Petrarch: “F**k Zoology!”

Petrarch, de sui ipsius et multorum ignorantia:

Literature is, for many people, the instrument of madness, and for all it is an instrument of arrogance unless (a thing exceptionally rare) it happens to fall upon a good and well educated mind. This last mentioned author has written much about beasts and birds and fish. How many hairs a lion’s mane has, how many feathers are in the hawk’s tail, how many spirals the octopus wraps the shipwreck in; how the elephants have sex from behind and how they remain pregnant for two years, and how they are a teachable and vivacious animal approaching human intelligence and living almost two or even three centuries; how the phoenix is consumed in aromatic fire and is reborn after being burned; how the sea urchin reins in a prow driven by any force but can do nothing when taken out of the waves; how the hunter deceives the tiger with a mirror, how the Arimaspean spears a griffin, how whales deceive the sailor with their tails; how ugly is the child of a bear, how rare the child of a mule, and how the viper gives birth but once and unluckily at that; how moles are blind, how bees are deaf, and finally how the crocodile alone of all animals moves only its upper mandible.

Most of these things are false, which was clear enough when similar kinds of animals were brought to our part of the world. Or, if they were not false, at least unknown to the authors themselves, and either believed more readily or more readily invented on account of their author’s absence. Yet, for all of this, even if they were true, they have nothing to do with living a good life. For, I ask, what good will it do to know the natures of beasts, birds, fish, and serpents when we are either ignorant or contemptuous of human nature – for what purpose we are born, from where we come and where we are headed?

Sunt enim litere multis instrumenta dementie, cuntis fere superbie, nisi, quod rarum, in aliquam bonam et bene institutam animam inciderint. Multa ille igitur de beluis deque avibus ac piscibus: quot leo pilos in vertice, quot plumas accipiter in cauda, quot polipus spiris naufragum liget, ut aversi cocunt elephantes biennioque uterum tument, ut docile vivaxque animal et humano proximum ingenio et ad secundi tertiique finem seculi vivendo perveniens; ut phenix aromatico igne consumitur ustusque renascitur; ut echinus quovis actam impetu proram frenat, cum fluctibus erutus nil possit; ut venator speculo tigrem ludit, Arimaspus griphen ferro impetit, cete tergo nautam fallunt; ut informis urse partus, mule rarus, vipere unicus isque infelix, ut ceci talpe, surde apes, ut postremo superiorem mandibulam omnium solus animantium cocodrillus movet. Que quidem vel magna ex parte falsa sunt — quod in multis horum similibus, ubi in nostrum orbem delata sunt, patuit — vel certe ipsis auctoribus incomperta, sed propter absentiam vel credita promptius vel ficta licentius; que denique, quamvis vera essent, nichil penitus ad beatam vitam. Nam quid, oro, naturas beluarum et volucrum et piscium et serpentum nosse profuerit, et naturam hominum, ad quod nati sumus, unde et quo pergimus, vel nescire vel spernere?

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