Hill Collection — Early Works to 15th Century

Interest in birds is recorded as far back as prehistoric man, for whom birds were important as food, decoration, and symbols of magic powers. The natural history writings of the ancients, particularly Aristotle and Pliny, reveal remarkable efforts to observe, describe, and classify birds. Although a great deal of folklore crept into the accounts, there was also substantial truth.

Cornell University Library contains thorough coverage of the works of these classical authors in the original Greek or Latin and in translation. Particularly pertinent are Aristotle's Historia animalium (History of animals) and De animalium partibus (Parts of animals) and Pliny's Naturalis historia (Natural history), book ten.

During the early Middle Ages natural science was in stagnation, but the later period saw some revival of interest. Particularly noteworthy during this time was Friedrich II [1194-1250], the emperor of Germany and probably the first great ornithologist.

Friedrich's ornithological knowledge, classification system, and scientific descriptions of bird structure, illustrated skillfully by his son, Manfred, were clearly laid out in Reliqva librorvm Friderici II. imperatoris, De arte venandi cum avibus, first printed in 1596. Although later versions were issued, it was not until 1943 that a comprehensive edition appeared, translated and edited by Casey A. Wood and F. Marjorie Fyfe and published by Stanford University Press and Oxford University Press. The Hill Collection includes both an original 1596 edition and a copy of the 1943 edition, titled The art of falconry, being the De arte venandi cum avibus of Frederick II of Hohenstaufen.

A contemporary of Friedrich II, Albertus Magnus [1193?-1280], a German Dominican, recorded his contemplations on Aristotle's natural philosophy and his personal observations of birds and animals. He translated Aristotle's Historia animalium, adding commentaries of his own, and authored the treatise De animalibus among many other writings on the natural sciences. Both the 1479 edition and the 1519 edition of De animalibus appear in the History of Science Collections at Cornell, along with later translations.

The revival of learning and the classical influence that characterized the Renaissance affected ornithology as well as all the natural sciences. The versatile Leonardo da Vinci [1452-1519] is represented in the Hill Ornithology Collection by the Codex on the flight of birds. This work, published in 1983, reproduced da Vinci's original manuscript and translated into English his studies and theories on the principles of flight, many of which are still valid today.

 

 

Online guide developed from:

Ornithology Collections in the Libraries at Cornell University: A Descriptive Guide
Revised Edition, 1999
Ithaca, New York
1999 Cornell University Library
Webpage last revised: 6/10/99 by jfc & clsb.