Before Linnaeus and Buffon

David’s recent blogging about zoological taxonomies reminded me of a favorite book of mine, now beautifully reproduced online — the Aberdeen Bestiary.

Where else can you find the valuable knowledge that “when [the beaver] knows that a hunter is pursuing it, it bites off its testicles and throws them in the hunter’s face and, taking flight, escapes. But if, once again, another hunter is in pursuit, the beaver rears up and displays its sexual organs. When the hunter sees that it lacks testicles, he leaves it alone.”? Or that the deadly basilisk (Harry Potter to the contrary notwithstanding) measures only 6 inches long, with white stripes? (Not my favorite illustrations of hoopoes, though.)

Dr. Weinberger, I hope you address the relation of this taxonomic (indeed, “folksonomic”) masterpiece to the internet, along with your reflections on its more famous heirs.

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