- Gesner, Conrad
- (1516-1565)Swiss scholar who specialized in natural philosophy. Born in Zurich, a godson of the Reformer Huldrych Zwingli, he studied theology there and Hebrew at Strasbourg, then studied medicine at Bourges, Paris, and Basel. He worked as professor of Greek at the Protestant academy in Lausanne (1537-1540) and obtained his medical doctorate in 1541. Next he studied botany at Montpellier and then settled in Basel to practice medicine, though he continued to travel widely in pursuit of knowledge about plants and animals. Gesner's massive Historia animalium (1551-1558) was an influential encyclopedia of knowledge about natural history. Based on his own observations and on information sent by other scholars in response to his inquiries, it challenged the work of the same name by Aristotle, which had been the standard authority since ancient times. His book was alphabetical in arrangement and had numerous illustrations. It reflects the author's love of the out-doors and shows some effort to criticize fabulous accounts drawn from ancient authors: he dismissed descriptions of tritons and sirens as fictions but accepted reports of fabulous creatures like the fishman. Gesner carefully cites his sources, either ancient texts or modern descriptions, and differentiates between what he knew from personal observation and what he accepts on the authority of others. He never completed either this work or a parallel study of plants, though his materials for the latter were published by one of his disciples.
Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. Charles G. Nauert. 2004.