In March of 1512 a well respected Florentine apothecary named Lucca Landucci made quite a startling entry into his diary. He described a monster born in Ravenna. He described The Monster as having a single horn upon its head, two bat-like wings, and markings upon its chest, a serpentine and hermaphrodic lower body, a single eye set in its knee and an eagle like claw for a foot.
While Landucci had only seen a painting of the marvel, the creature likely did exist. Records indicate that Pope Julius II ordered the child starved to death. The account of Landucci is one of the earliest reliable recordings of a prodigy at the dawn of a new era of recognition and understanding. It also documents the first definable instance of real prodigious birth elevated to mythic proportions.
The rumor of The Monster spread across Europe aided and accompanied by dozens of woodcuts and engravings. With each telling and illustration the monsters became more and more bizarre. When it left Florence, the Monster had two serpentine legs; by Paris it had a single claw. Depending on the story that accompanied The Monster, its wings were either bat like or angelic. Sometime the Monster was a Saint, and at other times The Devil itself.
While no one is certain as to what the monster really was but it was almost certainly a child born with a severe and unusual genetic disorder. Upon its birth, people could not stop taking about The Monster. People simply had to see the illustrations. They had to hear the stories. Even now, hundreds of years after the original event, people are still talking.
It is human nature to be curious of the wondrous.
You can see more unusual monsters in Treasury of Fantastic and Mythological Creatures.
image: Portrait of The Monster from Paré’s ; this illustration includes the odd chest markings.