The estimated reading time for this post is 7 minutes.
In 1698, Edward Tyson, an English anatomist, attempted to treat a sick chimpanzee. A group of sailors who had captured it in what is now Angola brought the young male chimp to Tyson after it developed an abscess in its mouth. Tyson referred to the chimpanzee as his “Pygmie” wondering if it should be classified as a human. The Pygmie died in Tyson’s care, and having never encountered such a human-like animal, Tyson undertook to study its anatomy. While the experience of seeing the Pygmie alive would influence Tyson’s impressions of the animal’s nature, the animal dissected served as a window through which Tyson claimed to better understand how humans and apes were connected on the great chain of being. This research resulted in, for Tyson, a narrower definition of the ontological category of human and a broader definition of “brute” animal (animals without a rational soul).
Detailed in the text Orang-outang sive Homo Sylvestris: or the Anatomy of a Pygmie, the chimpanzee ultimately forced Tyson to question the animal’s humanness through a method of empirical observation that he called “anatomical natural history.” By combining natural history, tactile approaches of anatomical dissection with pre-established medical traditions, Tyson meant to investigate man’s place in nature as belonging to the broader class of “animal,” leading him to anthropomorphize the chimpanzee in the process. Animalizing the human, one way to conceive of anthropomorphism, was likely an implicit action on Tyson’s part, though his world vision did not problematize bequeathing characteristics across animal types.
The unproblematic nature of anthropomorphism in early modern England becomes very apparent in Tyson’s work on the Pygmie. Having met the Pygmie, he described how the chimpanzee reminded him both of a crying child and an old man, and after the animal died, it provided an opportunity for Tyson to properly address the question of what determines an animal’s placement in the “chain of creation.” Tyson, struck by its very human qualities, explored several of these specifically human traits in his dissection of the Pygmie. He felt that “Autopsie, and [the physician’s] own Experience can only inform them” about the “chain of creation.” Comparative anatomy for Tyson was the most powerful lens through which to “find the knowledge of a Deity and ourselves.” It gave Tyson access to tangible information, allowing him to more closely observe the “Textures” of his specimens. Incidentally, this methodology would also lead Tyson to humanize the chimpanzee by directly comparing the Pygmie to humans.
Though a practicing physician, Tyson felt especially invested in the “Improvement of the Natural History of Animals” by incorporating comparative anatomy. Tyson believed that the study of natural history would unveil the great chain of being, which he called the “chain of creation,” a linear, non-ancestral hierarchy from plants, animals, and humans to angels and ultimately, God.  Along the chain, each entity, whether a plant or an animal species, has its preordained space and is allotted particular characteristics unique to the type. A Renaissance anatomist, Tyson firmly believed that humans were animal, though not brutes; dissecting animals allowed access to the divine laws of nature, to learn about ourselves by proxy. Humans had traits unique to them, including intelligence, bipedalism, speech, the particular use of hands, and the presence of a rational soul. These specifically human traits were explained by the human closeness to God, a connection with divinity not possessed by brute animals.
When Tyson met the sick chimpanzee in 1698, he was impressed by its similarity to humans. He thoroughly detailed the Pygmie’s behavior and appearance, using anecdotal evidence from the sailors and his own experience, hoping to understand through his research “what might be properly called an Animal.” Tyson compared the Pygmie’s anatomy explicitly to humans, revealing his curiosity: was this creature more human or more animal? Ultimately, Tyson considered “him to be wholly a Brute…and in the Sensitive or Brutal Soul…more resembling a Man, than any other Animal.” Tyson arrived at this conclusion through the analysis of three characteristics specifically confined to humans: Bipedalism, the structures of the larynx, and the anatomy of the brain.
While Tyson commented on the whole body of the animal, these three traits in particular demonstrate Tyson’s anthropomorphism of the animal. Traditionally, Renaissance anatomists would not have expected to experience these characteristics in non-human animals; however, as the Age of Discovery facilitated the acquisition of alien species, the morphological conceptions of “human” narrowed and “animal” expanded. Before his encounter with the Pygmie, Tyson likely believed that mobility upon two legs, speech, and the capacity for a soul were distinctly human. However, Tyson’s interaction with the Pygmie’s anatomy forced him to modify his idea of the anatomical human. Through his observations of the muscles of the Pygmie’s abdomen, Tyson theorized that the chimpanzee was “as if Nature designed it…to go erect;” in other words, that it walked on two legs. Tyson also noticed that the Pygmie’s larynx resembled the human larynx, leading him to wonder if the chimpanzee could speak. Tyson’s commitment to anatomy, and his prioritization of anatomy’s descriptive power held prevented this possibility, even when the Pygmie’s keepers negated that the Pygmie verbalized like a human.
Finally, Tyson found that the Pygmie’s brain was quite similar in structure to a human brain. This observation forced him to reconsider his belief that the physical location of the rational soul was in the brain, lest he attribute such a soul to an animal. Tyson rejected the materialism of the soul, saying, “Matter organized could never produce” the faculties that were features of humanity only; the structure of the brain was not enough evidence for a soul. Thus, this worldview in which humans alone possessed rational souls led Tyson to suspect the Pygmie to be more animal than human, but nearer to humans than any other animal. However, it is important to note that by endowing the Pygmie with even the possibility of faculties previously reserved for man, Tyson confronted the problem that the animal may be human, not brute, after all.
Tyson further embraced anatomical natural history and incidentally anthropomorphized the Pygmie by his illustrations of the animal. A common practice for anatomical depiction after the mid-sixteenth century, Tyson’s text vividly evokes the illustrations of Andreas Vesalius’s 1543 manual, De humani corporis fabrica. Characteristic of Vesalius’s fabrica, Tyson’s staging of the Pygmie shows him ambling across a landscape of distant ruins and towns, tendrils of muscles peeling away from his bones.
Tyson also incorporates other elements of anatomical illustrations seen in the work of others, depicting the Pygmie with a book, a cane, and self-dissecting, a motif used to accentuate self-exploration. While these methods were commonplace in medical anatomy, sometimes appearing in comparative anatomy, that the Pygmie was so strategically centered in this Vesalian world reveals Tyson’s own ambiguity and confusion about the animal’s humanness.
The Pygmie presented Tyson with the opportunity to exercise his anatomical method for natural history. The animal’s anatomy spoke through him by revealing its undeniable morphological and functional similarities to humans, reiterating Tyson’s perception of the ontological categories of animal, human, and brute. Tyson gives to the Pygmie humanity (or conversely, the human animality) in the process of anatomizing natural history. His conclusions regarding the Pygmie’s animal nature demonstrate the more fluid boundaries between human and animal in Tyson’s worldview. However, it is important to note that attributing human characteristics to animals, with the exception of the soul, was not problematic in Tyson’s cosmological understanding, as anatomical traits varied by degree. In our post-Darwinian worldview, anthropomorphizing animals has been seen as jeopardizing both the status of the animal (not allowing animals their own animality) and the status of the human (explanations of anthro-exceptionalism). In Tyson’s worldview, all animal species could exist within ontological categories. This is an important lesson in the intellectual exercise of avoiding anthropomorphism: it, too, has a history.
Emmie Miller is a graduate student in the Program for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Her interests are at the intersection of the history of science and the history of medicine, particularly in examining how the boundaries between humans and animals have been scientifically constructed and deconstructed. Her work also aims to examine the circulations of knowledge about animals across cultural boundaries.
 We know from both Tyson’s anatomy of the animal and modern day studies of the skeleton, which is in the British Natural History Museum, that this was a juvenile male chimpanzee.
 Much thanks to the Wangensteen Historical Library of Biology and Medicine at the University of Minnesota for access to this particular text and many others.
 “Animalizing the human” is a concept borrowed from Paul S. White.
 Edward Tyson, Phocaena, or the Anatomy of a Porpess, Dissected at Gresham Colledge: with a Praeliminary Discourse concerning Anatomy, and a Natural History of Animals (London: Printed for Benj. Tooke at the Ship in St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1680): 6.
 Tyson, Phocaena, 3
 Ibid, 7.
Edward Tyson, Orang-outang Homo sive Sylvestris: or, the Anatomy of Pygmie, the Epistle Dedicatory.
 By non-ancestral, I mean that in the great chain of being, species and types were not conceived of as being related to one another.
 For more on this, see Erica Fudge’s Brutal Reasoning and Roger French’s Dissection and Vivisection in the European Renaissance.
 Tyson, Pygmie, 28.
 Tyson, Pygmie, 5.
 For a good discussion of this, see “Emulating the Ancients” in Roger French’s Dissection and Vivisection in Renaissance Europe (Ashgate 1999).
 Tyson, Pygmie, 49.
 Ibid, 51
 Ibid, 55.
 Respectively, these elements of anatomical illustration are visible in Govard Bidloo/William Cowper, John Browne, and John Browne and William Cowper, to name a few.
 The French comparative anatomist, Claude Perrault, for instance, incorporates a beaver and a camel into human backgrounds. However, the animal’s involvement in the dissection is minimal.
 Tyson explicitly detailed how he intended to stage the Pygmie for the illustrations. I would argue that in its overt humanness, and Tyson’s deliberation in posing it standing on two legs with human props, such as a cane, and having an active role in the images, Tyson felt freer to portray it in a human way.
 I would argue that anthropomorphism becomes more controversial in a Darwinian worldview, where ancestral relationships exist between non-human animals and humans.