Souletière near Cérans-Foulletourte
Pierre Belon (1517-1564) was a French traveler, naturalist, writer and diplomat. Like many others of the Renaissance period, he studied and wrote on a range of topics including ichthyology, ornithology, botany, comparative anatomy, architecture and Egyptology. He is sometimes known as Pierre Belon du Mans, or, in the Latin in which his works appeared, as Petrus Bellonius Cenomanus. Ivan Pavlov called him the "prophet of comparative anatomy".
Belon was born in 1517 at the hamlet of Souletière near Cérans-Foulletourte. His family was not wealthy and as a boy, he worked as an apprentice at an apothecary at Foulletourte. He later (c. 1535) worked as an apothecary to the bishop of Clermont, Guillaume Duprat. He then travelled through Flanders and England, taking a keen interest in zoology. When he returned to Auvergne, he was supported by René du Bellay, bishop of Le Mans, to study at the University of Wittenberg with the botanist Valerius Cordus (1515--1544). He travelled around Germany with Cordus and on his arrival at Thionville, was arrested on suspicions that he was a Lutheran. He was released by the interventions of a certain Dehamme who was an admirer of his friend from Paris, the poet Pierre Ronsard. Around 1542 he studied medicine at Paris, and obtained a licentiate in medicine although he never took the degree of doctor. With the recommendation of Duprat, he became an apothecary to Cardinal François de Tournon. Under this patronage, he was able to undertake extensive scientific voyages. Starting in 1546, he travelled through Greece, Crete, Asia Minor, Egypt, Arabia and Palestine, and returned in 1549. He hoped to find the remains of Homer's Troy in the Levant. A full account of his Observations on this journey, with illustrations, was published in Paris, 1553. Returning to the household of Cardinal de Tournon at Rome for the Papal conclave, 1549-1550, Belon encountered the naturalists Guillaume Rondelet and Hippolyte Salviani. He returned to Paris with his copious notes and began to publish. In 1557 he travelled again, this time in northern Italy, Savoy, the Dauphiné and Auvergne.
Belon was highly favored both by Henry II and by Charles IX, who accorded him lodging in the Château de Madrid in the Bois de Boulogne; there he undertook the translations of Dioscurides and Theophrastus. He was assassinated by thieves one evening in April 1564, when coming through the Bois on his return from Paris.
Belon was typical of the renaissance scholar and took an interest in "all kinds of good disciplines" in his lifetime. He was interested in zoology, botany and classical Antiquity. Besides the narrative of his travels he wrote several scientific works of considerable value.
His first book was Histoire naturelle des estranges poissons (1551) and despite its title was a work mainly on the dolphin;[a] it did have woodcuts of some fishes, possibly the first among printed books in the West.
His second book, De aquatilibus (in Latin, 1553) greatly expanded on the first and included a description of 110 species of fish, with illustrations; it was a work that laid the foundation of modern ichthyology. Its French translation La nature et diversite des poissons Paris, 1555, was followed by an edition of 1560 and the volume was reprinted in Frankfurt and Zurich. His works were translated by Carolus Clusius, and he was held in high authority by Ulisse Aldrovandi.
In his L'Histoire de la nature des oyseaux (1555) he included two figures of the skeletons of humans and birds marking the homologous bones. This is widely used as one of the earliest ideas on comparative anatomy.
All of the following were first published in Paris.
A genus in the plant family Gesneriaceae was named as Bellonia in his honour by Charles Plumier. The saltwater fish genus Belone was also named after him by the preeminent ichthyologist Georges Cuvier, along with the family and order it belongs to, Belonidae and Beloniformes respectively. A statue of Belon was erected at Le Mans in 1887.