These illustrations of Triton are from three of our rare books at the Bernard Becker Medical Library. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Triton, is the proper name of a sea-deity in Greek and Roman mythology, son of Poseidon and Amphitrite or of Neptune and Salacia or otherwise of Nereus; also, one of a race of interior sea-deities or imaginary sea-monsters, of semi-human form.
The images are similar because the later books copied the image from Conrad Gessner’s Historiae animalium (Zurich, Froschauer, 1551-1558), an inventory of all the four-footed creatures on the earth. Triton was one of many monsters that Gessner included in his encyclopedia of animals. Which picture do you think is best for a coloring book of monsters?
The Triton from Conrad Gessner’s Historiae animalium (Natural history of animals, 1558, volume 4, page 1198) is a cuddly fish person with a woman’s head, neck, and torso but the tail of a fish. Pare copied Gessner’s picture of Triton for his book on monsters and prodigies first published in 1573. Pare labels Gessner’s Triton as “The effigies of a sea devil” according to the English translation (The works of that famous chirurgion Ambrose Parey, London: Richard Cotes, and Will Du-gard, 1649, page 613). Someone redrew Triton’s head to look like that of a demon for Aldrovandi’s Monstrorum Historia (Natural history of monsters, Bologna: Tebaldini, 1642, page 357). But clearly, Pare and Aldrovandi or their editors copied the later pictures from Gessner’s Historiae animalium and in most cases gave credit.