Posted on 24/01/2012
The History of Four Footed Beasts and Serpents, Edward Topsel (1658)
One of my first tasks as the new College Archivist, replacing Vicky Holmes who left earlier this month after 5 years looking after the College’s archives and special collections, was to pick a favourite item from our rare books collection. There are plenty of unusual and fascinating books to choose from but this one jumped out at me. This book contains some wonderful drawings and descriptions of four-footed beasts and serpents including some very familiar species such as the cat, rabbit and elephant. My favourite, however, is something much more exotic. The Mantichora (apparently a type of hyena) is described as ‘having a treble row of teeth beneath and above, whose greatness, roughness, and feet are like a Lyons, his face and ears like unto a mans... his tail like the tail of a Scorpion... casting forth sharp pointed quils; his voice like the voice of a small Trumpet or Pipe... his wildeness such as can never be tamed, and his appetite is especially to the flesh of man.’ The book not only describes each animal but also informs the reader of the medical properties to be gained from them.
Other things I’ve learnt from this intriguing volume are that wine is the favourite drink of leopards and panthers, Unicorn horn has the same value as gold and bear fat can be used to cure leg ulcers. Not information you expect to come across very often!
You can see this and other highlights from our collection during Discover Your Library Week (23-27 January 2012) at our Rare Books Exhibition which will be held in the Archives Reading Room, 3rd Floor Founder’s South Tower on Thursday 26 and Friday 27 January.
Visit http://www.rhul.ac.uk/library/events/discoveryourlibrary.aspx for more information about events throughout the week.
The rare book collection is searchable on the main library catalogue.
If you would like more information about this image, or to use it in your own work, or about any of our other collections, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Annabel Gill, College Archivist