Emblematic Monsters

Unnatural Conceptions and Deformed Births in Early Modern Europe


Author: A.W. Bates
In early modern Europe, monstrous births were significant events that were seen alive by many people, and dissected, embalmed and collected after death. Emblematic Monsters is a social history of monstrous births as seen through popular print, scholarly books and the proceedings of learned societies.
Representations of monsters are considered in the context of their roles as wonders and emblems, and studies of the anatomy of monsters are discussed along with contemporary theories of their origin. By approaching accounts of monstrous births not only as a literary form but also as descriptions of real-life cases, similarities between the pre-scientific recording of wonders and the scientific case report can be explored.
Most impressively, A.W. Bates draws upon his own experience of diagnosis of birth defects to summarise more than two hundred original descriptions of monstrous births and compare them with modern diagnostic categories.
Emblematic Monsters is an up-to-date approach to a classical yet under-explored subject: gruesome, compelling and monstrous.

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Alan W. Bates is a consultant to the Royal Free Hospital and honorary senior lecturer in pathology at University College London.
"Bates weaves a smooth narrative of monstrosity in early modern Europe […] Emblematic Monsters is not a work of social history but a medical history […] and Bates’ careful compilation expands this field. A social historian could use this work profitably and confidently as a starting-point for further exploration into monstrosity in everyday life." - in: The Social History of Medicine, Vol. 19, No. 3 (2006), 556-557
"This is a fascinating book […] an elegantly produced volume, which benefits from the sober analysis, clear display of the text, excellent bibliography and index. It will be a useful work of reference for non-medical historians seeking material for deeper analysis of the emblematic monster in history." - in: Metascience, Vol. 16 (2007), 461-464
"[T]his careful study of European monsters in the early modern period, Alan Bates examines diverse monster literature useful to those interested in the modern dsymorphological correlates described in early modern monster literature." - in: ISIS, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2007), 830-831
"Overall, Emblematic Monsters, with its fusion of historical and medical perspectives, is of interest to early modern European medical historians, historians of religion, intellectual historians, and medical practitioners." - in: Health and History, Vol. 9, No. 2 (2007), 177
"Bates guides the reader through the rich and complex history of monstrous births, using over 200 original descriptions. He clearly demonstrates that modern teratology has much to learn from prescientific recordings of wonders." - in: Canadian Bulletin of Medical History, Vol. 24, No 1 (2007), 228-229
"The strength of this book is… when Bates brings his medical expertise to bear. Aware of the dangers of retrospective diagnosis, he makes a convincing case that the deformities described in broadsheet, learned treatise, and journal correspond to known types of birth defect: that descriptions of a child with a cat’s or rabbit’s face, for instance, far from being fanciful, refer to a cleft lip." - in: Medical History 52(2) (2008), 298–299
List of Illustrations

1 Truth Under the Veil
2 Resembling Sins: Monstrous Births as Moralising Emblems
3 The Divine Works of God
4 A Farrago of Medical Curiosities
5 Finding Fault with Nature: Some Causes of Monstrous Births
6 From the Womb to the Tomb
7 Retrospective Diagnosis

Appendix: Human Monstrous Births 1500–1700