Darwin sought to not only produce a new scientific truth, but also to put an end to polygenism, the current scientific discourse on human origins that gave tacit and at times explicit support for slavery: ‘... when the principle of evolution is generally accepted, as it surely will be before long, the dispute between the monogenists and polygenists will die a silent and unobserved death.’ (Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, p. 235)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Paradoxa from the Systema natura by Linnaeus (1735)

The Paradoxa are the various species Linnaeus did not include in his Systema Natura because he judged them to be either fabulous, the result of mistaken observations by travelers or as in the case of the Hamburg hydra, simply fraudulent. It is not a complete break with the past, however, if we notice that his classification of the Anthropomorphia included several fabulous species of human that can be traced back as far as Pliny the Elder and his sources. That will be the subject of the next post. The following is a draft translation of the Paradoxa from the first edition of the Systema Natura.

 The Paradoxa 
from the 
Systema natura 
HYDRA: snake-like body, two feet, seven heads and as many necks, without wings. One is preserved in Hamburg similar to the Hydra described in the Apocalypse of St. John, Chapters 12 and 13, and this is also true of a great many animal species exhibited, but wrongly so. Nature is always true to itself and has never naturally produced several heads on one body. When seen for ourselves, the fraud and artifice was most easily revealed as the teeth of a wild weasel differ from those of an Amphibian.

Albertus Seba, Locupletissimi Rerum Naturalium Thesauri (1734) 
The Hydra of Hamburg that Linnaeus describes.

RANA: the Frog-Fish, or the metamorphosis of a frog into a fish, is very paradoxical for nature will not permit the change of one Genus into another class. Frogs, like other Amphibians, possess lumps and spiny bones. Spiny fishes possess gills instead of lungs. Therefore, this mutation is contrary to the laws of Nature. If a fish is provided with gills it will be different from frogs and other Amphibians. If given lungs, it will be a lizard. There is a complete difference between them and the Chondropterygiis & Plagiuris.

The Frog-Fish from Surinam (1776)

MONOCEROS: Unicorn, one horn, body of a horse, feet of a fierce beast. Horn straight, long, spiraled. It is a painter’s fiction. Artedi’s Monodon has a horn, but there are a multitude of differences between them.

PELECANUS: (Pelican) with its beak inflicts a wound to its own thigh. The blood that flows relieves the thirst of its young; from the same fabulous tradition. The fable comes from the sac under its gullet that it uses to distribute the food.

SATYR: the tailed Satyr, hairy, bearded, with a human-like body, given to vigorous (wildly lustful?) gesticulations, is a species of Simiae, if indeed anyone has ever seen this apparition. 

Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1731)

Pygmanus, Satyrus, Lucifer, Troglodyta from Christianus Emmanuel Hoppius (Christian Emanuel Hoppe) Dissertatio Academica in qua Anthropomorpha, Consens. Experient. Facult. Medic. in Reg. Academ Upsallensi, Præside viro noblilissimo atque experientissimo Dn. Doct. Carolo Linnæo.... Upsala, 1760.
Simia to Homo: from C. F. Hoppe's Anthropomorpha -1760

BOROMETZ or Scythian Lamb: a plant shaped like a lamb, its stem seizes the “umbilicum” of another plant as it erupts from the earth; thoughtlessly said to contain blood and to be eaten by wild animals. It is composed from the roots of American ferns. Although naturally the allegorical description of the sheep embryo has the same characteristics attributed to it.

PHOENIX: a species of bird, of which only one individual exists in the world, and sick with the gloom of the grave, builds a pyre of spices and is fabled to live again the happy life of the young. It is, however, the Date Palm, Palma dactylifera (see Kaempf).
British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 49v

BERNICLA: same as Scottish Goose and the Barnacle (duck barnacle), believed by the ancients to come to life from rotten wood tossed into the sea. On the contrary, the color of the sea weed Lepas that it has imposed its feathery entrails upon and its mode of adhering to it make Bernicla seem to originate from that source.

DRACO: Dragon, with an eel-like body, two feet and two bat-like wings, is a Lacerta alata or a Ray that through artifice has been shaped and dried into a fictional monster.

AUTOMA MORTIS: the Death-watch, producing the sound of a clock in the walls, it is called Pediculus pulsationris, burrows into the wood frame of homes and lives on in the wood.

“I kept quite still and said nothing. For another hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear the old man lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed, listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death-watches in the wall.” Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

Sources for this draft translation:

Caroli Linnaei, Sveci, Doctoris Medicinae systema naturae, sive, Regna tria naturae systematice proposita per classes, ordines, genera, & species. (1735) http://archive.org/details/mobot31753002972252

Carolus Linnaeus, 1735, Systema Natura 1735 facsimile Edition with an introduction of the "Observationes" by Dr. M. S. J. Engel-Ledeboer and Dr. H. Engel. Nieuwkoop: B. de Gaaf.

James Sydney Slotkin. 1965. Readings In Early Anthropology. Psychology Press.