Facsimile Reprint Laurenti (Suppl. 7)

Facsimile Reprint Laurenti (Suppl. 7)

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Art.Nr.: 978-3-933066-24-4

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Josephi Nicolai Laurenti
Specimen Medicum, Exhibens Synopsin Reptilium Emendatam cum Experimentis Circa Venena et Antidota Reptilium Austriacorum
Medical Treatise, Exhibiting an Emended Synopsis of Reptiles, with Experiments Concerning Venoms and Antidotes for Austrian Reptiles

Facsimile Reprint with an English Translation
by Sergius L. Kuzmin

Supplement 7 der Zeitschrift für Feldherpetologie
2005, 247 S.,
15 x 21 cm, Br., ISBN 978-3-933066-24-4


Laurenti's 1768 Synopsis Reptilium,
even after 250 years still an unrenouncable taxonomic
reference in herpetology

In modern biology and medecine, particularly when molecular genetics is involved, the results of current research have an extremely short half-life period, i. e. they get increasingly rapidly out of date. This was to some degree certainly also true already for the experimental medical and physiological aspects of Josephus Nicolaus Laurenti's doctoral dissertation in 1768 which was fully entitled Specimen medicum, exhibens synopsin reptilium emendatam cum experimentis circa venena et antidota reptilium austriacorum. I am pretty sure that the medical importance of this work was rather shortly out of date also at that time, and the reader today might feel happy about the modern standards of medecine, including treatments of envenomations caused by reptile species (although in the former Austrian empire as well as in today Austria Vipera ammodytes would be the only harmful member of this group).

One must, however, recall that in the second half of the 18th century the knowledge about animals and their biology was in many aspects still rudimentary. A famous Natural history which appeared 10 years after Laurenti's work still grouped armadillos with tortoises and not with mammals, and 70 years after Laurenti, the famous father of hormonal research, Adolph Arnold Berthold started experiments on the ability of amphibians to survive in 37 °C warm water without air-breathing possibility, in order to find out whether the numerous reports of that time on living amphibians coming out of the stomachs and mouths of humans (particularly of young women) were compatible with experimental results: Ueber den Aufenthalt lebender Amphibien im Menschen. 1849). It is important to note that this level of serious research is just 150 years ago!

So, it is obviously not the meaning of Laurenti's Specimen medicum" itself which attracts a broad, general interest today (i. e. an interest exceeding pure historical aspects). Rather, it is the aspect of his Synopsis reptilium which means the first, non-medical part of his work, the zoological classification of the reptiles (i. e. including modern amphibians) known to him at that time. This classification stands in the tradition of the pioneer of biological classifaction and nomenclature, Carolus Linnaeus, whose 10th edition of his famous Systema Naturae (1758) is still marking the year zero for modern biosystematics. But in contrast to Linnaeus, Laurenti distinguished already 30 different genera, and of his seven newly described amphibian and twelve reptiles species from circum Viennam, seven respectively six taxa are still considered valid today.

And it is just this last aspect of systematic validity of described taxa that makes the old classic works in zoology (or herpetology, as Laurenti's book dealt with here) so long-living. Any systematist in herpetology has to deal with any available name relevant for his group under study before he may think about the creation of new names. That's why a 250 years old reference is still unrenouncable for current research. It is therefore most meritious of Burkhard Thiesmeier to undertake the risk of reprinting this classical work, the more as his Publishing House received its name from the important old researcher. And it is pleasing for me that just the original copy of the herpetological library of Museum Koenig in Bonn could be used to produce the present facsimile reprint.

However, one problem complicates things. Latin, the international scientific language of Laurenti's time which he naturally used also for his dissertation, is regarded today a dead language and consequently becoming more and more extinct among students. Due to this circumstance one may regret it or not – Burkhard Thiesmeier decided to publish a bilingual edition, the Latin original being opposed – page by page – by an English translation. The Latin translation was prepared by his friend and colleague Sergius Kuzmin who is well known and reputed also for historical herpetological topics. To make it even a bit more complicated, Kuzmin first translated the Latin original into Russian and then re-translated the latter into English. But these efforts were actually worth while. Publisher and translator may be proud to present the facsimile reprint of an old, classical work to the scientific public which they make thus available again. And because of the simultaneous translation into English, they make it at the same time also accessible. I am sure this will be highly appreciated by a large number of readers who will also like to own this important work.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Böhme

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