EUGENE M. MCCARTHY, PHD GENETICS, ΦΒΚ
Moreover there is the story of the goose at Aegium that fell in love with the supremely beautiful boy Amphilochus of Olenus, and also the goose that loved Glauce, the girl that played the harp for King Ptolemy.
—Pliny the Elder
The Natural History, 10.26
Various old accounts allege the actual occurrence of goose-human hybrids. One such tale is that of the weird offspring of Queen Bertha, wife of Robert II of France. In the year 996, Robert put aside his first wife in order to marry his cousin Bertha, daughter of Conrad of Burgundy. The Pope then excommunicated them when they refused his order to separate for reasons of consanguinity.
Three years later, in 999, Bertha supposedly gave birth to a son with the entire neck and head of a goose (“filium, anserinum per omnia collum, & caput habentem”). Faced with this dreadful portent, so the story goes, Robert repudiated Bertha, who then retired into a nunnery.
This birth is cited as fact by various antique scholars, probably because it was described as fact by Peter Damian, a Catholic saint, who was born just eight years after the supposed event. Thus, the seventeenth-century physician and philosopher Fortunio Liceti (1634, p. 180) writes that
On the basis of this birth, Damian concluded that “even in this present life, omnipotent God often hands down terrible judgments” (Translated by E. M. McCarthy. Original Latin).
According to medieval German records, another “terrible judgment” was handed down in Germany just 13 years after Queen Bertha birthed her goose-headed offspring in France. In a chronologically-ordered account of events occurring in Thuringia (Newe vollkommene Thüringische Chronica, 1613, vol. 1, p. 78), the entry for the year 1012 states the following:
The former town of Cochstedt is today part of the town of Hecklingen in Sachsen-Anhalt.
There is a another alleged case of a goose-human, supposedly birthed some three centuries later. Thus, according to the Renaissance encyclopedist Conrad Lycosthenes, “in 1274,near the Swiss town of Laufenburg, which lies on the Rhine, a child was born with a horrible face and with the hands and feet of a goose.”
This case was cited by many writers in the early scientific era, and is even mentioned by certain modern scientists (e.g., Valentin 1938, pp. 266-267), who seem now to attribute it to a condition known as acrocephalosyndactyly.
The German physician Christian Franz Paullini (1667, p.70) reports and pictures a child born in Germany whose right foot was that of a goose (see image at right). This case seems to parallel a case, described elsewhere on this website, in which a pig, farrowed near Norristown, Pennsylvania, had one human hand.
And in the mid-nineteenth century, Australian newspapers carried a report that is certainly germane to the present discussion. The following article appeared on page 3, column 5, of the June 11, 1857, issue of The Star, a newspaper published in Ballarat, Victoria (source). The Kilmore Examiner, where this story first appeared, was a newspaper published in Kilmore, Victoria.
This Australian case is reminiscent of reports about Sarah Walls, a girl in upstate New York, who was supposedly normal except for having the snout of a dog (as is the case of the Cochstedt twins cited above).
One other case, if accurately reported, must constitute one of the strangest hybrids on record. In his Physica curiosa (1662, p. 715), the German Jesuit and scientist Gaspar Schott (1608-1666) described a medusa-like human head supposedly found in a goose egg (see picture right). However, in place of Medusa’s actual snakes, this tertium quid in an egg had numerous little goose heads, each with its own little serpentine goose neck. But not only did they decorate the scalp, the chin was similarly adorned as well. Surprisingly, Ambroise Paré (1641, p. 648) reported a similar, but separate, case. Both were discussed by Schott. If these weird hybrids ever turn out to be real, it will be interesting to think about whether similar finds in goose eggs inspired the Medusa myth in ancient times.
By the same author: Handbook of Avian Hybrids of the World, Oxford University Press (2006).
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On the Origins of New Forms of Life
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Prothero: A Rebuttal
Branches of Biology