Gesner, Konrad von (1516–1565)
Swiss naturalist whose major work, Historia Animalium (4 vols,
1551–58), an encyclopedic study of many varieties of animals, is considered
the foundation stone of modern zoology.
Unique to its time, the book included not only Greek and Biblical descriptions
of animals, but also information Gesner had gained from dissection. Like
many of his contemporaries, Gesner had some unusual beliefs. He thought
that basilisks and dragons existed, and he catalogued their medicinal uses
alongside those of their reptilian cousin, the snake. Gesner wrote, for
instance, about the efficacy of dragon fat in treating "creeping ulcers"
and that of viper's flesh in theriac, a supposed poison antidote and cure-all
commonly used until the late 19th century.