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					Karina L. Arrue

                            Intertexts with Browne on the Hare

        The most pressing issue regarding hares during Sir Thomas Browne’s day was the

popular misconception that had been circulating as to the sex of this species. Browne was

primarily concerned with clearing up

these   misconceptions.     First,   he

establishes that the most common

opinion is that every hare is “both

male     and      female”    (Browne,

Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646, III,

xvii, p. 146). He also mentions Tiresias, the blind hermaphroditic prophet of Sophocles’

Oedipus tales as an example of the “mutation of sexes;” and furthermore, although he

does not necessarily agree with the popular opinion of the day, concedes that since there

are other occurrences of transexion in nature, he cannot rule out the possibility for hares:

“not only mankind, but many other Animals may suffer this transexion, which we will

not deny, or hold it at all impossible” (p. 147). At the same time, he confesses that he

cannot conceive of how hares can mate if they are of both sexes, unless they mate

backwards (p. 147).

        Browne considers two theories concerning the sex of hares: either 1) they are

transmutated over time, (i.e. they switch sexes in their lifetime) or 2) they are

hermaphroditic (p. 148). He uses textual support from Plato for this theory: “For our

original nature was by no means the same as it is now. In the first place, there were three

kinds of human beings, not merely the two sexes, male and female, as at present: there

was a third kind as well, which had equal shares of the other two, and whose name

survives though, the thing itself has vanished. For ‘man-woman’ was then a unity in form

no less than name, composed of both sexes and sharing equally in male and female;

whereas now it has come to be merely a name of reproach” (Plato, Symposium, 189d-e)

       Browne also quotes Marcus Leo’s conjecture, which is based on Plato’s theory of

the original state of human beings. Although the following text is in Italian, it is not hard

to understand at all. Leo is essentially quoting directly from Plato’s Symposium:

“Trouiamo Platone ancor lui fauoleggiando assegnare altri principij all'orgine dell'amore,

onde ei dice nel conuiuio in nome d'Aristofane, che l'origine dell'amore fu in questo

modo, che essendo nel principio delli huomini un'altro terzo genere di huomini, cioè non

solamente huomini, et non solamente donne, ma quello che chiamauono Androgeno, il

quale era machio & femina insieme” (Leo Hebraeus, Dialoghi di Amore, III).

       Hebraeus uses a passage from the Creation account as the basis of his argument

which Browne also makes mention of: “So God created man in his own image, in the

image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

       A recurring theme in Browne’s arguement concerning the sex of hares is that such

a phenomenon as transmutation is seen all throughout nature: “Now as we must

acknowledge this Androgynal condition in Man, so can we not deny the like doth happen

in beasts” (p. 149). He then alludes to the fact that Pliny alludes to “four hermaphroditical

mares” that drew Neroe’s chariot (p. 149). Browne attributes moral value to hares by

saying: “And whereas it is conceived that being an harmless Animal and delectable food

unto man, nature hath made them with double sexes, that actively and passively

performing they might more numerously increase; we forget an higher providence of

nature whereby she especially promotes the multiplication of Hares...” (p. 149) Pliny

similarly says in his eighth book of Naturall History: “Certes herein Nature hath shewed

her bountie and goodnesse, in that she hath given this creature (so good to eat and so

harmless otherwise) the gift of fertilitie and and fruitfull wombe” (“Of Hares and

Connies,” Chapter LV, Plinies Naturall History, p. 232). He also states, quite ironically, if

you ask me, in the beginning of his section on “Hares and Connies” that “[they] are

exceedingly fruitfull, and of wonderful encrease: in such sort, that having devoured all

the corne in the field before harvest in the Baleare Islands, they brought thereby a famine

upon the people” (p. 232). This is interesting because Pliny could have taken the moral

analogy from the Book of Nature either way – because hares are such prolific reproducers,

they cause destruction or they are a blessing, but he chose the latter, and Browne follows


        Browne also brings up the issue of “successive conceptions” of the hare (Browne,

Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646, III, xvii, p. 149), and includes himself as having observed

that a hare can conceive and then conceive again without the term of the first being over.

He uses an interesting metaphor for the matrix of the hare: “For the Matrix (which some

have called another Animal within us, and which is not subjected unto the law of our will)

after reception of its proper Tenant, may yet receive a strange and spurious inmate” (p.


        Although Browne concurs that some hares could be of both sexes, he doesn’t

disappoint his modern audience, but gives us an extremely observant and logical

explanation for why people in his day could have possibly had such a misconception:

“Now on the grounds that begat, or much promoted the opinion of a double sex in Hares,

might be some little bags of tumours, at first glance representing stones or Testicles, to be

found in both sexes about the parts of generation…if therefore from these we shall

conceive a mixation of sexes in Hares, with fairer reason we may conclude it in Beavers;

whereof both sexes contain a double bag or Tumour in the groin, commonly called the

Cod or Castor, as we have delivered before” (p. 150).

       After having already drawn a moral lesson from the fruitfulness of the hare,

Browne concludes by drawing another one: he says that in the end, all the differences in

hares are due to the “constant Law of their Coition;” “they transgress not” and in essence,

that only man in perverted and “hath in his own kind run thorow the Anomalies of

venery” (p. 151). This lesson is rather humorous, if you think about it: Browne is

basically saying, ‘enough talk about hares – they have done nothing wrong, it is us,

mankind, we take everything and ruin it. So hares with their excessive mating and

misconstrued sex organs become a symbol of nature at its best – unperturbed as they

follow her (Nature’s) course.

                                       Works Cited

Image: Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts, Koninklijke Bibliotheek National Library of
the Netherlands. Fol. 25va2. Keyword Search: ‘hare.’

Browne, Sir Thomas, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, “Of Hares.”1646 edition, III, xvii. Special
Collections at Middlebury College and online:

Plato. Plato, Parmenides, Philebus, Symposium, Phaedrus

Hebraeus, Leo. “Dialoghi di Amore, Dialogo III, 194V-206R “On Adam's Gender,
and the Reconciliation of Plato and Moses”: 1541.

Genesis 1:27, The Bible, King James Version.

Pliny, the Elder. Naturall History. Trans. Philemon Holland. London: 1601: 232


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