The coming weeks the Randwyck library displays books from the Jesuit Collection related to teratology. In two showcases you can see the study of real and imagined abnormalities in the natural world through the eyes of physicians, theologians and writers.
Teratology: the study of monsters
Teratology is the study of abnormalities of physiological development. The term stems from the Greek τέρας teras, meaning ‘monster’ or ‘marvel’, and λόγος logos, meaning ‘the word’ or, more loosely, ‘the study of’.
Monstrosities have attracted notice from the earliest time, and many of the ancient philosophers made references to them. Monsters possessed of two or more heads or double bodies are found in the legends and fairy tales of every nation, and in the Middle Ages these were as faulty as the descriptions themselves. Many reasons were given for the existence of monsters. They were interpreted as divinations, and were cited as forebodings and examples of wrath, or even as glorifications of the Almighty.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, in addition to the reprint of classical works on prodigies, a new genre appeared: the “prodigy book” facilitated by the invention and development of printing throughout Europe. Teratology referred to a discourse on prodigies and marvels of anything so extraordinary as to seem abnormal.
In the 19th century, it acquired a meaning more closely related to biological deformities. Currently, its most instrumental meaning is that of the medical study of teratogenesis, congenital malformations or individuals with significant malformations.