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On Monsters and Marvels
On Monsters and Marvels

12 Ways Monsters Were Made (According to a Medieval Doctor)

On Monsters and Marvels
On Monsters and Marvels

Ambrose Pare was a medieval doctor who served as a battlefield surgeon for kings Henry II, Francis II, Charles IX, and Henry III and made great advances in pathology and surgical techniques. (He's the one who convinced people to stop pouring boiling oil in open wounds!) In addition to his many advances, he also had a lot of ideas about how monsters and monstrosities were created. Besides “God’s will” and “evil,” here are 12 ways Pare believed that monsters like man-goats and brain scorpions were created, from his book On Monsters and Marvels.

1. Menstrual Blood

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If your baby is born with the head of a parrot, you probably only have yourself—and your menstrual blood—to blame. Pare warned that women “sullied by menstrual blood” will conceive monsters. Also, if your kid is sick a lot, it’s probably because your baby touched your dirty period. Pare wrote, “women who will have conceived during her period will engender those inclined to leprosy, scurvy, gout, scrofula, and more…”

2. Prophetic Warnings

If you see a horse with the face of a man, put down your iPhone—God is warning you of some great misfortune. Pare wrote that God often sends monsters as a signal of his displeasure. When Pope Julius II waged war against King Louis XII, for example, God sent a winged monster with both male and female bits to end the fighting, according to Pare.

3. Too Much Sperm

Bad news, men: Pare thought that men with too much seed could produce a baby with two heads, four eyes, two chests, and four hands or horns. He used a woman who gave birth to a child with horns as an example.

4. Imaginative Faculty

Pare wrote about a woman with two heads who went begging from door to door but was cast out of the country where she lived because doctors believed that if a pregnant woman saw her, she might influence their imaginations and cause them to give birth to monsters.

5. Crossing Your Legs

Pare believed that if your womb was too narrow, you could birth a misshapen child. He also argued that women who crossed their legs or bound their stomachs too tightly could give birth to monstrous putrefied babies.

6. Eating Fruit and Grasses

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According to Pare, women who didn't eat the right food could potentially give birth to monsters. He noted that this happened to the women of Naples frequently because they prefered to eat fruit and grasses “and other bad-tasting and unnutritious (sic) things, which generate such animals through putrefaction, than to eat good nourishing food, just in order to be sparing and elegant and thin.”

7. Sniffing Basil

Pare wrote of an Italian who died of an extreme headache. When the man’s head was opened after his death, the doctor found a scorpion inside his brain, which was attributed to the man’s habit of sniffing basil.

8. Throwing a Mouse Between Your Teats

According to Pare, "some have attributed monsters to being procreated from the corruption of foul and filthy foods that women eat, or want to eat, or that they abhor looking upon just after they conceived; or [they say] that someone may have tossed something between their teats, such as a cherry, plum, frog, mouse or other thing that can render infants monstrous.” What other things, Pare?

9. Showing a Pregnant Woman Food

Modern doctors place a lot of dietary restrictions on pregnant women—no sushi, no lunch meat, watch the mercury—but none of those restrictions could hold a candle to Pare, who wrote that women could give birth to a baby that looked like a piece of bacon if that woman was shown the food and not immediately allowed to eat it.

10. Being a Sodomist and an Atheist

Generally, medieval doctors believed that if a half-human, half-animal was born, it was wrought of some serious human and animal sin. Pare described half-men, half-swine and a dog with the head of a bird to describe such unholy couplings. He then went on to say that such sin causes so many monstrosities that he couldn't and wouldn't describe them all. “For,” he wrote, “what can sodomists and atheists expect, who … couple against God and Nature with brute animals?”

11. Constellations

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According to Pare, a farmer who had a cow with a human head was pardoned for his alleged crime against cows because an astrologer did some calculations and discovered that the monster was born of a constellation and not sin—at least not this time.

12. The Devil (obviously)

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If your monster hasn’t been created by an excess of basil or cinching your belt too tight around your pregnant belly, it was probably made by a demon. Pare wrote that the Devil and his demons take the form of Centaurs, snakes, and other monsters who “howl at night and make noise as if they were in chains: they move benches, tables, trestles; rock the children, play on the chessboard, turn the pages of books, count money; and one hears them walking about in the chamber; they open doors and windows and cast dishes to the ground, break pots and glasses and make other racket…”

All illustrations from On Monsters and Marvels by Ambroise Pare unless otherwise noted. 

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Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain
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History
The Time the Oxford English Dictionary Forgot a Word
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Sir James Murray in his Scriptorium
Oxford English Dictionary // Public Domain

When the complete edition of what would become the Oxford English Dictionary debuted in 1928, it was lauded as a comprehensive collection of the English language, a glossary so vast—and so thorough—that no other reference book could ever exceed its detail or depth. In total, the project took seven decades to catalogue everything from A to Z, defining a total of 414,825 words. But in the eyes of its editor James Murray, the very first volume of the dictionary was something of an embarrassment: It was missing a word.

Looking back, it’s impressive that more words were not lost. Assembling the OED was a nightmare. Before the first volume—an installment consisting of words beginning with the letters A and B—was published in 1888, multiple editors had taken (and abandoned) the helm, and each regime change created new opportunities for mayhem. When James Murray took command in 1879, the Oxford English Dictionary could best be defined by the word disarray.

The irony of making this massive reference book was that it required millions upon millions of tiny, tiny pieces of paper. Every day, volunteers mailed in thousands of small strips of paper called “quotation slips.” On these slips, volunteers would copy a single sentence from a book, in hopes that this sentence could help illuminate a particular word’s meaning. (For example, the previous sentence might be a good example of the word illuminate. Volunteers would copy that sentence and mail it to Oxford’s editors, who would review it and compare the slip to others to highlight the word illuminate.)

The process helped Oxford’s editors study all of the shades of meaning expressed by a single word, but it was also tedious and messy. With thousands of slips pouring into the OED’s offices every day, things could often go wrong.

And they did.

Some papers were stuffed haphazardly into boxes or bags, where they gathered cobwebs and were forgotten. Words beginning with Pa went missing for 12 years, only to be recovered in County Cavan, Ireland, where somebody was using the papers as kindling. Slips for the letter G were nearly burned with somebody’s trash. In 1879, the entire letter H turned up in Italy. At one point, Murray opened a bag only to find a family of live mice chewing on the paperwork.

When Murray took over, he tried to right the ship. To better organize the project, he built a small building of corrugated iron called the “Scriptorium.” It resembled a sunken tool shed, but it was here—with the help of 1029 built-in pigeonholes—that Murray and his subeditors arranged, sorted, and filed more than a thousand incoming slips every day. Millions of quotations would pass through the Scriptorium, and hundreds of thousands of words would be neatly organized by Murray’s trusty team.

One word, however, slipped through the cracks.

Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Oxford English Dictionary entry slips
Media Specialist, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bondmaid is not the kind of word people drop during conversation anymore, and that’s for the best: It means “a slave girl.” The word was most popular in the 16th century. Murray’s file for bondmaid, however, reached back even further: It included quotations as old as William Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the Bible.

But then bondmaid went missing. “Its slips had fallen down behind some books, and the editors had never noticed that it was gone,” writes Simon Winchester in The Meaning of Everything. When the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1888, bondmaid wasn’t there. (That volume of the OED does miss other words, but those exclusions were deliberate matters of editorial policy—bondmaid is the only word that the editors are known to have physically lost.)

When the slips were later rediscovered in the Scriptorium, Murray reportedly turned red with embarrassment. By 1901, some 14 years after the exclusion, he was still reeling over the mistake in a draft of a letter addressed to an anonymous contributor: “[N]ot one of the 30 people (at least) who saw the work at various stages between MS. and electrotyped pages noticed the omission. The phenomenon is absolutely inexplicable, and with our minute organization one would have said absolutely impossible; I hope also absolutely unparalleled.”

All was not lost for the lost word, however. In 1933, bondmaid made its Oxford dictionary debut. It had taken nearly five decades to make the correction.

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Rent an Incredible Harry Potter-Themed Apartment in the City Where the Series Was Born
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Muggle city of Edinburgh has deep ties to the wizarding world of Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling wrote much of the book series while living there, and there’s even a pub in Edinburgh that named itself after the author for a month. Now, fans passing through the Scottish capital have the chance to live like their favorite boy wizard. As Digital Spy reports, a Harry Potter-themed holiday home in the city’s historic district is now available to rent for around $200 (£150) a night.

Property owner Yue Gao used her own knowledge as a fan when decorating the apartment. With red and yellow accents, a four-poster bed, and floating candles adorning the wallpaper on the ceiling, the master bedroom pays tribute to both the Gryffindor dormitory and the Hogwarts Great Hall. The Hogwarts theme extends to the lounge area, where each door is painted with a different house’s colors and crest. Guests will also find design aspects inspired by the Hogwarts Express around the apartment: The second bedroom is designed to look like a sleeping car, and the front door is disguised as the brick wall at Platform 9 3/4.

Pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia Gao has picked up in her travels are hidden throughout the home, too. If visitors look closely, they’ll find several items that once belonged to Rowling herself, including the writer’s old desk.

Take a look at some of the photos of the magical interiors:

The apartment is available to rent throughout the year through canongateluxuryapartment.co.uk. And if you can tear yourself away from the residence for long enough, there are plenty of other Harry Potter-themed attractions to check out in Edinburgh during your stay.

[h/t Digital Spy]

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