2. Going back in time

Bénédicte PercheronGisèle Séginger

Edgar Quinet, La Création, Tome I, Paris, Librairie internationale, 1870, pp. 37-38.

‘It seems to me, on the contrary, that dinosaur reptiles, like the iguanodons and plesiosaurs, could compete with the Medea’s fiery-mouthed dragons; flying snakes with the snakes of Laocoön; the oldest ruminants and large edentulous mammals, like the mylodon or megatherium, with the crowned bulls of Babel; barely known mammals, such as the mysterious deinotheriums and toxodons, with the gigantic sphinxes of Thebes; ichthyosaurs with the hydras of Hercules and the harpies of Homer; the toed-footed hipparion with the horses of Neptune or with Rubens’ monster with its unleashed mane and huge rump. I would like to see and hear the ancestor of the dog, the amphicyon, howling at the developmental crossroads of tertiary mammals; for me, Cerberus in the Underworld with its three maws, could not be more wondrous.’

Gustave Flaubert, Œuvres complètes, Tome IV, La Tentation de Saint Antoine (1874), Paris, L. Conard, 1910, p. 197.

‘Then there are squalls, raining down anatomical marvels: alligators’ heads with deer’s feet, owls with serpents’ tails, swine with tigers’ heads, goats with asses’ rumps, frogs as hairy as bears, chameleons as big as hippopotami, calves with two heads (one of which weeps while the other bellows), four foetuses holding each other by the navel and spinning like tops and winged bellies fluttering like midges. They rain down from the sky, they come out of the ground, they pour out of the rocks. Everywhere there are blazing eyes, roaring maws; chests bulge, claws extend, teeth gnash, flesh ripples.’

Consultation of the preparatory notes for the 1874 text reveals the impact of his reading Quinet´s La Création on the rewriting of the book. The differences between folios 106, 78 and 226 are instructive in this regard. In the first version of 1869, the work ends with the appearance of the three Theological Virtues. Tempted by inert matter in 1849 (G. Séginger, 2014, p. 33), Saint Anthony is drawn by the profusion of living things in the1874 text.


The storyline underwent alterations in the following text and the three Theological Virtues disappeared. In this new version (folio 78), Saint Anthony goes back in time to the very beginnings. At the opening of the storyline of the ‘Les Bêtes fantastiques’ section there is a reference to Quinet’s La Création.


Hippopotamus, traced copy made by F.-A. Pouchet from William Dampier’s Nouveau voyage autour du monde (A new voyage round the World, 1697), French edition, 1698. Archives of Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Rouen, FAP605, hippopotames.


Citer ce billet
biolog (2018, 19 novembre). 2. Going back in time. Biolographes. Consulté le 22 avril 2024, à l’adresse https://doi.org/10.58079/m1qz

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