Assheads in the Sixteenth Century

“The Saiynges of Diogenes the Cynike,” trans. Erasmus, Apophthegmes (London: Richard Grafton, 1542):

When menne dooe mocke any bodye thei wagge their handes vp and down by their eares at the sydes of their hedde, and dooe coutrefeacte the facion of an asses eares. (152)

Apulius, The Golden Asse (ca. 150s-80s), trans. William Adlington (London: Henry Wykes, 1566):

The argument of the booke is: How Lucius Apuleius the Author him selfe, traueled into Thessaly (being a region in Grece, where all the women for the most parte, be such wonderfull witches, that thei can transfourme men into the figure of beastes) wheare after he had continued a fewe daies, by the mighty force of a violent confection, he was chaunged into a miserable Asse, and nothinge might reduce him to his wonted shape, but the eatinge of a Rose, whiche after endurance of infinite sorow, at length he obteined by praier. Verely vnder the wrappe of this transformation, is taxed the life of mortall men, when as we suffer our mindes so to be drowned in the sensuall lustes of the fleshe, and the beastly pleasure therof: (whiche aptly may be called, the violent confection of witches) that we léese wholy the vse of reason and vertue (which proprely should be in man) & play the partes of bruite and sauage beastes. (“To the Reader”)

AFter that I had wel rubbed euery parte & member of my bodie, I houered with mine armes, & moued my selfe, lokinge still when I should be chaunged into a birde as Pamphile was, and beholde neither feathers nor apparau~ce of feathers did burgen out, but verely my heare did turne into ruggednes, & my tender skinne waxed tough and harde, my fingers and toes lesing the number of fiue chaunged into hoofes, and out of mine arse grewe a great taile, now my face became monstruous, my nosethrilles wide, my lippes hanginge downe, and mine eares rugged with heare: Neither could I sée any comfort of my transformatio~, for my membres encreased likewise, and so without all helpe (viewyng euery parte of my poore bodie) I perceaued that I was no birde, but a plaine Asse. (32)

Bartolommeo della Rocca, The Whole Art of Phisiognomie, trans. Thomas Hill (London: John Waylande, 1556):

That head which is very great, and the necke with the sinowes and bones small: declareth an euill condicion or qualitie of the brayne, and that man to be a dullarde and foole, compared to the asse. (“Of the head. The. xi. Chapter”)

John Bartlett, The Pedegrewe of Heretiques (London: Henry Denham for Lucas Harryson, 1566):

The Heade  is oftentimes taken in the scriptures for the Magistrate, or chiefe Soueraigne. Then whom or what people an Asses head signifieth in this place, thou mayst, gentle Reader, easily iudge. Nature teacheth vs, that out of an Asses hed, there procedeth but Asselike instruction (that is) doctrine worldly, carnall, foolish, slouthfull, wanton and gentyle. (86)

Pierre Boaistuau, Certaine Secrete Wonders of Nature (1560), trans. Edward Fenton (London: Henry Bynneman, 1569):

There  is founde by sufficient authoritie in writing, that in the yere .1496. was taken vp out of the riuer of Tyber, a monster, hauing the tronke of the body of a ma~, the head of an Asse, one hand and arme like to a man, and the other of the fashion of an Elephantes foote: he had also (according to the portraict you sée) one of his féete like the foote of an Eagle, and the other like the hoofe of an Oxe, his belly like a woman with two duggs and the rest of his body with skales: he had also growing out behynde him, a head olde and hairie, out of the which came an other head of the forme of a Dragon. (140)

Philipp Melanchthon, A Declaration of the Monstrous figure of a Popish Asse, trans. John Brooke, in Of Two Woonderful Popish Monsters (London: Thomas East, 1579):

The heade of the Asse is a description of the Pope. For the Churche is a spirituall bodye and kingdome, assembled together in spirite. And therefore it cannot nor ought not to haue a mannes head, nor a visible Lorde. But onely the LORD IESUS, which formeth the heartes inwardlye, by the holy Ghost by fayth, kéepeth, reneweth, and gouerneth them as Lorde and head. Contrary vnto these thinges the Pope hath made himselfe the visible and outwarde heade of the Churche: And for that cause the Pope is signified by the heade of this Asse, ioyned with a mannes bodye. For as it is not séemely that a mannes bodye shoulde haue an Asses heade: euen so is it altogether vnsmelye that the Pope of Rome shoulde bée the heade of the Church. (1)

Reginald Scot, The Discouerie of Witchcraft (London: Henry Denham for William Brome, 1584):

If I affirm, that with certain charms and popish prayers I can set an horse or an asses head upon a mans shoul|ders, I shall not be beleeved; or if I doe it, I shall be thought a witch. And yet if I. Bap. Neap. experiments be true, it is no difficult matter to make it seem so; and the charm of a witch or a papist joined with the experiment, will also make the wonder seem to proceed thereof. The words used in such case are uncertain, & to be recited at the pleasure of the witch or cousener. But the conclusion of this, cut off the head of a horse or a  asse (before they be dead, otherwise the vertue or strength thereof will be the less effectuall) and make an earthen vessell of fit capacity to contain the same, and let it be filled with the oil and fat thereof, cover it close, and dawb it over with lome; let it boil over a soft fire three dayes continually, that the flesh boiled may run into oil, so as the bare bones may be seen; boat the har into powder, and mingle the same with the oil, and annoint the heads of the standers by, and they shall seem to have horses or asses heads. (13.19)

The Historie of the Damnable Life and Deserued Death of Doctor Iohn Faustus, trans. P.F. (London: Thomas Orwin, 1592):

The guests having sat, and well eat and drank, Dr. Faustus mae every one had an ass’s head on. (Chapter xliii)