Title page of 'the Historie of Serpents', 1608.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Woodcut of the mythical serpent, the Boa, believed to have lived in Italy during the Roman Empire. The Romans believed it drank the milk of cattle and that it lived in water. From 'The historie of serpents' by Edward Topsell (1572-1625?) published in London in 1687. Topsell's main source was 'Historiae animalium' by Conrad Gesner (1516-1565) published in 1551. He translated and edited Gesner's text, adding long additional sections. The engravings are exact reproductions of those in Gesner's work. This book complemented Topsell's 'Historie of foure-footed beastes', published the year before. It summarized all real and mythical zoological knowledge collected since antiquity, but it was soon rendered obsolete by new discoveries.