024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

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Dr. Gerard
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024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Dr. Gerard » Sun Feb 03, 2013 7:08 pm

In 16th and 17th Century Europe, during the Renaissance, many wealthy aristocrats collected artifacts from the natural world, and displayed them in elaborately designed cabinets as a way to spark wonder and reveal patterns at the core of the universe.

They were first called Wunderkammern, or “wonder rooms.” These displays most often encompassed entire rooms, and were decorated with specimens of minerals, plants, animals, seashells, coral, religious relics and archaeological finds, sculptures, exotic weapons, medical deformities as well as many… unexplainable things.

Their walls were filled with built-in drawers and pigeon holes, boxes within boxes what could be explored for days on end. Many of these rooms were arranged with a focus on aesthetics, to suggest the room as a model of the universe, with the human visitor as master of it all in the center.

One of the most famous collectors was a Danish physician by the name of Ole Worm, or Olaus Wormius. He gathered a particularly exotic collection in Copenhagen from exploration or trading expeditions -- of preserved creatures, horns, tusks and skeletons from hundreds of species, as well as curious human works – amazingly small items, and clockwork automatons, like mechanical duck that was capable of chemical digestion. He studied the cutting edge of optical and experimental devices, and he was a scholar of Nordic runes. He also poisoned his pets and fed them ground up narwale horn to prove that it wasn’t from a unicorn, since unicorn horns were said to be a universal antidote.

Among his collection was a wooly fern specimen of what he said was a Scythian Lamb – a plant-animal hybrid said to resemble a sheep, which springs from a plant with melon-like seeds that is rooted to the ground by an umbilical cord, so grazed only on nearby grasses and on the leaves of its own plant, and then dies. Also known as the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, according to Jewish legends the creature’s bones could be used for divination. Some say the legend stems from the discovery of cotton, a plant that appears to grow wool. A German scholar who set out to find the Scythian Lamb concluded that the story came from the Persian practice of using the wool of unborn sheep to spin particularly fine thread.

Olaus Wormius lived from 1588 to 1654. It’s important to note that the Dominican monk who translated the Necronomicon from Greek into Latin in 1288, whose name is also Olaus Wormius, is clearly a different person because the two are separated by three centuries. After his death, a catalog of the Museum Wormianum was published, which contained his extensive thoughts on philosophy and science, and is still used as a textbook for scholars of natural history.

In the 17th Century, the lavish royal curiosity rooms gave way to more scientific approaches to displays, with less focus on imagination and art, and more focus on taxonomy and instruction. Items from Ole Worm’s collection was claimed by Frederick the III of Denmark, but this and other exhibits were eventually dispersed to museums and bought up by the bourgeoisie for private collections. Many of the medical oddities and gaffes found their way into traveling circuses for freak shows.

One wonders how many of these treasures ended up in the dark, forgotten attics and crawlspaces of the world...

This lecture is sponsored by the Miskatonic University Department of History.
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Howard
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Re: 024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Howard » Mon Feb 04, 2013 6:54 pm

I'll leave an apple on the desk of the good Dr. after that lecture with the passing comment, "I've enjoyed your class today Professor, as always."

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Re: 024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:21 am

Publicly, the affable professor is gracious. He remarks about the particular choice of fruit. The heirloom variety. He says to remind him to tell you a story about the real Johnny Appleseed and the mysterious circumstances of his death.

But he's just making conversation. Because really, he doesn't want you to notice that he won't touch the apple. That the apple frightens him deeply. He steals more than one suspicious glance, but clumsily covers them up with a fake sneeze or a forced stumble.

Class files out for the day. The lecture hall closes. The professor remains in his seat, long after shadows have crawled across the quad and disappeared into twilight.

In the morning, the custodian finds the professor. He's sitting far in the back of class, high in the top row of the hall, peering over the bridge of his glasses...eyes fixed...toward an apple on his desk.
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Re: 024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Howard » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:39 pm

[back in his dorm room] Looking frantically through his belongings, Howard's roommate Albert says, "have you seen my last apple!?" Howard fixes a stare toward Albert to determine his level of disappointment and then slowly confesses, "Sorry chap. I left it on Professor Gerard's desk after class." Albert calmly sits next to Howard and explains with all seriousness, "that particular apple was grown in our Malacology lab. It was designed to float on the surface of water and emit a scent that attracts various squids and octopus". Howard considers the possibilities after consumption of such a fruit and replies, "can you make one of those that attracts women?"

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Re: 024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Dr. Gerard » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:22 pm

Howard wrote:[back in his dorm room] Looking frantically through his belongings, Howard's roommate Albert says, "have you seen my last apple!?" Howard fixes a stare toward Albert to determine his level of disappointment and then slowly confesses, "Sorry chap. I left it on Professor Gerard's desk after class." Albert calmly sits next to Howard and explains with all seriousness, "that particular apple was grown in our Malacology lab. It was designed to float on the surface of water and emit a scent that attracts various squids and octopus". Howard considers the possibilities after consumption of such a fruit and replies, "can you make one of those that attracts women?"
Hahahah! Just as I suspected.

I have no comeback for that. Just this: :science:
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Re: 024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Howard » Wed Feb 06, 2013 8:06 am

After hearing the rumors that Dr. Gerard had been acting strangely, Howard wonders to himself if it could have something to do with that apple. Thinking out loud he claims, "he owes me a Johnny Appleseed story".

Apologies to the forum moderators, I've been starving for a pbp game for about a year now. Further apologies to grammar nit-pickers, I try.

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Re: 024 - Wonder Cabinets and Ole Worm

Post by Dr. Gerard » Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:19 am

Howard wrote:After hearing the rumors that Dr. Gerard had been acting strangely, Howard wonders to himself if it could have something to do with that apple. Thinking out loud he claims, "he owes me a Johnny Appleseed story".

Apologies to the forum moderators, I've been starving for a pbp game for about a year now. Further apologies to grammar nit-pickers, I try.
Fascinating....
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