Fiction or Fact?

Collected and Translated out of all the Best Authors of Anatomy, Especially out of Gasper Bauhinus and Andreas LaurentiusBy HELKIAH CROOKE Doctor of Physicke, Physitian to His Majestie, and his Highnesse PROFESSOR in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.

This is where things start to get sticky, for Crooke and for me.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the biggest problems Crooke faces in academic circles is the issue of authorship. If, on the very title page, he himself admits he didn’t write this book, why should we be interested?*

For one thing, it matters who the “we” is. A book such as this holds interest for a variety of parties with (perhaps surprisingly) varied interests. It has value as a physical object in being a book from 1615. From a history-of-medicine standpoint, it’s significant as the first comprehensive English-language anatomy volume.** But what about those of us who live in the realm of literary analysis?

Even making accommodation for my biases, I still think there is obvious reason for us to give this book closer attention. It sort of dovetails bizarrely with my own efforts in creating a modernized version of the text. Any time you create another “version” of any kind, the editor/translator/transcriber has bearing on the work. It’s inevitable.

If we take that as a given, the next question is how much of an effect the editor/translator/whatever has. In the case of Crooke, my hypothesis is that he has quite a lot of impact. Okay, so he doesn’t make any valuable original scientific contributions. The bulk of his anatomy knowledge may be translated from other sources. But Crooke is still heavily present in this text, in three distinct ways.

First, as translator, Crooke chooses not only which words to use but also how to portray the tone and and intentions of his sources. Second, as editor of the volume, he makes crucial decisions about what material to include, what to cut, and in what order to position things. Third, Crooke has originally authored some portions of the text. Although he himself did not conduct any new anatomies in the process of writing this book, he is an educated and experienced practicing physician, and he draws on his experiences in that capacity to add to this text in multiple places. One of the things I’ll be cataloging as I make my way through the book in this blog is just how much of the text is his own original writing—with 1,000+ pages to sort through, even if it’s only a small percentage it may still be a significant amount.

Cumulatively, as author, editor, and translator, Crooke makes clear rhetorical choices in assembling his text and constructing his arguments, helping me to build my case in defense of studying his book. Where he doesn’t help himself is in making completely fallacious claims like the one above: Crooke may have been a “Doctor of Physicke,” but he was not ever “Physitian to His Majestie,” who in 1615 was, of course, James I.

It is not surprising that Crooke would make a claim like this; at the very least it seems a likely bit of marketing. Crooke had certainly met the monarch and was even “in his favor”—James I would later grant him the keepership of Bethlem Hospital (in 1619). Crooke’s few biographers agree on this: O’Malley says, “in a manner . . . unknown, he [Crooke] became attached to the royal medical service, but certainly not, as it is sometimes said, as one of the king’s personal physicians” (3); O’Donoghue reports that Crooke was “a familiar figure in the city [of London] and at court” (164); and Birken asserts Crooke had a strong ally in James I who offered the physician “continuing support” (ODNB).***

I do admit I am a little perplexed by the final part of the phrase, “and his Highnesse PROFESSOR in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.” I’m assuming this also refers to James I; it seems not unlikely that the monarch would be attributed all sorts of titles he wasn’t practically prepared to hold. But if I’m wrong about this, please let me know. I simply can’t conceive of any other individual who would warrant the concurrent titles of “his Highnesse” and “Professor in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.”

“Chyrurgerie” is a fun one, though – this is the word we now know as “surgery.” I think we should bring it back. Next time you’re faced with a medical operation, don’t call it surgery; tell your friends you’re “having chyrurgerie” instead. Doesn’t that make it sound much more fun?

*Of course, there is something ironic here post-Foucault, but I haven’t fully explored the theoretical implications yet. I plan to start with Barbara Traister’s work on early modern works by anonymous authors – but that’s a future post.

**In regard to English-language anatomy texts, Crooke is preceded by, at least, Thomas Vicary (Anatomie of Mans Body, 1548) and John Banister (The Historie of Man, 1578). What sets Mikrokosmographia apart, as I hint at above, is its scope—particularly that it includes a full, illustrated description of the female reproductive system in the vernacular, which cause significant problems in Crooke’s professional and religious circles – but again, that’s another post.

***For further bibliography of these sources, see “Further Reading”

The Controversies




Mikrokosmographia comprises thirteen separate books devoted to various components of the human body. Each book includes between nine and forty-three chapters. Books One through Eight are each followed by a sub-section of “controversies,” a set of between eight and sixty-four questions related to the subject matter of the preceding book.

I have not yet read the anatomy volume in its entirety (that is one purpose of this blog). However, based on the reading I have done, the controversies are of no small importance to its significance. Both the chapters and the questions are drawn from other sources; in “The Praeface to the Chyrurgeons,” Crooke explains,

My present worke is for the most part out of Bauhine for the History, Figures, and the severall Authors quoted in his Margents. The Controversies are mostwhat out of Laurentius, with some additions, subtractions and alterations as I thought fit and my wit would serve. . . . I also added Praefaces to every booke conteining the argument and purport thereof: & in the subsequent discourse many passages partly out of my owne observations . . . (❡1r)

My hypothesis for the controversies is similar to that I have for the entire text; although much of the central content is initially drawn from various sources, Crooke makes significant decisions in his concurrent roles as translator, editor, and contributing author in constructing and collating the whole. What I have noticed about the controversies I’ve read is that they in particular provide ready instances of Crooke’s clear, original contribution to the communication of knowledge that happens in this book, because he can hardly resist mediating between contending sources as well as adding his own two bits to the debate. And, indeed, it seems an appropriate place for him to do so.

I’ll examine various individual instances of this occurring as I reach those parts of the text. But I want to mention that I do think it is key to note that Crooke is quite plain and direct about his heavy reliance on various sources yet still promotes his own role in the production of this volume. I’ll also examine this topic more closely as we move on into the preface.

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.)

In the beginning



 D E S C R I P T I O N

of the Body of Man.




Collected and Translated out of all the Best Authors of Anatomy, Especially out of Gasper Bauhinus and Andreas LaurentiusBy HELKIAH CROOKE Doctor of Physicke, Physitian to His Majestie, and his Highnesse PROFESSOR in Anatomy and Chyrurgerie.

 Published by the Kings Majesties especiall Direction and Warrant according to the first integrity, as it was originally written by the AUTHOR.

 —————————Etiam Parnassia Laurus

Parua, subingentimatris se subijcit umbra.


Printed by William Jaggard dwelling in Barbican, and are there to be sold, 1615.

So maybe I’m not ready to do this.

This is not the feeling I expected have one page into this project. I mean, it’s only the title page!

At first, as I typed the text, it was thrilling. I was actually doing this thing I’d been thinking and talking about for so long. And there’s interesting stuff there, even though it’s “only” the title page: Crooke is already talking about his sources and making false claims about being the king’s personal physician, and I found the verb “are” in the line about the printer that I’d been subconsciously eliding every time I read it, and of course the printer being mentioned is Jaggard so I could start talking about him…

And then there was the Latin.

Now, I am painfully aware that I need to learn Latin. I want to learn Latin. It’s high on my list of things to do; I’ve even got a copy of Wheelock’s on the shelf, just waiting for all that spare time I have that’s perfect for learning dead languages. But I haven’t learned Latin yet. Not even a little. Still, it wasn’t when I hit those two lines of Latin on the title page that I got the feeling I was unprepared. Because there’s all sorts of other ways to figure out what a few words of Latin mean, right? With the aid of Google, it didn’t take long to find that these two lines are from early in Book II of Virgil’s Georgics, the section of the long poem devoted to agriculture and gardening. It wasn’t difficult either to find several English-language translations of the lines in question.

And that is when I felt inadequate.

Because of course those various translations were incredibly different. Specific word choices created entirely different connotations for Crooke’s use of the quote. I wasn’t about to just take the one that best fit my argument. And who am I to question the choices of these scholars, when I don’t even know the language? I certainly couldn’t just pick and choose from among them to make my own mash-up translation. Nor did I want to bog down my analysis with a laundry list of possible interpretations. I needed to make an editorial choice regarding the Latin – and if I don’t know Latin, maybe I’m not ready to do this.

But then I stopped and thought about what “this” is, what I mean for this blog to be. I want this to be a learning experience, and for that I don’t need to be an expert to begin with; in fact, it’s better that I’m not. Although I consider this a scholarly endeavor, the reality of conducting such an endeavor in a blog is that it allows for some flexibility not advisably undertaken in other formats. Additionally, it enables me to make the process public so that I can get input and advice from people more and differently learned, in this field and others, in order make this a more fruitful project and me a better scholar. So it has to be okay that these sorts of problems come up—they’re the reason I’m doing this. And it has to be okay that I make mistakes, because that is how I will learn and improve.

So, as it turns out… maybe I am ready to do this.