Fortunio Liceti


Fortunio Liceti (1577–1657), also known as Fortunius Licetus, was an Italian scientist. He was born in Rapallo, and studied at the University of Bologna, graduating with doctorates in philosophy and medicine. He then took a position of chair at the University of Pisa. He later returned to Bologna and then to Padova. He was noted for his expertise on Aristotle. In 1616 he published De Monstruorum Natura which marked the beginning of studies into malformations of the embryo. He described various monsters, both real and imaginary, and looks for reasons to explain their appearance. His approach differed from the common European viewpoint of the time, as he regarded monsters not as a divine punishment but rather a fantastical rarity. He also supported the idea of transmission of characteristics from father to son. Liceti's work De spontaneo Viventium Ortu, published in 1618, supported the hypothesis of spontaneous generation of small animals, or abiogenesis. (This was later refuted by the work of Francesco Redi.) Liceti also wrote De feriis altricis animae which dealt with the spirits of animals. He was also known for other unusual proposals and investigations, including topics in astronomy, phosphorescence, gems, and mysticism. He died in Padova. The crater Licetus on the Moon is named after him. 
 Highlights from the illustrations in the 1665 edition of Fortunio Liceti’s De Monstris, originally published, without the illustrations, in 1616. Liceti’s work, although not the first on the topic of deformities in nature, was perhaps the most influential of the period. In the wake of the book there was a huge rise in interest throughout Europe in “monstrosities”: pygmies, supposed mermaids, deformed fetuses, and other natural marvels were put on display and widely discussed, becoming the circus freak-shows of their time. However, unlike many of his contemporaries Licenti did not see deformity as something negative, as the result of errors or failures in the course of nature. Instead he likened nature to an artist who, faced with some imperfection in the materials to be shaped, ingeniously creates another form still more admirable. ‘It is said that I see the convergence of both Nature and art,’ wrote Liceti, ‘because one or the other not being able to make what they want, they at least make what they can.”