Boo the Cat Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.


Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 11, pp. 156-161.


1. The Pictures of Pelican, Dolphin, Serpent, Adam and Eve, Christ, Moses, Abraham, and of the Sybils defended. 2. The Pictures of Cleopatra, of Alexander, of Hector, of Cæsar, with Saddle and Stirrops maintained.

THe Doctor [Book 5. c. 1.] quarrels with some pictures, as 1. with that of the Pelican opening her breast with her bill, and feeding her young ones with her blood. But for this he hath no great reason: for Franzius (de animalib.) to whom he is beholding for much of his matter, tels him that this and divers other pictures are rather Hieroglyphical and Emblematical, then truly Historicall: for the Pelican was used as an Emblem of paternall affection among the Gentiles; and of Christs love to his Church among the Christians.1 2. With that of the Dophin, because he is painted crooked, whereas his naturall figure is straight. This is true, yet he is crooked sometimes, as when he leaps and jumps, and in this posture the painters expresse him.2 3. With the Serpent tempting Eve, because it is painted with a virgins head, which might afford suspition to Eve in beholding a third humanity beside herselfe and Adam.3 But this could not so much trouble Eve, to speak with one like her selfe, as to hear a reasonable discourse proceed from a Serpents mouth; for she could not be so grossly ignorant in that happy state, where there could be no deception of mind, as to think a serpent could speak and discourse rationally; therefore Sathan cunningly assumes a womans face, whereby there might be the lesse suspition, neither could Eve be amazed to see a Serpent with a womans face: for divers other creatures have the form of humane faces, such as Baboons, Apes, Monkies, Satyrs, and that American beast mentioned by Andrew Thevet, called Haijt by the Inhabitants, and Guedon by the French; the picture whereof may be seen in Gesner. 4 4. He quarrels with the pictures of Adam and Eve with Navels,5 accounting those parts in them uselesse superfluities; because the use of the Navell is to continue the infant unto the mother, and by the vessels thereof to convey its aliments. The Navell, which is the center of the body, was not uselesse or superfluous in Adam or Eve; because they were ornaments, without which the belly had been deformed: Therefore Solomon amongst other beautifull ornaments of the Church, puts in the Navel for one, Thy Navel, saith he, is like a round Goblet, Cant. 7.2. He might as well quarrel with the picture for giving haire to Adam and Eve; for the sole use of haire both for head and chin, is for ornament and distinction. 5. He questions Christs picture with long hair,6 seeing he was no Nazarite by vow. I answer, 'Tis true, he was no Nazarite by vow; for he drank Wine, and approached the dead, yet he was a true Nazarite, because he was as the Apostle saith, separated from sinners.7 Therefore it was fit he should in this respect wear long haire, as Sampson the Nazarite and Type of Christ had done before. Besides, haire being an ornament, and signe of ingenuity (for slaves durst not wear long haire;) and being also the custome of those times and Countries, it is most probable he wore long haire; and therefore his picture is causelesly quarreld with, especially seeing he was so painted in that picture sent by Lentulus, President of Judea, to Tiberius.8 And in the same length of hair he was found in some old brasse coins at Rome, which Theleus Ambrosius did see; in his Introduction to the Chaldee Tongue, he speakes of this. 6. He rejects9 Abrahams picture sacrificing Isaac, because he is desccribed as a little boy. Answ. Josephus makes Isaac at that time 25 years of age; some Rabbins make him above thirty. But Aben Ezra the Rabbin makes him onely twelve years old: And sure at this age he might be able, by his Fathers help,10 to carry a bundle of wood up the hill, being men were stronger at that time then now; howbeit he was but a Boy in comparison of his fathers age, who was now 125 years old, if Isaac was 25; for he was born in the hundredth yeare of his Fathers life. 7. He reproves the picture of Moses, because painted with horns.11 It was not the Painter but the Scripture which gave him horns. For the Hebrew word Keren is so translated by Aquila keratwdhV hn, and by Jerom, Cornuta: So it is in the vulgar Editions of Sixtus and Clemens. So it is translated by divers Protestants, by Munster, by Rivet, and some others, and therefore Munster doubts whether that relation of Steuchus be true, that the Jewes are offended when they see Moses painted with horns, seeing R. Solomon and Kimchi doe use the word Horn, saying, That the beams of Moses did resemble horns; and therefore R. Solomon calls those Rayes the horns of Magnificence. It is true, there is a difference between Keren and Karon, that signifying a horn, this to shine, but who could put this distinction truly, before the invention of the Hebrew pricks; neither is it materiall which way it be translated, seeing clear horns do cast rayes of light, and luminous bodies cast abroad their rayes like horns, as we see in the Sun and Moon. Neither is there any danger of conformity with Jupiter Ammon, (as the Doctor thinks) if Moses be painted with horns: for Jupiter was painted and worshipped not with Rams horns alone, but with the Rams head and skin, with which his Image was yearly adorned; because, in the shape of a Ram he shewed a Well of water to Bacchus, when he was dry in the Desarts of Libya; and because he turned himselfe into a Ram when he fled from the Giant into Ægypt. As for cornuted Pan and Bacchus, they were the same with Jupiter, one Sun under divers names and shapes, as Macrobius shewes. 8. He reproves the pictures of the Sibyls,12 because there be ten or twelve of them, and all with youthfull faces. For the number of ten, he must reprove Varro (de Divinat.) not the Painter, for so many he delivers to us; others have added two more. And that there were so many, Boisardus makes it appeare by what he hath collected out of ancient Authors, concerning the difference, originals, times, and numbers of the Sibyls, where he shewes, that Sibylla Cumea whom Æneas consulted, and Cumana, who sold the Books unto Tarquin, were different, between whom were six hundred years distance. As for their youthfull faces, he hath more reason to quarrell with the Poets then with the Painters; but indeed neither are to be blamed; For the Sibyls may be aged, and yet look young, as many aged people doe; some I have already mentioned who looked young after they have been an hundred and fifty yeares old. 'Tis true, that Sibyl is called Longeva by the Poet, (Æn. 6.) but by that was signified her long life, not a withered or wrinkled face. The same word is by the same Poet ascribed to Æneas, whom not withstanding he makes immortall; and Romulus in Ennius is said, Deget ævum in heaven;13 so in Æschylus the gods are called darobioV, that is, Longævi, who I think not have old faces. As in Charon, so in the Sybils, there was Cruda viridisque, senectus. It is true also that Sybil is termed Anus in Livii. But I deny the Doctors Etymology out of Festus; for anus is ab annis, and not from a and nouV, as if she had doted;14 for she could not be anous, that was di boulh: Sibylla is so called, as being the mind and counsel of God, therefore could not be a dotard.

II. There are some other pictures which offend the Doctors eyes; as, 1. That of Cleopatra with two Asps. Suetonius speakes of one, Florus of two, so doth Virgil,

Nec dum etiam geminos à tergo respicit angues.

So doth Propertius,

Brachia spectavia sacris admorsa colubris.15

He should therefore have reproved these rather then the Painter; he should also have quarrelled with Augustus, who from the prickes he found in her arms, concluded she was bit by Asps, and therefore imployed the Phylli to suck out the poison. But whether she was bit by one, or two, or none, the picture is harmlesse, and consonant both to Roman Historians and Poets. 2. The pictures of the nine Worthies displease him;16 because Alexander is described sitting upon an Elephant, Hector on Horseback, and Cæsar with Saddle and Styrrups. But he should remember that Paitners and Poets have a priviledge above others,

Pictoribus atq; Poetis quid libet audendi
semper fuit æqua potestas.    Horat.

And yet these pictures are partly historicall, partly hieroglyphical. Alexander sits on an Elephant, to shew his conquest over the Indians which most abound in Elephants. Besides, this picture hath reference to that story of the Elephant in Philostrates, (Lib. 2. Cap. 61.) which from Alexander to Tiberius lived three hundred and fifty yeares: This huge Elephant Alexander after he had overcome Porus, dedicated to the Sun in these words, AlexandroV o DioV ta Aianta tw hliw; for he gave to this Elephant the name of AiaV, and the inhabitants so honored this beast, that they beset him round with Garlands and Ribbons; they used also to anoynt him, and adorned him with a golden chain, It was not thus without cause he is painted sitting on an Elephant, rather than Judas Maccabæus, or any others who have overcome battels wherein were Elephants; or Cæsar, whose triumph was honored with captive Elephants; for he was not the first, long before him Curtius Dentatus was thus honored, and so was Metellus, who had an hundred and twenty captive Elephants in his triumph. Again, the Doctor asks, Why Hector is painted upon an horse? I answer, because he was a brave Cavalier, and kept excellent Horses; such, as if we will believe Homer, had understanding: for Hector makes an eloquent speech to them, and his wife Andromache fed them with good bread and wine (Iliad lib. 8.)17 Their names were Zanthus, Podargus, Aithon and Lampus: Is it likely that he would keep such horses and never ride them? whereas Horsmanship was in use long before. And we read in Pindarus, (in Olympiad.) that the Grecian Princes took delight in keeping and riding of good Horses. And although the ancients used to fight in Chariots, yet sometimes they fought on Horseback too, being as Pliny saith, taught so to fight by the Theban Centaurs. As for Cæsars Saddle and Stirrops, it will not thence follow these were not in use; for we find the ancient Roman Statues bare-headed; will it therefore follow there were no use of Helmets, or that they fought or rid bare-headed? But we do not find (saith the Doctor out of Salmuth upon Pancerol) the word Stapida in ancient Authors. I answer, We find words equivalent; for what is Suppedaneum, Pedamentum, Subex, Pedaneus, and Staticulum, but the same that Stapida which we call Stirrup? So we find Ephippium in Horace [Optat Ephippia bos piger]18 and Equorum strata found out by Pelethronius in Pliny, and what were these but Saddles. For to take stratum there for an Horse-cloth, is ridiculous, as if that had been such a piece of invention to be recorded, to cover the Horse back with a peece of cloth. Appian writes of the Numidians, that they used to ride without Saddles; but nothing of the Romans. The two verses which the Doctor citeth out of Salmuth to prove his Assertion, are needlesse; for in the one is left out the principall word, Saltus superbus emittat in currum: So that Turnus did not leap on Horseback, but into his Chariot, [Aen. 12.] the other, Corpora saltu subjiciunt in equos, shews, that they jumped on Horseback; but whether by stirrups or not, is not there set down.




1. A typically Rossean petitio: why is the pelican used as an emblem either of "paternal affection" or of "Christs love" (and further, if "paternal love", why the mother pelican?). Browne, who comments more fully and more accurately the pelican's emblematic function, proceeds to further objections not answered here.

2. Pseudodoxia Epidemica V.2. Ross is again repeating part of Browne's discussion. Interestingly, as I typed this, I saw one of those endless Discovery channel nature specials on the Mediterranean, in which a dolphin was shown skimming across the surface of the water, seemingly on his tail, with the rest of his body out of the water — and bolt upright.

3. Pseudodoxia V.4. Ross is again... well, why go on about this?

4. Haijt, guedon

5. Pseudodoxxia V.5. The argument that navels for "ornament" is perhaps no odder than most of Ross's arguments. But there is a significant flaw in the logic: navels may be for ornament, but not solely for ornament, as Ross claims is the case with hair.

6. Pseudodoxia V.7.

7. Hebrews 7:26. The Apostle seems to be saying that this made Jesus a true Priest, although he was not a Nazarite or otherwise dedicated; but Ross's reading is, I suppose, possible.

8. Known to be a forgery even in Ross's day. The general consensus is that it was written early in the 13th century, probably for the use to which Ross puts it. Very early portraits of Jesus usually show him with no beard, and often with (relatively) short hair.

9. Most convincingly, in Pseudodoxia V.8.

10. Although such a reading is completely unsupported by scripture; Gen. 22:6.

11. Pseudodoxia V.9.

12. Pseudodoxia V.11. He does not "reprove" them; merely points out that the number of Sibyls varied, and that those recorded were not young.

13. From the fragments of Ennius: Romulus in caelo cum dis genitalibus aevum / Degit.

14. Ancient etymologies are frequently wrong, often fantastically so. They do, however, give some sense of the meanings of the words to which they are attached. If someone speaking Latin is willing to consider that "anus" (= "old woman", "grandmother-type", etc.) came from "mindless" or "doting", that is a certainly a hint that the word may have had at least that flavor, if not that literal meaning. The term "anus" is usually, but not always, pejorative.

15. Virgil Aen. VIII:697. Propertius Eleg. III:53. It is a stretch to say that either of these passages means (exactly) "two serpents", even if we take them as historical statements. Florus, Epit. Liv. Bellorum II:XXI, does not not specify the number of serpents.

16. Pseudodoxia V.13; the pictures do not "displease" Browne, but he questions the historical accuracy of the iconography. In most of these "refutations", Ross loses sight, if ever he had sight, of the point of Browne's Vulgar Errors: the investigation of error and its origins, not the regulation of error, which is impossible.

17. In the Iliad 184 ff. If you ask me, making a speech to a horse is a sure sign that one is not familiar with the beasts, at least if the speaker expects to be listened to. In any case, Browne does not say that Hector was unfamiliar with horses; he says that Hector probably did not ride on a horse's back, but rather yoked horses to his chariot, as the common method of warfare of Hector's day. This is as it may or may not be, but is not addressed by Ross.

18. It is difficult to know what, if anything, Ross was thinking when he wrote this little passage. The words in his list fall away sharply from anything that could conceivably be construed as a stirrup, moving from "footstool" (the presence of which when used to mount a horse is a fairly clear sign of the absence of stirrups) to "statuette". "Ephippion", Horace Epist. I:xiv, l. 43. Browne does not deny that the ancients had saddles.

This page is by James Eason