Long Live the King

21 September 2014, Berlin Louis XIV, who saw himself as the new Alexander the Great, adopted the lion as one of his symbols. Although he didn’t wear a lion skin on his head like Alexander, real and imaginary lions surrounded him. The lion long pre-dated Alexander as a symbol of power and majesty. On visits …

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John Evelyn meets Raymond Chandler

You could smell them before you saw them, what Raymond Chandler called “that peculiar tomcat smell,” so evocative of southern California.  I did not expect to smell them in a forest in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, where I spent a week last September walking the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.  But there they were, …

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The King’s Elephant

Last month, someone broke into the Paleontology wing of the Paris Museum of Natural History, and used a chain saw to cut off one of the tusks of the elephant skeleton there.  The skeleton dates from 1681 and is the oldest specimen at the museum.  Here is a little on the skeleton’s origins, from my …

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Cultures of anatomical collections

A few weeks ago, I attended the conference “Cultures of Anatomical Collections” in Leiden, the Netherlands.  I’m still thinking about and absorbing all the things I learned there.  It was the kind of conference where you are still up at midnight talking about things – in this case, dead bodies, anatomical waxes, anatomical preparations, anatomical …

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Animals or Brutes?

As I have been reading a number of anatomy texts from the seventeenth century, I have been struck by the ambiguity of the term “animal.”  Now, these texts are all in Latin (a few were translated into the vernacular, in this case French, but not many).  There is a clear distinction drawn between “animal” (the …

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