On Alex Boxer's excellent Idols of the Cave blog I read of this curious pamphlet: Antonio Blado’s Monstrum in Oceano (1537). Blado pretends to report the capture of an improbable looking ‘sea pig’ in the North Sea: mōnstrū marinū porco simile.
In fact, Blado’s book is expressly theological allegory, and does not present itself as a true history. After interpreting all the peculiar elements of his fantastical creature in terms of the Bible, leaning heavily on Revelation, he concludes: ‘tu ut pius es, quid omnia hæc simul iuncta portendant, pro pietate tua, ac religione interpretabere’: as you are pious, I pray you interpret according to your religious piety what all this portends.
What really interests me is that Blado’s account, and his vivid illustration of this creature, proved so popular that it reappears in other books and even in maps, re-reported without its theological gloss as an actual alien creature.
That's a detail from Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (‘Marine Map’, 1539). The Latin legend says: ‘this monster was observed in 1537’. To me, this speaks less to the credulity of people in the sixteenth-century and more to their appetite for the strange and the monstrous, and more specifically their preference for strange and monstrous sublimity as conceived within the logic of possibility rather than myth or ancient fable.
‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]
‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.
There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.