This paper seeks to explore how culturally and religiously significant animals could shape discourses in which they were deployed, taking the crocodile as its case study. Beginning with the textual and visual traditions linking the crocodile with Africa and the Middle East, I read sixteenth- and seventeenth-century travel narratives categorizing American reptiles as “crocodiles” rather than “alligators,” as attempts to mitigate the disruptive strangeness of the Americas. The second section draws on Ann Blair’s study of “Mosaic Philosophy” to examine scholarly debates over the taxonomic identity of the biblical Leviathan. I argue that the language and analytical tools of natural philosophy progressively permeated religious discourse. Finally, a survey of more than 25 extant examples of the premodern practice of displaying crocodiles in churches, as well as other crocodilian elements in Christian iconography, provides an explanation for the ubiquity of crocodiles in Wunderkammern, as natural philosophy appropriated ecclesial visual vocabularies.
Parrish“Female Opossum”485. While Parrish usefully highlights the familiarity of the Old World animals as the source of their “morphological normalcy” it seems to me that it was equally the product of religious associations to which I shall return farther on.
Eric Jorink“Noah’s Ark Restored (and Wrecked): Dutch Collectors, Natural History and the Problem of Biblical Exegesis,” in Silent Messengers: The Circulation of Material Objects of Knowledge in the Early Modern Low Countriesedited by Sven Dupré and Christoph Lüthy (Münster 2011) 153–182 174–175.
HutchesonExposition37. Writers of every faction in early-modern confessional and intellectual conflicts “took the Bible as the only fully valid account of the past” including natural history. Grafton with Shelford and Siraisi New Worlds 207. By contrast Sheehan suggests that the confidence in biblical accuracy expressed by authors like Bochart was an attempt to stifle anxieties. Sheehan “Philology to Fossils” 46.
Paula Findlen“Inventing Nature: Commerce, Art, and Science in the Early Modern Cabinet of Curiosities,” in Merchants and Marvelsedited by Pamela Smith and Paula Findlen 297–323 (New York 2002) 307 312–313. Findlen Possessing Nature 17–21 28.
Paula Findlen“Scientific Spectacle in Baroque Rome: Athanasius Kircher and the Roman College Museum,” in Jesuit Science and the Republic of Lettersedited by Mordechai Feingold (Cambridge 2007) 225–284 245 257. Findlen Possessing Nature 81–82 84 91.
Cabildo Catedral de Sevilla“Catedral de Sevilla.” Maxime de Montrond, “Les crocodiles de l’Hôtel de ville de Nîmes,”Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes14 (1853). 67. Le Quellec “Le Crocodile d’Oiron” 58.