Early Modern Times – the Fall of Manimal

Early Modern Times - the Fall of Manimal

Dear readers,

In the EMSP fourth-year core course State, Society, and Revolution in the Early Modern Period this week, we finished our discussion of Milton’s Paradise Lost. My students wondered–like the expelled Adam and Eve–what would become of humanity after the Fall (spoiler alert: paradise regained). Of course, in our self-centered way, we human beings are preoccupied with original sin and postlapsarian history and as usual neglect our furry friends (now our enemies since we stupid primates just had to violate the one rule we had to follow). Let us spare a few thoughts for our fellow critters!

Early modern artists did ponder what became of the non-human animals who previously occupied the Garden of Eden (as pictured above in the 1613 painting The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man by Jan Breughel the Elder). In this fascinating illustrated essay just published in The Public Domain Review, Dániel Margócsy surveys various attempts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries at depicting the ideal forms of animals such as horses and elephants. In the early sixteenth century, the German engraver Albrecht Dürer rendered the perfectly proportionate form of Adam and Eve just prior to the original sin. As Margócsy points out, Dürer and his contemporaries thought that their ideal proportions were due to their ‘perfect internal balance of the four bodily humours’ (blood, phlegm, and yellow & black bile), a conception derived from Galenic medicine.

Margócsy links attempts to depict the most elegant elephant by the seventeenth-century Flemish artist Crispijn van de Passe (using geometrical techniques based on historical sightings of actual pachyderms) with the search for the perfect horse. Horse breeders in the early modern period sought to return to the ideal breed of the prelapsarian horse which had a perfect balance of humours. Thus in the Elizabethan period, the Englishman Thomas Blundeville noted the varieties of different animals especially after the Flood. Blundeville favoured the Neapolitan courser given the beneficial effect of the climate of Naples on the humours in this breed of horse: ‘the Napolitan although he be bred under a hotter climat, yet that region is very temperate of it self, and so fruitful, as it is called the Garden, or Paradise of Itale’. We can conclude that this Neapolitan breed of horse adhered, in Blundeville’s mind, to Noah’s ‘Ark-type’.

In contrast, the Stuart-era horse breeder Michael Baret preferred to mix ‘hot and dry Turkish or Barb stallions with cold and wet English mares’–balancing choleric with phlegmatic breeds–in order to counteract the corruption of the species since the Fall. As Baret himself put it, ‘For although God gaue unto Horses such excellent qualities at their Creation, now are they changed in their use and are become disobedient to man, and therefore must bee subjected by Art.’ One wonders, though, if this equestrian question of the ideal horse was ultimately ‘fruitless’ (given the expulsion from the Garden of Eden), or if the long-standing quarrel over prelapsarian equines left early modern breeders perfectly ‘horse’.

Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, so Early Modern Times will take a break from blog-content creation next weekend and return the following week. In the meantime, EMSP presents a lecture by Dr. Lauren Beck on ‘Early-Modern Place Names and Collective Identity Through a Gendered Lens’ on Friday, Nov. 23 at 4:30 pm in the KTS Lecture Room; and the Early Modern Studies Students’ Society hosts a panel on Early Modern Women on Thursday, Nov. 22 at 7:00 pm, also in the KTS Lecture Room.

Simon Kow

Director, Early Modern Horse-Humour Studies Program

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