We’re often awed by the beautiful bookplates and illustrations we find at the University of Missouri Library Depositories, and some of the most impressive we’ve come across of late are from volume 11 of The Odd-Fellows’ Offering. Published in 1852, this volume is part of the series collecting “gems of American literature by distinguished members of the order and other eminent writers.” While we work to make it available for check out, why not have a look at some of the other volumes, available online through https://www.hathitrust.org/.
In honor of the official first day of winter and the recently fallen snow here on MU's campus, this week's installment of the Fantastic Beasts series highlights creatures that live and breath the ice and snow of the Arctic. The first two images below show different depictions of Jack Frost, who, in these folk tales from Russia, saves a young girl whose step-mother threw her out in the cold to die. The image to the right is of a creature from Japanese folklore called the Yuki-Onna (or, Snow Woman) that kills travelers with her icy breath, leaving them frozen. In other legends, she breaks down the doors of houses with a fierce wind and then kills its sleeping residents (like she is in this picture). The final three images depict the Frost Giants of Norse mythology. in the first, the X-Men prepare to go up against the recently resurrected Ymir, progenitor of the Frost Giants. In the last two, comic book hero Conan battles two such Frost Giants as he pursues their sister across the ice.
If the weather isn't cold enough for you yet, or you just want to help celebrate the first day of winter, come see us at Special Collections, where we've got all these ice creatures and more waiting to be discovered in the warmth of our reading room.
The Loch Ness Monster (or Nessie for short) is one of the most elusive cryptids in modern folklore. In fact, the Loch Ness monster is so elusive, we have only one confirmed sighting on our shelves here in Special Collections. It comes in the form of The Loch Ness Monster Watchers, a 1974 essay by Victor Perera about an expedition he and a collegue took to Loch Ness in Scotland to try to spot Nessie for themselves.
Many theories about the Loch Ness Monster exist in modern legends. One of the most common theories surrounding the Loch Ness Monster is that Nessie is some form of plesiosaur, whose line has somehow survived into modern times within the loch. This image from Robert McCann's short comic "Ocean Blues", featured in Disappointing Circus, shows such a creature. You can certainly see the family resemblance.
Whether or not you believe in Nessie or think it's all just a hoax, the legend continues to be a huge draw for cryptozoologists, adventurers, and the simply curious, all hoping to catch a glimpse of the mysterious creature. If you can't afford the trip to Scotland to seek out Nessie for yourself, come see us at Special Collections, where you can read all about one such a trip and decide for yourself – is the Loch Ness Monster real or just wishful thinking?
To finish out October, here's an extra special Halloween edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in Special Collections. Today's featured beast is the demon, which is usually defined as an evil spirit or fiend. Nearly every religion has a form of demons that populate whatever version of Hell that particular religion believes in, often trying to influence the people of our world into committing evil acts and causing general chaos. Mephistopheles (pictured above) is one of the more well-known demons and is the one that Faust sells his soul to in the legend of Faustus, recorded most famously by Goethe.
In other classic literature, this edition of Dante's Inferno illustrated by Gustave Dore beautifully shows some of the residents of Hell that Dante and Virgil encounter on their journey through the nine circles of Hell.
This image depicts a scene from the Russian folk tale The Soldier's Midnight Watch, in which a soldier hides on top of the stove while an undead witch summons a crowd of small demons to search him out.
In more modern media, demons have taken on other roles as well, such as in the comic Fray by Joss Whedon, in which the demon Urkonn plays trainer to a futuristic vampire slayer named Melaka Fray.
A more light-hearted take on a demon occurs in The Demon of the Eiffel Tower, an English translation of a French comic in which Adele Blanc-Sec solves mysteries and has grand adventures in a fantasy version of the 1900s. (Spoiler Alert: in true Scooby-Doo style, the demon is eventually revealed to be a woman with a nefarious plot in a costume.)
Switching from comics to poetry, the above image is from Arthur Rimbaud's collection of poems entitled A Season in Hell. With several photographs like this by Robert Mapplethorpe, this edition of Rimbaud's poetry certainly takes an added turn for the creepy.
Speaking of creepy, these terrifying creatures are from Leonard Baskin's work Demons, Imps, and Fiends. The rest of the book is filled with drawings of demons you definitely wouldn't want to meet on the street at night, much less enter into any form of agreement with.
Happy Halloween everyone! If you need help getting into the spirit of the holiday, come see us in Special Collections. Our stacks are haunted by books with all kinds of creatures guaranteed to help.
Contrary to what you may have learned in school, people in the Middle Ages knew quite well that the world was round. Johannes de Sacrobosco made sure of that fact.
Sacrobosco was one of the leading astronomers, educators, and science communicators of the Middle Ages. We don't know very much about his life: he wrote during the early thirteenth century, might have been English, and likely spent his career at the University of Paris. Even with this lack of personal information, Sacrobosco was a household name among scholars. Everybody who studied astronomy from the thirteenth century through the seventeenth century started out by reading his books. You might think of him as the medieval equivalent of Carl Sagan – but with much more staying power.
Using compelling visuals and simple language, Sphaera was a beginning astronomy textbook that taught generations of people to think about the basic math and science that underlay their experience of the natural world. The text was so popular that it still exists in hundreds of medieval manuscript copies, and it may have been the very first astronomical work to be printed. Between 1472 and 1673, over two hundred printed editions were published, keeping it continuously in print for two centuries, a record unmatched by any other text on astronomy. Even after it was superseded by newer knowledge, publishers issued the book with commentaries to keep it up-to-date.
Sphaera has four chapters dealing with spherical nature of the universe, spheres in the heavens, the heavens as observed from various geographic points on Earth (which illustrates that the Earth itself is a sphere), and an explanation of Ptolemy's theory of planetary motion and eclipses. Printed editions of Sphaera included numerous images: geometric diagrams, naturalistic images, pictures of armillary spheres and other instruments. One common diagram illustrates a ship and a tower to demonstrate the idea that the earth is spherical; the curvature of the ocean obstructs the view of the tower for the observer on the deck of the ship, while the observer on the mast is able to see it above the bulge of the water.
In a recent article in the journal Isis, Kathleen Crowther and Peter Barker argued that the images in Sphaera are meant to train the inner eye and help the reader develop his own mental model of the cosmos. Some editions had volvelles that could be turned with the fingers, but in most printings of Sphaera, the reader was expected to manipulate the images mentally. We decided to help ourselves (and you all) by turning some of the diagrams from the 1569 edition into gifs that move on their own. Watch the universe spin!
Spinning gifs aside, Sacrobosco's work was an important introduction to Ptolemaic astronomy, and the diagrams and other illustrations were important because they helped readers visualize his ideas. Sacrobosco's text provided a basis for later work by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. In some sense, our own understanding of the cosmos adds to or corrects the mental models he started building over seven centuries ago.
We have two editions of Sphaera in Special Collections: one published in Paris in 1572, and another published in Venice in 1569 (that's the one we're showing here). Both were edited and augmented by the French mathematician and historian Elie Vinet. The 1569 Venice edition was reprinted from the Paris edition of the same year (the note "Ex postrema impressione Lutetiae" means "From the final Paris impression"). While many editions of Sphaera can be found in rare book libraries throughout the United States and Europe, the 1569 Venice edition seems to be a bit scarcer than most. A quick check of WorldCat reveals only three copies in research libraries in the United States; the bibliography and census of Sacrobosco editions maintained Roberto de Andrade Martins at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, reveals two additional copies, for a total of five.
Want to know more about Sacrobosco? Check out these resources.
- Roberto de Andrade Martins. Johannes de Sacrobosco: Editions of the Tractatus de Sphaera. University of São Paulo, Brazil, n.d.
- Kathleen M. Crowther and Peter Barker. "Training the Intelligent Eye: Understanding Illustrations in Early Modern Astronomy Texts." Isis 104 (September 2013), pp. 429-470. doi:10.1086/673269
- Adam Mosley, Johannes de Sacrobosco, University of Cambridge, 1999.
- Olaf Pedersen, "In Quest of Sacrobosco." Journal for the History of Astronomy 16 (1985), pp. 175-221.
Throughout October the Fantastic Beasts series will be taking a turn for the creepy as each week in October we feature spooky creatures and things that go bump in the night. For the first week we'll start with some of the tamer creepy-crawlies that lots of us see on a daily basis: bats, rats, and spiders. Each of these are commonly featured in tales of terror, and are associated with death, disease, or mystery, among other things. They can also serve as familiars to witches and sorcerors, which is where they picked up a lot of their negative associations. Truth is, many of these fears are largely unfounded, as bats, rats, and spiders are important parts of any ecosystem and for the most part are either scared of or not a threat to humans. Giant versions of any of these (such as those pictured below) are, of course, another matter entirely.
"And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!"
With an imagination as great as Lewis Carroll's was, it's no wonder he was able to create such a range of creatures to inhabit the appropriately named Wonderland. In addition to the Jabberwock above, Wonderland is home to a host of bizzare beings. Most famously, perhaps, is the Cheshire Cat, who appears and disappears to give Alice some cryptic advice from time to time.
Other denizens of Wonderland are the toves, mome raths, and borogroves; talking flowers, a mock turtle, and even a caterpillar that smokes a hookah while dispensing even more crytpic advice to poor Alice.
More fabulous beasts from the mind of Lewis Carroll can be found by visiting us at Special Collections! (Perhaps you might stop by on a hunt for the elusive Snark?)
How do you make a dragon student angry? You send it to knight school!
Bad jokes aside, our fabulous beasts series continues with this week's feature creature – the dragon. From our 13th century manuscripts to modern day joke books, dragons are running rampant through our collections.
Like this little guy, a favorite of the librarians here, curled around a letter "p" in our illuminated manuscript leaf of the Acts of the Apostles.
Another dragon drawn from a religious text is this take on the story of Moses and the Serpent. Instead of his staff turning into a snake as the story usually goes, here we see Moses leap back in fright from the dragon that has sprung forth instead.
A bit of visual humor here, from the same volume as the pun that opened this post.
And for all the latest information on dragons, try Dr. Ernest Drake's Dragonology, found in our Closed Collection.
To see more of these dragons, and others, stop in at Special Collections!
What does Special Collections have in common with Rubeus Hagrid of the Harry Potter novels?
We both take care of multitudes of fantastic beasts! Though unlike Hagrid with his forest full of creatures, ours live on the shelves in books called bestiaries.
In the spirit of the first week back at classes here at Mizzou, we'll kick off our new series of fantastic beasts and where to find them in Special Collections with The Academic Bestiary by Richard Armour. In this book, which combines the style of medieval bestiaries with humorous depictions of the modern residents of Academia, you'll find creatures such as the Dean, R.A., Artist, Historian, and (of course) the Librarian. Can you tell which of these names belong to each of the pictures above?
Louis XV may not have been the most popular king, but when he fell ill and was near death in 1744, his subjects across France prayed dutifully for his recovery. In October 1744, once he was well enough, the king visited Strasbourg, and the town threw what looks to have been a huge party to celebrate his visit and convalescence. There were processions through the streets, races, dances, and even fireworks. These events were all faithfully chronicled by J. M. Weis, "graveur de la ville de Strasbourg," and produced in the nearly monumental format of a large folio with two-page spreads. This is a fete book – a royal souvenir for a royal celebration.
The MU Libraries copy is still in the original binding, and if you follow our Adopt a Book program, you may recognize it. William Heyde III recently donated funds to support conservation work, and Jim Downey at Legacy Bookbindery made the repairs the volume needed. Once the book was in stable condition, we were able to send it to the MU Libraries Digital Services unit. So, thanks to a generous donor, a conservator, a couple of rare book librarians, and several digital imaging and metadata experts, this book is now available to the world. We think that in itself is cause for celebration!
Get a closer look at the plates or page through the text in the University of Missouri Digital Library. Be sure to use the zoom feature to take in the details – the variety of tiny figures that populate these prints is really amazing.
Weis, Johann Martin, d. ca. 1795. Représentation des fêtes données par la ville de Strasbourg pour la convalescence du Roi; à l'arrivée et pendant le séjour de Sa Majesté en cette ville. Inventé, dessiné et dirigé par J. M. Weiss, graveur de la ville de Strasbourg. Paris: imprimë par Laurent Aubert . MERLIN catalog record