It is somewhat alarming to discover that many individuals born so incredibly different remain relatively unknown to history. Other than the specific nature of their afflictions, old anatomical catalogs make mention of many very special people, describe them in great detail, and yet often names – and other human aspects – are neglected or omitted.
Many of these marvel of early record are baffling in their descriptions. According to Paré there was a boy born in 1493 that was ‘the result of illicit intercourse between a woman and a dog’. The creature was said to have the lower extremities of its canine father. In his 1557 book Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon Conrad Lycosthenes states that in the year 1110, in the ‘Bourg of Liège’, there was born a child with the head, hands, and feet of a man, and the rest of the body like that of a pig. Lycosthenes also references the birth of a ‘serpent’ by a woman. Other animal / human hybrid marvels include a child born at Cracovia in 1547 which ‘had a head shaped like that of a man; a nose long and hooked like an elephant’s trunk; hands and feet looking like the web-foot of a goose; and a tail with a hook in it’. The child was reported to have lived for three days.
These very early accounts are likely quite true, but the descriptions attributed are simply the documenters attempt to relate what they saw in terms they and the audience could comprehend. These animal-men were most certainly human beings born with serious genetic mutations and deformities with features that in some way resembled animal characteristics. Those animal comparisons continued well into the golden age of sideshow with epithets like Lobster Boy, Dog Faced Boy, Alligator-Skinned Man, Monkey Girl and others.
Other marvels are described in legitimate detail; however, their names are lost in history. Roger of Wendover, the English chronicler, in 1062 Normandy there was a report of a ‘female monster’ – two women joined about the umbilicus (belly button) and fused into a single lower extremity. According to Roger of Wendover, the monster took its food by two mouths but expelled it from a single orifice. The account also relates how one of them died, and the survivor bore her dead sister about for three years before she was overcome by the oppression and stench of the cadaver
Lycosthenes reported seeing a ‘double monster’ an infant he also states ‘took its food and drink simultaneously in its two mouths’. Another account by Saint Augustine reports that he knew of a child born in ‘the Orient who’ who was conjoined to his brother from the belly up. Paré gives an account of twins, born near Heidelberg in 1486, that had double bodies joined back to back and most remarkably one of the twins had the aspect of a female and the other of a male and though both had two sets of genitals. Bartholinus wrote of a three-headed monster who survived very briefly after birth and another account of two girls, born in 1495, joined at the These girls were said to be normal in every respect, except for the forehead union, and ‘when one walked forward, the other was compelled to walk backward; their noses almost touched, and their eyes were directed laterally’. When one of these girls died, an attempt to separate the other from the cadaver was made, but proved unsuccessful and the second girl soon died. A second example, almost identical, was made in 1501 and a third allegedly occurred soon after in St. Petersburg. There are also accounts of a ‘two-headed monster’ born in Ferrari, Italy, in 1540 – the child was said to be healthy and well formed but possessed two sets of genitals, one male and the other female.
Other nameless wonders include a boy born in 1529 who had two heads, four ears, four arms, but only two thighs and two legs. A rather detailed account exists of Swiss double headed man who, in 1538 at the age of thirty, ‘possessed of a beard on each face, the two bodies fused at the umbilicus into a single lower extremity. These two twins resembled one another in contour and countenance. They were so joined that at rest they looked upon one another. They had a single wife, with whom they were said to have lived in harmony’. About one hundred and fifty years later in the Gentleman’s Magazine a portrait and description of a double woman was featured. Apparently the young was something of exhibition in parts of Europe but little information can be found of her and her physical situation with the exception that it was stated that she had two heads, two necks, four arms, two legs, one pelvis, and one set of pelvic organs.
These are only a few and truly it is a shame that these persons, immortalized by appearance only hundreds of year after there unique lives have ended, are anonymous. What personal stories and recollections they may have had to share. The triumphs and tribulations of the human spirit are far more interesting that the malformed bodies that vessel said spirit.
Excerpts taken from Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine V. Major Terata by, G M. Gould, and L. P. Walter.