather prominent, erect genitalia floating in a sort of cloud:

An aroused prodigious creature (detail Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).
An aroused prodigious creature (detail Pal. lat. 291, fol. 75v).

I also like the beasts, some of which seem to be hungry (and since when did unicorns and elephants not get along>):

A unicorn skewers and elephant; a canine-looking creature with a beaver’s tale seems to be eating itself while another is finishing off a human hand, and the legs of a bird-like creature are sticking out of an alligator (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 86v).
A unicorn skewers and elephant; a canine-looking creature with a beaver’s tale seems to be eating itself while another is finishing off a human hand, and the legs of a bird-like creature are sticking out of an alligator (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 86v).

And, of course, the obligatory zodiac:

The zodiac (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 109v).
The zodiac (Pal. lat. 291, fol. 109v).

Whether you are a scholar doing research or an interested person looking for something amusing, there’s no end to the fun you can have looking through these manuscripts.