beckerrarebooks: These illustrations of Triton…


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.