(1) INTRODUCTION: Teratology (i.e. the branch of embryology and pathology that deals with abnormal development and congenital malformations)
Monster or monstrous births are the subject of Animal Teratology, a department of morphological science treating of deviations from the normal development of the embryo. The term "embryo" is conventionally limited, in human anatomy, to the ovum in the first three months of its intra-existence, while it is still developing or acquiring the rudiments of its form, the term "foetus" being applied to it in the subsequent months during which the organism grows on the lines of development already laid down. It is mostly in the first or embryonic period that those deviations from the normal occur which present themselves as monstrosities at the time of birth; these early traces of deviation within the embryo may be slight, but they "grow with its growth and strengthen with its strength," until they amount to irreparable defects or accretions, often compatible with extra-uterine life. The name of "teratology," introduced by Etienne Geoffroy St Hilaire (1822), is derived from teras (Greek), the equivalent of mostrum, teratology is a term new enough to have none but scientific associations, while the Latin word has a long record of superstitious identified with it. The myths of siren, satyr, Janus, Cyclops, and the like, with the corresponding figures in Northern mythology, find a remote anatomical basis in monstrosities have, for the most part, no life except in the foetal state. The mythological of giants and dwarfs is, of course, better founded. The term monster was originally used in the same sense as portent: Cicero (De Div., i.) says, "Monstra, estenta, portenta, prodigia appellantur, quoniam monstrant, ostendunt, portendunt, et praedicunt." Luther (Footnote 762-1) speaks of the birth of a monstrous calf, evidently the subject of contemporary talk, as pointing to some great impending change, and he expresses the hope that the catastrophe might be the Last Day itself. The rise of more scientific views will be sketched at the close of the article.
Although monstrosities, both in the human species and in other animals, tend to repeat certain definite types of erroneous development, they do not fall readily into classes. It is remarked by Vrolik that a scientific classification is impracticable from being too cumbrous, and that a convenient grouping is all that need be attempted. The most usual grouping (originally suggested by Buffon, 1800) is into monstra per excessum, monstra per defectum, and monstra per fabricam alienam. It seems useful, however, to place the more simple cases of excess and of defect side by side; and it is necessary, above all, to separate the double monsters from the single, the theory of the former being a distinct chapter in teratology.
(761-2) In a passage quoted by Bischoff from the 19th volume of Luthers works, Halle ed., p. 2416.
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Abnormal Development & Congenital Malformations - Table of Contents