Tuesday, 25 September 2012

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This is a facsimile of the 1744 edition of Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae

Title page

I have a huge amount of respect for Linnaeus.  Systema Naturae pioneered biology as we know it today by grouping species of plants and animals based on the features they share.  Although no one knew about DNA at the time, Linnaeus noticed that groups of life-forms share similar traits, and he realised this meant they could be classified on the basis of these shared traits.  Linnaeus was the first person to recognise the fact that humans and apes are part of the same family, thus paving the way for our modern understanding of human evolution.

At the time, this was an extremely controversial idea.  Here's the page in question:  "Antropomorpha", meaning human-like creatures, includes humans, monkeys, apes, sloths, and anteaters.  Later studies would show that sloths and anteaters aren't related to primates, but you can't win 'em all.



Like me, Linnaeus seems to have been fascinated by cryptids.  He included a section on "animalia paradoxa" in the Systema, where he talked about various mythical beasts that had been described to him.  He was interesting in debunking these stories; in the first paragraph he talks about a taxidermied hydra he encountered in Hamburg, made from snakeskins and other animal parts stitched together.  Exposing the hoax made him extremely unpopular with the mayor of Hamburg, who wanted to sell his "hydra" to the highest bidder, and Linnaeus had to leave the city in a hurry.


Linnaeus talks about his encounter with the hydra

I like to think Linnaeus would appreciate me giving his book the Seditiosus treatment.