Before the aquarium
May 3, 2009 3:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for quotations or citations about "the aquarium," from before it existed.

What I'm looking for will probably have been written by naturalists or inventors, or really anyone who had the idea of housing underwater creatures in a clear tank, and/or observing them, before such a thing was commonplace. I'm interested in the idea in a nascent form, and in how it's worded. Bonus points for very ancient quotes (which could mean Da Vinci, Aristotle, or some Sumerian guy), and bonus points as always for links to online sources. Thanks!
posted by sleevener to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The book that I read that talked about this was actually discussing nature drawings and how a lot of them for underwater animals were really distorted before we had glass and could see an underwater animal/fish from the side. So, before then, so many natural illustrations of water fish/animals were showsn with them sort of dead up on shore. This page refers to it beifly and suggests that this trend -- not drawing what people couldn't easily see -- led to a little bit of deemphasizing of intvertebrates in nature illustration and the like. I believe the Rudwick that they are talking about is the author of this book -- Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World -- which you might find useful.
posted by jessamyn at 4:04 PM on May 3, 2009

Best answer: Bernd Brunner's "The Ocean at Home" is a history of aquariums, and has a preview online:
"Attempts at observing fish in water-filled containers close to home have a long history, stretching as far back as several centuries before the birth of Chris, when the people of Lykia, a region in the southwest of modern-day Turkey, played flutes to lure Holy Fish to the surface in order to "question" them about the future [...] The Roman poet Rutilius Nautilus gave an account of the fish ponds belonging to a Jew on the Etrurian coast: "They were located on a grove, where the fish wer able to play merrily within the vivariums in the calm waves of the enclosed surf." These fish were kept in opaque tanks, often made of marble, in front of the house."
Unfortunately breaks off there, but there's evidently more, as suggested by a review here:
Bernd Brunner begins with the ancient practice of keeping a few fish around. The Romans even kept them under their beds but those were for eating, not study, even if they did eventually have one side of glass so you could peer in if you got bored with the orgy. But aquariums have no real history until the late 18th century with its great interest in natural history.
There's an essay on Roman fish-ponds here with a few different sources, and a book with, again, limited preview. There was a big fish-pond in Agrigentum, written about briefly here by Diodorus Siculus. And Pliny wrote loads about fish, as about everything, including a little bit about "who was the first inventor of preserves for fish" and sea-snails. It's not quite about keeping fish to observe them - the reasons for keeping fish seem to have been a combination of "food" and "fun" ("It was at the same villa that Antonia, the wife of Drusus, placed earrings upon a murena which she had become fond of; the report of which singular circumstance attracted many visitors to the place.") - but it does have observations of fish and bits about people who kept them.
posted by severalbees at 4:42 PM on May 3, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks!
posted by sleevener at 6:12 PM on May 6, 2009

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