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The Monsters Are Real Collection

This collection includes the books that fueled some of history's most fearsome monster myths, as well as those that highlight the real identity of these beasts. View the books.

"The Kraken!" from Conradi Gesneri medici Tigurini Historiae animalium liber IV : qui est De piscium & aquatilium animantium natura : cum iconibus singulorum ad viuum expressis ferè omnibus DCCXII, by Conrad Gessner, 2nd Ed. 1604. http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/42165838

From 1551-58, Conrad Gessner published his magnum opus Historiae Animalium, which attempted to compile all the known knowledge of natural history into a single authoritative encyclopedia. It is considered the beginning of modern zoology. Within it, he included illustrations and descriptions of rhinos, dogs, cows…and monsters. His book was not the first, or the last, to do so. For the next 300+ years, monsters in various forms would occupy the pages of natural history literature alongside valid species.

But many of these monsters were not pure myth.

Many were actually based on real animals glimpsed by people who did not know what they were looking at. An abundant familiarity with mythical stories, and the desire for a good tale, transformed these sightings into encounters with terrible beasts. Gessner and others like him gobbled up the stories and published them as truth. And so an oarfish became a sea serpent…A manatee a mermaid…A whale a leviathan…A giant squid a Kraken.


The BHL Monsters Are Real campaign explores the stories, people, books, and animals that inspired some of history's most fearsome legendary monsters. Get the stories on our blog and follow #bhlMonstersRreal on Twitter and Facebook, Oct. 27-31, 2014, to learn more. Enjoy centuries’ worth of monster images in our Flickr collection, and see some of our favorite monsters come to life on the Smithsonian Libraries’ Tumblr. Finally, get free pumpkin carving patterns inspired by some of our favorite historical drawings. They’ll make for a ghoulishly good time!

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Blog: blog.biodiversitylibrary.org