Boo the Cat Boo the Cat. 1987-2002.


Alexander Ross (1652) Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter 6, pp. 124-131.


1. Of many new diseases, and causes thereof. 2. Different colours in our bodies: the causes of the Ethiopian blackness. 3. The true Unicorn with his horn and vertues asserted. 4. Some born blind and dumb, recovered; A strange Universal Fever: A strange Fish, and strength of Imagination.

THAT in all Ages some new diseases have invaded mens bodies, may appear by these testimonies: Thycides (l. 2. de Bel. Pel. Pelopon.) speaks of a new pestilence in Athens never heard of there before.1

Agitharchidos (de mari rubro) writes of the inhabitants about the red Sea, in whose flesh vermin was bred like little dragons, which consumed their flesh; sometimes they would thrust out their heads, and being touched, pull them back again: they made great inflammations of the mucsculous parts: This mischief was never heard of before; one amongst them being troubled with a Dysury, voided at last a stalk of Barly: At Athens a youth with his urine voided a little beast with many feet.

Pliny tells us, that the Mentagra, or Tetter of the Chin and Face, was not known in Rome till the time of Tiberius: The Carbuncle came to Rome in the Censorship of L. Paulus, and J. Marius: The Leprosie called Elephantiasis, appeared first in Italy in the time of Pompey; He speaks also of other diseases, which not long before his time sprung up in Italy:2 A kind of Fever, called Coqueluche, by the French, invaded their country, anno 1510. England was plagued with a new sweating sicknesse, anno 1529: The French malady appeared first at Naples, anno 1492. The Scorbutus is but a new disease in those parts. Many strange kinds of vermin have been bred in mens bodies in this last Age, not known before in this part of the world: Of these and many more new diseases Fernelius, Fracostorius, Sebizius, and others do write.3

Now it is no wonder, that there are new diseases, seeing there are new sins. 2. New sorts of foods and gluttony devised. 3. New influences of the Stars. 4. New Earthquakes and pestiferous exhalations out of the Earth. 5. New temperaments of mens bodies. 6. Infections of waters, malignant meteors, and divers other causes may be alledged for new diseases; but none more prevalent then the food which is converted into our substance: therefore in eating and drinking, wee should regard the quantity, quality, and seasons.

II. It is strange to consider the diversitie of colours caused in the same Individual body of man by the same heat; the chylus, milk, sperm, and bones, are white; the blood and liver red; the choler yellow; the melancholy green, the spleen blew, a part of the eye black, the hairs of divers colours, and yet none blew or green. And as strange it is, that in some the skin is tauny, in others white, and in others black, all which is effected by one and the same Sun, which as it produceth all things by its heat, so it giveth colour to all things; for what giveth the essence, giveth also the consequences; yet Dr. Brown (Book 6. c. 10.) will not have the Sun to be the cause4 of the Negro's blacknesse, 1. [Because the people on the South-side of the River Senaga, are black, on the other only tauny. 2. Other animals retain their own colours in that clime. 3. In Asia and America, men are not so black.] I answer, that it will not follow, that the Sun is not the cause of blacknesse; for he doth work upon each Subject according as it is disposed to receive his impression, and accordingly produceth diversity of colours. Hence in the same hot climat men are black, Parrets and leaves of trees are green, the Emmets as some report, are white, the Gold is yellow, and every thing there hath its own peculiar colour, and yet all are produced by the same Sun; nay, the same man that hath a black skin, hath white teeth; the same Sun at the same time in the same Garden, doth cloath the Lily in white, the Rose and Cherry in red, and divers fruits in black: it is observed, that the Sun whiteneth those things which are inclined to be hard, and blackneth soft things; so he makes the Ethiopians teeth white, the skin black; he makes the green corn turn white and hard with his heat, and at the same time makes the plums black and soft; women that blanch or white their linnen in the Sun, know that he can tan their skins, but whiten their cloth.

Again, the air may be more temperate, and greater store of refreshing windes and exhalations on the one side of the river Niger, then on the other, and so the Suns operation may bee hindred, which is the cause that in America and Asia, under the same parallel, men are not so black as in Africk, where there is more heat and greater drought: for it wants those fresh Winds, and great Lakes and Rivers which are in Asia and America. The Suns heat then is the cause of blacknesse in such as are capable of it, whether the clime be torrid or frigid. Hence in cold countries we finde black crowes, and in hot white Swans. Besides, this narration is suspicious; for on both sides of the River men have been seen equally black; and there be some in Asia as black as in Affrica. He objects again, [That Nigro's transplanted into cold contries, continue their hue, therefore the Sun is not the sole cause of this blacknesse.] Ans. The question is not if the Sun be the sole cause, but whether a cause at all; which the Doctor in his former objection seemed to deny. 2. I say, that the Sun is the sole primary cause; if there be any other causes, they are secondary and subordinate to the Suns heat and influence. 3. Hee may as well infer, the Sun is not the cause of greennesse in leaves, grasse, or plants in the Torrid Zone, because these being transplanted into cold climats retain their hues, [Book 6. c. 12] And indeed he seems to make the spirit of Salt peter in the Earth the cause of viridity, because [in a glasse these spirits project orient greens.] I should like his reasons well, if the verdure of the plant were not more real then that of Salt peter in the glasse; but what will he say to that Earth where is no Salt peter at all, and yet the hearbs are green? Or is there Salt peter in a glasse of pure water, where I have seen green leaves bud out of the stem of an hearb. Besides, I find urine out of which Salt peter is made, to spoil the greennesse of the hearbs. 4. If the impression of black, which the Sun causeth in a hot clime, must alter in a cold, then may the other qualities also which the Sun by his heat procureth, be lost in a cold countrey; and so what is hard in Ethiopia, must bee soft in England, and the heat of Indian spices must grow cold. He objects again, [that there are Negroes under the Southern Tropick, and beyond which are colder countries.] I answer, that these Negroes were colonies out of hotter countries, and not Aborigines or Natives at first: And he confesseth there be Plantations of Negroes in Asia, all which retain their original blacknesse. Lastly, he objecteth, [That in the parts where the Negroes possesse, there be rivers to moisten the air; and in Lybia there are such dry and sandy desarts, as there is no water at all, but what is brought on camels backs; and yet there are no Negroes; therefore drinesse cannot cause blacknesse.] I answer, 1. It cannot be proved, that the Negroes who dwell neere rivers, had their originall there. 2. Though there may be some moist exhalations, yet it seems they are not so abundant as to qualifie the Suns heat. 3. Though the desarts of Lybia be dry, yet they are not so hot as under the Line: It is the excesse of heat and siccity together, that causeth blacknesse, and not one of these alone. 4. We see men grow tauny here by conversing much in the Sun; And further South more tauny, and still as the heat increases, the degrees of blacknesse increase also: to deny this, were to deny our senses; and we see dead bodies in the Sun, grow black; the same would befall to living bodies, if they continued still in the Sun, yet not in so short a time, because the continuall generation of moisture, and the supply of the decayed parts would make some resistance; yet Pausanias tells us, that the Lybian vipers are black by the Suns heat; therefore saith Cardan, there is no more reason why men should be black there then vipers, l. 10. de subtil.

III. Mens bodies are obnoxious to many dangers, by reason of the many sorts of poisons in the world, some killing by occult, some by manifest qualities; but God out of his goodnesse to mankind, hath ordained as many remedies and antidotes as there be poisons, whereby their malignity is either prevented expelled:5 Among all these Antidotes, there is none more wonderful then the Unicorns horn, which hath been so much questioned and doubted by divers Writers, some denying the existence of the Unicorn as it is ordinarily painted & described; Others denying that there is any such horn, and some disallowing the vertues thereof; among whom is Doctor Brown (Book 3. c. 23.) in his Vulgar Errors: But that there are Beasts with one Horn in the Indies, as Bulls, Asses, Horses, &c. I think none will deny. 2. The Unicorn or Monoceros, is not the same with Rhinoceros or Naricorn: for this is of an Elephantine bignesse, with short legs, whose bodie is covered with shels, the Elephants enemy, which he overcame at Lisbon, in that publick combat exhibited by Emanuel of Portugal, anno 1515. he hath a short Horn on his shoulders, another longer on his nose; but that Rhinoceros, whose picture Scaliger saw (Exerc. 205.) had an head like a hog, with two horns, one upon his nose, the other upon his forehead, called by Martial, (in Amphit. Epig. 22.)6 Ursus gemino cornu gravis. But the true Unicorn hath the proportion and bignesse of a Horse, the head, legs and feet of a Stagge, and the mane of an horse; he hath a horn in his forehead, saith Cardan (de subtil. l. 10.) three cubits long; two of these Unicorns were seen at Mecha, of which see Parry in his 21 Book of poisons, Munster and Fernandus de Cordova, [l. 5. didas. c. 9.] 3. The reason why the Unicorn is differently described, is, because divers Authors confound him with the Naricorn, or else because there be divers species of Unicorns, as there be of Dogs and other Animals, or else because they vary the colour and bignesse of their horn according to their age and climat wherein they live, as other beasts doe: but from variety of description and circumstances, we must not infer a nullity of the substance, as Parry doth; for so wee may deny the Rhinoceros, which is diversly described; Strabo makes him like a Bear7 [l. 16 de sub. l. 10.] Cardan, like a Bull, others like an Elephant. [See Parry, Cardan, Fern. de Cord. Pausanias, Scaliger, Munster, Pliny, Solinus, Cæsar, Ælian, Polyhistor.] Some give him but one horn, some two, which with some is crooked, with others straight. I therefore make no question of the true Unicorn, as he is commonly painted, because Vertomanus saw two of them, as Scaliger witnesseth, and so did Lewis Bothema, who as some say, is the same with Vertomanus, Justin Martyr, Basil, and others of the Fathers; Yea, the holy scriptures seem to favour this description, Job 39.9. will the Unicorn be willing to serve thee &c.? The Hebrew word Rem is by Hierom, Montanus, and Aquila, translated Rhinoceros; but by the 70 Monoceros. Yet in another place Hierom and Montanus translated the word Unicorn: and in this place it cannot signifie Rhinoceros, because this beast hath been oftentimes subdued by man, and bound, as we read in the Roman stories, but so was never the Unicorn brought into subjection, as God sheweth to Job: And when David saith,8 He shall be exalted like the Horn of an Unicorn, he cannot mean the Rhinoceros, who of all cornuted Animals, hath the shortest Horn; but the true Unicorn, whose Horn is the highest of all others; for else Davids comparison had been childish. Now for the Horn it self, and vertues thereof, they are rejected by Rondeletius, Parry, the, and some others. Rondeletius [l. 21. de venenis, c. 61.] found no more vertue in htis Horn then in an Elephants Tooth. Parry found no vertue in the French Kings Horn. Brown rejects the Horn, [because it is so diversly described. 2. The Ancients adscribed no vertue to it. 3. It cannot resist Arsenick, and poisons, which kill by second qualities.] To these I answer, 1. If it be suficient to deny an Horn, for that it is differently described, we may deny the Harts Horns, for there are great differences of them, some bigger and higher then others, some more branchy, some harder, some are cloathed with a soft Doun, others are not; and they have not all of them exactly the same colour. Neither do I allow, that all which are called Unicorns horns, are true; for some are fictitious. 2. If the Ancients adscribed no vertue to this horn, why was it of such account among them? Why did the Indian Princes drink out of them, and make Cups and Rings of them, which either they wore on their fingers, or applied to their breasts, but that they knew there was in them an antidotal vertue against poison, as Andreth Baccius [l. de Unicor.] sheweth,9 and the Doctor denieth not [an Antidotall efficacy, and such as the Ancients commended in this Horn] and yet two lines before, [he denies that the Ancients adscribed any vertue to it.] But sure it is apparent, that not only there is an occult quality in it against poison, as in the Elks Hoof against the falling sicknesse, but also by manifest qualities it works; for Baccius proves it to be of an excessive drying quality, and therefore good against worms and putrefaction. And that Riccius the Physitian did use sometimes the weight of a scruple, sometimes of ten grains thereof in burning fevers with good successe. 3. That it can resist Arsnick, the same Baccius proves, by the experiment which the Cardinal of Trent made upon two Pigeons, [l. de Unic.] to which he caused some Arsenick to be given: shortly after he gave som scrapings of his Unicorns horn to one of them, which after some symptomes recovered and lived, the other died two hours after it had eaten the Arsenick: The same Horn cured divers pestilential Fevers, and such as were poisoned. Hence then it appears, that this Horn was both commended by the Ancients, namely, by Ælian, Philostrates, and divers others, as also by modern Physitians, as Ficinus, Brasavolus, Matthiolus, Mandella, and many more. It is true, that some might not find the vertue of it, either because it was not the true Horn, or the true dosis was not exhibited, or due time was not observed, or else the malignancy of the disease would not yeild: For10 Interdum docta plus valet arte malum. But from hence to deny the Horn of its vertue, were all one as to deny Rhubarb, Agarick, Sena, or other Simples, because they do not always produce the wished effect, or work upon all bodies at all times alike. The means to discriminate the true Unicorns horn from the false, are two, to wit, if it cause the liquor in which it is put, to bubble; and secondly, if it sweat when the poison is near it, as Baccius tells us.

IV. I have read of some who were born blind and dumb, and yet have been cured, [Seidelus de morb. incur.] but in these there could not be a totall privation of the organ or faculty of sight and speech; for such cannot be cured by Nature nor Art.11 And so John 6. it was held impossible for one born blind to see. In those then was only a privation of the art, and so the eye-lids only shut up and agglutinated, which by Art might be cut and opened. And so the strings by which the tongue is tied, are often cut. I have also read [in Seidelius] of one who lived till he was an old man, and every year from his birth till his dying day had a fever which took him still upon his birth-day: This anniversary Fever held him still fourteen days, and at last killed him. The seeds of this Fever he got doubtlesse in his mothers womb: and what impressions the seed or Embryo receiveth then, cannever be eradicated; such is the force of the formative power upon our first materials. Scaliger speaks of a certain Fish in the Island of Zeilam, which if one hold fast in his hands, put him in a shaking fit of an Ague: This effect I suppose proceeds from the excessive cold of the Fish, which by the hand being communicated to the muscles and nerves, causeth shaking and convulsion fits. And no lesse strange is that which is mentioned by Libavius, of one who hearing his kinsman being in a remote country, was dead of the plague, fell sick himself of the same disease, though the place where he was then dwelling, was free from any infection. [Libavius de veneno, c. 8. Corollarii] This proceeded from a deep apprehension, or sudden fear, a weaknesse in nature, and an aptitude to fall into that disease; and how powerful apprehension, fear and fancies are upon our bodies, may be seen in the story mentioned by Libavius [de veneno. c. 8.] of one who ate a snake instead of an Eel without any hurt, till a good while after he was told it was a Snake; and upon this he fell sick and pined away.12



1. Thucydides Pelop. War II.xlvii. and following chapters. It had been heard of elsewhere.

2. All this from the beginning of Pliny HNXXVI.

3. Coqueluche, so named for the cap its victims often wore to keep their heads warm, a kind of violent catarrh first recorded in France in 1510, and said by later authorities to have come from Africa. The sweating sickness, a mysterious febrile epidemic(s) first recorded in England in 1485; it was frequently fatal, carrying off its victims in less than 24 hours. The "French disease" is syphillis, whose origins are in dispute. Scorbutus = scurvy (the first usage of "scorbutus", a modern Latin rendering of a Germanic word, recorded in OED is 1820).

4. 1652: "caus", but long ess.

5. 1652 sic.

6. Martial. de Spect. XXII.5:

Namque gravem cornu gemino sic extulit ursum,
iactat ut inpositas taurus in astra pilas

7. Strabo XVI.4.15. Like a boar, not like a bear, presumably a typographical error rather than a mistaken reading. In the following bracketed references, "l. 16" goes with Strabo and "de sub. l. 10" goes with Cardan. Economical but confusing.

8. In the 92nd Psalm. ] I see no reason why a short horn may not be exalted.

9. Andrea Baccio's Discorso dell'alicorno. Nel quale si tratta della natura dell'alicorno, & delle molte sue virtù;: revisto dal propio autore con aggiunta delle esperienze, & di molte cose notabili contro a' veleni etc. of 1582.

10. Interdum etc.: Ovid epist. ex Ponto, Lib. I, iii.18.

11. I presume by this that Ross means the complete absence of eyes, and of tongue and vocal cords. Even then, modern medicine is making headway.

12. This paragraph is only partially in response to various chapters of Pseudodoxia Epidemica, III.18, III.27, etc.

This page is by James Eason