A physician administers leeches to a patient. Colour reproduction of a lithograph by F-S. Delpech after L. Boilly, 1827.

Why Did the Victorians Harbor Warm Feelings for Leeches?

Medical authorities wrote about leeches as if they sucked blood out of the goodness of their hearts.
A basilisk with a beam of light extending from its eye

The Extremely Real Science behind the Basilisk’s Lethal Gaze

According to the extramission theory of vision, our eyes send out beams of elemental fire that spread, nerve like, to create the visual field.
From a poster for Charles Frohman’s dramatic production, The Hand of Destiny by Pierre Decourcelle, 1896

Why Did “Thieves’ Cant” Carry an Unshakeable Allure?

If thieves’ cant—a language known only to criminals—was the Devil’s cabinet, bourgeois society couldn’t help but peep inside.
Pope Formosus and Stephen VI by Jean Paul Laurens, 1870

The Cadaver Synod: Putting a Dead Pope on Trial

Why did Pope Stephen VI go to such great lengths to destroy an enemy who was already dead?
Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer by Michiel van Mierevelt

Public Dissection Was a Gruesome Spectacle

Renaissance-era anatomists taught people to “knowe thyself” by reading the books of bodies.
Tarantella dancers, 1828

When Dancing Plagues Struck Medieval Europe

The tarantella is named for a peasant woman from southern Italy whose tarantula bite started a contagious dancing fever!
Image from Livre des profits ruraux (late 15th century France)

The Landlord Asks for a Christmas Rose

Bizarre customs of landholding—from demands for flowers to ritualized flatulence—reflect the philosophy that developed under the feudal system.
A contraption used to extract the silk from a spider

The Tangled History of Weaving with Spider Silk

Spider silk is as strong as steel and as light as a feather, but attempts to industrialize its production have gotten stuck, so to speak.
Otto Marseus van Schrieck - Stilleben mit Insekten und Amphibien, 1662

A Recipe for Flies and Frogs

And other wonders of spontaneous generation.