Fortunio Liceti (1577–1657)
Fortunio Liceti studied natural philosophy and medicine in Italy during the first half of the seventeenth century. Liceti wrote greater than seventy works on a wide range of topics, including the human soul, reproduction, and birth defects observed in animals and human infants. In the seventeenth century, people commonly addressed birth defects using superstition and considered them as signs of evil, possibly caused by spiritual or supernatural entities. Liceti described infants with birth defects as prodigies and monsters to be admired and studied rather than feared. Liceti’s works established monsters as a possible subject of scientific inquiry and served as models for the future study of birth defects, a field later called teratology. Liceti was one of the first scholars to attempt to systematically categorize birth defects based on their causes, including multiple causes unrelated to the supernatural.