Mythical Creatures

The Edward Worth Library is a rare books collection, bequeathed to Dr. Steevens’ Hospital, Dublin, by Dr. Edward Worth (1676-1733), who was one of the Hospital’s earliest Trustees. This web exhibition, curated by Dr. Elizabethanne Boran (Librarian of the Edward Worth Library), and Mr. Antoine Mac Gaoithín (Library Assistant at the Edward Worth Library), explores mythical creatures in the collection. It is the eleventh in a series of websites exploring the holdings of the Worth Library. For further details please contact our website: www.edwardworthlibrary.ie.

Image of a winged dragon in Ulisse Aldrovandi, Serpentum, et draconum historiæ libri duo (Bologna, 1640), p. 420.

The myths of Pegasus, the Lernaean Hydra, the role of the Centaurs and the inscrutable Sphinx had been well known from the ancient world and continued to be popular throughout the early modern period but, as Daston and Park note, the early modern period witnessed a revolution in interest in the unusual.[1] Now mythical creatures might not only be found in the myths of ancient Egypt and Greece or at the margins of the known world – they could also crop up closer to home and appear to contemporaries. Strange sea creatures, such as the Sea Monk, the Sea Bishop and the Norwegian Sea Serpent were spotted in the Baltic, and dragons such as the Dragon of Bologna and Basilisk of Warsaw were very much contemporary cause célèbres! Unicorn horns were treasured specimens in many royal museums and tracts were written on their uses. Depictions of medieval fairies (such as Melusine), might even be found on seventeenth-century bindings!

Many of the authors who produced works including these wonders were physicians, for it was early modern physicians who led the way in the investigation of nature. Worth, a trained physician, was clearly fascinated by them – we hope you will be too!

Zodiac from Athanasius Kircher, Oedipus Aegyptiacus. Hoc est uniuersalis hieroglyphicae veterum doctrinae temporum iniuria abolitae instauratio (Rome, 1652), ii, pt. ii, p. 160. This incorporates two mythical creatures investigated in this online exhibition: the centaur of Sagittarius and, more unusually, Pisces is represented here by a mermaid.


Daston, Lorraine and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750 (MIT Press, 1998).

Text: Dr. Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library, Dublin.

[1] Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750 (MIT Press, 1998), p. 173.