Article Search


English translation of Giovanni Faber’s latin description of Cardinal Barberini’s dragon. The following translation is by D.K. Notes in square brackets are by D.K. and are not in the original document.

The Miniature One-Horned Dragon
of the Most Illustrious Cardinal Barberini

If one extends this animal lengthwise and measures it from head to tail, its length is one span and four fingers crosswise [A span is the width of a human hand, measured from the tip of the thumb to the tip of digit V (approximately eight and seven/twenty-fourths of an inch, or 211 millimeters by the ancient Roman standard, but with later regional variations). By “crosswise”, what is meant is across the fingers in a horizontal direction as they are held together. The “exact” measurements associated with these terms varied from country to country, region to region; the Roman measurements are cited here.]. The head is oblong and beaked, and its tip is composed entirely of horn. The mouth of the specimen is larger than one would expect for an animal of this size. Three molars apiece can be found in each jaw, along with certain projections and serrations of a horny material which prominently protrude; there are twelve molars altogether. There is also a pair of canine teeth in each jaw, fearsome in appearance but not protruding; the upper ones are a little larger than the lower. Along with these teeth, six other incisors can be seen, with the upper ones being larger than the lower by far. The upper incisors are themselves of unequal length: the two incisors next to the canines are a little more elongated than the four middle ones, which are plainly all of the same size. Those six incisors which can be found in the lower jaw are so small that it is necessary to view them with a magnifying lens, if one wishes to discern them. For this reason, I employed my microscope and was thus able to detect twenty-eight teeth all in all.

It is possible to see the eye-sockets, now empty and quite large, as well as ears which still bear skin, but are sunken and deep, nor small in size. At the crown of the head a small horn protrudes, which one would marvel to see. It is jointed at the tip like an index finger, long, and having a curvature which extends in the opposite direction of the curvature of the neck. It is protected by a scaly skin, an integument made attractive by its little, variegated nodules, which, when slightly torn, exhibit a horny substance underneath themselves which shines very prettily. The entire head is the length of two fingers crosswise, and has the thickness of a thumb. The neck, when extended from the head, is the length of the Lesser Palm, or four fingers [approximately three inches/seventy-four millimeters in length, in Rome], until it reaches the first vertebrae of the thorax. The neck is the thickness of an index finger where it adjoins the upper end of the thorax; it extends horizontally over the breast, which is the thickness of a thumb. The site and position of the neck is the same as what is fou

But by beginning from the end of the tail, I was able to enumerate thirty vertebrae all the way to the mouth of the sacrum, which finishes at the final rib of the belly. These vertebrae are indeed very polished and thoroughly denuded of flesh, and being very tightly and firmly connected they adhere to one another as if held by some sort of extremely tenacious glue, or silver thread that appeared as if it had come into being in the skeleton, causing the vertebrae to become compact and elegantly twisted, moreover, into a spiral.

The jointed bones of the femur, which are the length of two fingers crosswise, adhere to the clavicles, while the tibiae are slightly smaller. Very small feet are joined to the tibiae, divided into four digits armed with rather sharp talons, of almost equal length, and not connected, as far as I could tell, by any membrane. Next to the four digits is the fifth, which is like a thumb in appearance--that is, shorter than the other digits, and located in the internal part of the foot.

This specimen bears two more or less quadrangular wings the width of two fingers, and a little longer than three fingers; the quadrangular shape is mitigated by the fact that the edges of the wings end in three sharply curved points, between which are two indentations of a half-moon shape. At the apex of each wing, directly above the place where the wings arise from the body, two small claws are visibly displayed. The lower border of the wings is close to the belly [It is difficult to see how this is so from the illustration, unless “belly” means “abdomen”], and is shorter in length than the upper border. The wings are joined to the body between the seventh and eighth ribs - that is, right in the middle of the fourteen ribs. When the wings are extended, they do not raise the borders of their most extreme points up high, but extend it toward the tail--in the manner of true birds, as I (and anyone else) would diligently note here. It appears, moreover, that the wings are not composed of feathers, but rather consist of a certain thin skin, with three nerves [note by P.S.: this is a term for internal struts such as those in the wing of an insect or the fingers in the wings of a bat] in each wing; these nerves, composed of rather tough fibers, run along the length of the wings and strengthen the skin. No other small claws, besides the insignificant and scarcely conspicuous ones mentioned above, are visible along the edges of the wings. The wings are accordingly more or less identical to those of bats, which use their wings to cling to walls, ramparts, and trees.

This cutaneous membrane of the wings, moreover, is transparent by candlelight. Their color on the internal side is a dark, wheaten hue, while that of the external part is blue, with a slightly red and black tint when reflecting light. These are distinct from a number of small orbs, both oblong and ovoid in shape, and similar in appearance to peacocks’ eyes [i.e., the “eyes” on a peacock’s tail], which in us instilled more of a sense of delight than terror.

The bones of the jaws, femurs, thorax, and vertebrae of the tail, as well as the many ribs, are entirely bereft of flesh; accordingly, they can be described as similar not to the spines of fish and snakes, but to those of birds and mammals. The skin or hide, by which the entire animal is covered [The specimen is apparently mummified, in that there is no flesh, while the skin remains], seems reptilian [ serpentina ] rather than that of any other animal. Its color is varied, a mixture of an aquamarine tone, a yellowish hue, and a blackish hue. On the back and upper part of the creature’s body it is more of a green color, while the underside, including the neck and belly, is more yellow.

And this concludes a concise description, and indeed genuine and most accurate, of this animal. It has been composed not artificially by some itinerant peddler, but truly brought forth into the light of day by God and by Nature. We wish to show it as an illustration to the eyes of the curious reader that he may contemplate it, just as if it were expressed like words in a document or on a tablet. Thus with perfect liberty we have set before you that which we know with complete certainty, not from a zoological description alone; and thus we have exactly described and elegantly depicted a dragon of this kind, just as it existed.