Ideas in Society, 1500-1700

One of the most famous collections of prodigies was that of Pierre Boaistuau (d. 1566),  Histoires prodigieuses, extraictes de plusieurs fameux autheurs, grecs & latins, sacrez & prophanes mises en nostre langue (Paris, 1567). Very widely documented in many contemporary publications, the monster of Ravenna was one of the earliest monstrous births to attain international … Read more

History of teratology

Ancient times Monstrosities have attracted notice from the earliest time, and many of the ancient philosophers made references to them. Monsters possessed of two or more heads or double bodies are found in the legends and fairy tales of every nation. Hippocrates, his precursors, Enlpedocles and Democritus, and Pliny, Aristotle, and Galen, have all described … Read more

The Six Principles of Teratology

These principles of teratology were put forth by Jim Wilson in 1959 and in his monograph Environment and Birth Defects. These principles guide the study and understanding of teratogenic agents and their effects on developing organisms: Susceptibility to teratogenesis depends on the genotype of the conceptus and the manner in which this interacts with adverse … Read more

Teratogenic agents

It is estimated that 10% of all birth defects are caused by prenatal exposure to a teratogenic agent. These exposures include, but are not limited to, medication or drug exposures, maternal infections and diseases, and environmental and occupational exposures. A wide range of different chemicals and environmental factors are suspected or are known to be … Read more

Similarity and Difference

“In the past, individuals born with bodily differences, such as Siamese twins, dwarfs and midgets, or the human torso, would premise their sideshow exhibits on displays of their normality, which demonstrated their ability to accomplish everyday tasks with ease, to think intelligently, and to engage in respectable relationships with others […] For example, the human … Read more

Fear of freaks

Greedy media have taken advantage of the old relationship between strangeness and fear. Most freaks have been presented as characters either shrouded in mystery, or dangerous due to lack of control. In litterature, two examples of the fear archetype are Lenny Small from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and Quasimodo from Victor Hugo’s The … Read more


The transgression of sexual taboos Some argue that the sideshow freaks were little more than prostitutes or predecessors to the exotic dancer, calling them the pornography of the disabled. It is true that sideshow freaks and prostitutes use their bodies and the fascination of others with said bodies for monetary gain. The freaks would often … Read more


The process of stigmatization A stigma develops when pejorative and condemning assessments of a group or trait affect ideas about every representative individual of this group or trait. In Stigma, Erving Goffman mentions three stigma types: tribal (heritage, class, religion), moral (addiction, criminal history, mental disability), and “the physical abominations” (chronic illness, physical disability, cosmetic … Read more