It’s Greek to me

The title of Crooke’s book begins:



 D E S C R I P T I O N

of the Body of Man.

Different scholars transliterate the Greek “MIKPOKOΣMOΓPAΦIA” in different ways. Of eleven sources consulted, four (dated 1914, 2002, 2009, and 2011) opt for Mikrokosmographia; six (1968, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007) use Microcosmographia; and one (2004) refrains from transliteration altogether, maintaining the original Greek characters. Munk’s Roll elides the Greek, substituting a series of dashes for the initial word of the title. WorldCat requires the search term “mikrokosmographia” to yield results including Crooke’s book.

Now, as little as I know about Latin, I know even less about Greek-to-English transliteration. From the general reading I’ve done on the topic, it is my understanding that either a “c” or a “k” is an acceptable substitute for the Greek kappa. In studying Crooke’s book, I have learned by experience to use both spellings when conducting general searches.

Personally, I prefer Mikrokosmographia. Why? I like the “k”s. They remind me of the word’s Greek origins. But I have no better (or more scholarly) explanation than that. If anyone would care to weigh in on the transliteration issue, I’d love to hear from you.

As for the meaning of the word, that’s much simpler. It is easily broken down to its Greek roots: “micros,” meaning small; “cosmos,” meaning universe or world; and “graphein,” meaning to draw or write. In the early seventeenth century, the human body was understood to be analogous to the larger universe, in both a literal and metaphoric sense. Literally, humoral theory still held sway, and each of the four humors corresponded to physical earthly elements. In a more metaphoric sense, the human body was considered the epitome of all God’s creation, an idea reflected heavily in Crooke’s writing (which I’ll revisit later). In other words, Mikrokosmographia contains writing about the “little universe” the human body was considered to be in his time. As Crooke succinctly puts it, the book is “a description of the body of man.”

Note – 7/26/12: In Medicinal Cannibalism in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (2011), Louis Noble transliterates Crooke’s title as Microkosmografia, the most unusual way I’ve seen yet. (Noble’s book, by the way, is excellent and definitely worth the read to anyone interested in such matters.)


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