“The immense shade of its mother”

The title page of the Crooke book includes the following passage, in Latin:

 —————————Etiam Parnassia Laurus

Parua, subingentimatris se subijcit umbra.

Because I am totally Latin-illiterate (a problem, I know; see “In the beginning“), until I learn the language I am forced to rely on the translations of others. Although elsewhere in the book where Crooke quotes passages in Latin he will frequently provide an English translation, he has not done so here. The lines are from Virgil’s Georgics, specifically lines 18-19 of Book II. My copy is the Oxford World’s Classics edition, translated by C. Day Lewis (Oxford UP, 2009). According to Lewis, the lines read:

                                                 [. . .] the Parnassian bay-tree also,

When tiny, shelters beneath the immense shade of its mother.

Obviously, Crooke is not the only person quoting Virgil in the 17th century, and I look forward to reading more about the role of Virgil’s writings in seventeenth-century print culture. But aside from the obvious appeal of including a quote from a popular source, Crooke is saying something about his own text through the image conveyed by the precise lines he chooses to include.

Crooke pays homage to the debt he owes his sources through the metaphor of the bay laurel trees. Laurus nobilis reproduces by way of flowers and berries; the seeds can be dispersed when the latter are eaten by birds or, logically, when the berries simply fall from the tree to the ground below, so the image of the sapling in the shadow of the “parent” tree is not unrealistic. Native to the Mediterranean, the trees’ location on the slopes of Mount Parnassus is also literally believable, although the mountain’s association with literature undoubtedly plays a role in its inclusion as well, for both Virgil and Crooke. There is certainly something humorously ironic about the depiction of Mikrokosmographia as a “tiny” tree when the volume weighs in at over 1,000 folio-sized pages, but the correlation of the amount of knowledge conveyed in his book to the much larger volume of existing human knowledge about his subject may have been accurate in Crooke’s eyes. The relationship between the book as a physical object and any tree seems almost cliché, even if laurels in particular aren’t used in paper-making. The classical associations the laurel does have are also obviously desirable to Crooke’s aims. The bay laurel’s common use in cooking may initially seem a more awkward aspect of the comparison, but Crooke himself will offer up his text as a “Banquet” he has “Cooked” for his audience within the first few lines of his “Praeface to the Chyrurgeons.”

But the parental relationship established by the use of Virgil’s metaphor is particularly important. In my mind there is little doubt that Crooke was apprehensive about the reception of his work, and not just because of its attempted suppression. His preface (which, believe it or not, we will reach very shortly) is a great deal concerned with how his audience should receive Crooke’s book and the role he intended it to have in the English medical community. It’s certainly true that his sources (Paré, Bauhin, and Du Laurens, among others) provide the bulk of the anatomy information, so that Crooke is making no original scientific contributions to that field. But by portraying his contribution as the child or offspring of those sources, Crooke both establishes and legitimizes a legacy for his work. Calling Mikrokosmographia the child of its predecessors not only clarifies the book’s relationship to its sources but also validates its heavy resemblance to them.

There’s one other word here, though, that I’m particularly interested in, but this is where my lack of Latin becomes more problematic. Matris is easy to identify, but I’m not sure which of the Latin verbs is the source for the translation “shelters.” From exploring various other translations of Virgil accessed online (I’m nowhere near a university library during this summer, unfortunately), I’m under the impression that alternate interpretations might involve more active English verbs, which I see as a significant difference. It is one thing for Crooke’s book to “shelter” under its predecessors; it’s quite another for it to “grow” or even “spring up.” I do suspect that the “subingentimatris” that appears without any spaces ought to be broken out into multiple words; my uneducated guess is “sub ingenti matris.” But if any of my readers can help me out on this, I’d be grateful.

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.