Headfarm – Note: Le petit animal

Style: "Mark_default_7-4-08"

From Nicolaas Hartsoeker, Essay de dioptrique, Paris: Jean Anisson, 1694, p. 230. 24.5 x 18.5 cm. By permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library, Source

This human figure in the head of a spermatozoon, published in a book by the Dutch physicist and microscopist Nicolas Hartsoeker, has been reproduced countless times. Captions usually state that it represents the homunculus Hartsoeker saw, or thought he saw, inside the sperm, under the microscope. Yet Hartsoeker said only that ‘perhaps’ we would see this—were it possible to see through the ‘skin’ that surrounded the sperm head, and if we had the tools. And he never used the term ‘homunculus’, which had dangerous alchemical connotations, but wrote of le petit animal and l’enfant.

Leave a Reply