The first is the glory of God.
The second, His wrath.
The third, too great a quantity of semen.
The fourth, too small a quantity.
The fifth, imagination.
The sixth, the narrowness or smallness of the womb.
The seventh, the unbecoming sitting position of the mother, who, while pregnant, remains seated too long with her thighs crossed or pressed against her stomach.
The eighth, by a fall or blows struck against the stomach of the mother during pregnancy.
The ninth, by hereditary or accidental illnesses.
The tenth, by the rotting or corruption of the semen.
The eleventh, by the mingling or mixture of seed.
The twelfth, by the artifice of wandering beggars.
The thirteenth, by Demons or Devils.
Ambroise Paré, Monstres et Prodiges (1573) (quoted in Leslie Fiedler, Freaks)
I was in Dick's living room leafing through a scrap book he had handed me when I came across this quotation pasted to a page surrounded by various pictures of grotesques. I've had these moments before: something reaches out from a different dimension and gently tugs me towards it, letting me know that a relationship has just begun, quite probably to last for the rest of my life. This is how I discovered John Gardner, not in some creative writing class as most of the folks I know who know of him did, but at the brand new Cockeysville Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library when I was scanning the shelves and came across the tangle of antlers that is the dustcover of Freddy's Book. How different would my writing-- my life!-- be had I not discovered Gardner to mentor me from beyond the grave?
This list of causes struck me with its simple boldness and poetry. Of course, Paré is a physician from that era when science and art were siblings that still shared the same room. Even though they bickered and weren't crazy about the arrangement, they still enjoyed each other's company and shared a common set of interests and language for talking about them. (I flatter myself and you, gentle reader, that we can, perhaps right here in this place, bring the kids back together again. Lord knows, Doyle performs this particular alchemy on a regular node-basis.)
The wonderful matter-of-factness of the list is due to the very fact that, as far as he's concerned, Paré is dealing in "matters of fact." Birth defects had causes, and those causes ranged from the blatant and incomprehensible intercession of God, such as the blind man in the Gospel of John, born that way for no reason other than that Jesus might one day give him sight and thus prove ". . . the works of God might be magnified in him . . . "; to the more mundane fakery of traveling beggars:
I have a recollection being in Angers, in 1525, that a wicked scoundrel and beggar had cut off a hanged man's arm-- already stinking and infected-- which he had tied to his vest, letting it lean on a small fork against his side. . . . One Good Friday, the people, seeing his rotted arm, gave him alms, thinking it was real. The beggar having wiggled this arm around for a long time, finally it came loose and fell to the ground. . . thereupon he was led off as a prisoner, then condemned to get the whip, by order of the magistrate, with the rotted arm hung around his neck.*
I think most of us boys can relate to the third and fourth causes of monsters, and nearly everyone to the fifth.
This list, this wonderful found object, has inspired me to think in a different way about a challenge I've been mulling for over a year now: the problem of horror in theatre. Instead of a full-length, single subject play, I'm thinking now of attacking it one short experiment at a time; for if Paré proves anything here, it's that horror has a variety of sources.
I'm further inspired to generate my own, modern list of the causes of monsters. Here's what I have so far (and I welcome your suggestions):
Modern Causes of Monsters
The first is the glory of scientific ascendance.
The second is the ignorance of its limits.
The third, too small a quantity of faith.
The fourth, too great a quantity.
The fifth, imagination.
The narrowness of an individual mind or smallness of one's heart.
The seventh, the incessant, uninvited malfeasant fiddling of extra-terrestrial entities who, while floating above us like condescending hydrocephalic, wing-plucked fruit bats, or occasionally swooping down to probe us into ignominy, never seem to take the time to realize that we have feelings and sometimes feelings get hurt.
The eighth, by a fall or blow struck against a nation once too many times impregnated with pride.
The ninth, unnozzled anger.
The tenth, by rotting or corruption of the soul, if it exists.
The eleventh, by the mingling or mixture of misunderstood Easternisms, if it does not.
The twelfth, by the artifice of hungry-to-be-sentient corporate entities.
The thirteenth, is the glory of God.
The thirteenth, is His wrath.
*From Janis L. Pallister's translation, On Monsters and Marvels, The University of Chicago Press, 1982.