Greetings, my faithful readers!
This week we are taking a look at medieval bestiaries: those compiled books of animals both real and fantastic. In medieval art, the message is everything, and thus the images of beasts came to mean many symbolical things (and sometimes contradictory things). Paintings and illuminations, therefore, can say a great deal without a single written word.
Regardless of the meanings of some of these beasties, we reap the rewards of the recording of their attributes in beautiful books called Physiologus, Bestiaries, or Beastiaries. Illuminators will no double love to look at some of these notable works to decipher the message they wish to send with their work. Heralds will surely take note of the names and meanings of the symbolism when advising their patrons. Tellers of tall tales might like to take a peek herein to find out how one might use animal husbandry to gain the existence of a Pard! And just like people for ages past, many folk will like to look at the pictures of these animals, and ponder the existence of some of those rarer beasts. Who knows, perhaps someone will find a medieval version of Big Foot herein! In this month that host All Hallows Eve, anything is possible.
I have found it quite enjoyable to thumb through the animal listings, and to notice that the imaginary animals are given equal seriousness as the real ones. Please enjoy this Links list and pass it along, but please strip it of my email address before doing so.
Dame Aoife Finn of Ynos Mon
Canton of Riverouge
Barony of the Endless Hills
Kingdom of Aethelmarc
Medieval Bestiary --Search for the Unicorn (note: Turn down sound before
(Site Excerpt) Though the majority of our medieval friends were illiterate, they were well-acquainted with the tales of fabulous beasts, partly from word of mouth, but mainly because these wonderful creatures were common illustrations in the church windows and common art of the period. Those fortunate enough to be literate were treated to many an image of a mythical beast, since the illuminators inserted them into the marginalia and illustrations of the rich Books of Hours that were the prayerbooks of the period.
The Medieval Bestiary
(Site Excerpt) This site is the long-term project of David Badke, an independent scholar in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. The goal is to gather all (!) available information about the Medieval Bestiary and its antecendants, as well as related information on the Medieval view of animals in general, both fabulous and real. The end result will (hopefully) be a resource that is of some use to the community of Medieval scholars and anyone else with an interest in the Middle Ages.
SEE ALSO Medieval Bestiary Bibliography http://bestiary.ca/biblios/biblioauthorfull.htm
Vice and Virtue
Symbolized in the Animal Kingdom
Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.
(Site Excerpt: PLease note that STRONG religious opinion is expressed within this article) Illustrated beastiaries (books about animals) were among the most popular and widely read books of the 12th and 13th centuries. Ours is not the first age that has been fascinated by animals, although ours is the first to provide restaurants and health spas for dogs and cats, and psycho-therapy for owners to deal with grief over the loss of pets.
Images from Dante's inferno- The Beast Geryon & other creatures
A series of classic illustrations, and Inferno sources.
The Aberdeen Bestiary
(Site Excerpt) A Bestiary is a collection of short descriptions about all sorts of animals, real and imaginary, birds and even rocks, accompanied by a moralising explanation. Although it deals with the natural world it was never meant to be a scientific text and should not be read as such. Some observations may be quite accurate but they are given the same weight as totally fabulous accounts. The Bestiary appeared in its present form in England in the twelfth century, as a compilation of many earlier sources, principally the Physiologus.
Mythology Clipart (people and beasts)
Medieval Bestiaries and the birth of Zoology
(Site Excerpt: Note that here again we have strong religious opinion) A bestiary is, quite simply, a book of beasts. In medieval Europe, bestiaries were extremely popular and respected by all who consulted it.1 After the Church appropriated it for its own purposes around the 6th century, the bestiary became a book of learning which used examples of animal lore to teach Christian values. Mixing fact and fiction with a dab of moralization, bestiaries became incarnations of the medieval mind which so preoccupied itself with salvation that it could scarce look beyond its horizon without seeing it through God-tainted glasses.
See espescially the bibliography at:
The Bestiary Project
Please note that this site is a list of tall tales, some of them historical, about weird creatures. I include it since this seems to be a noble and historically precedented if somewhat misguided preoocupation :)
Medieval Bestiary Crayon Etching Lesson Plan
An activity that can be for smaller kids, but is much better for larger ones or even adults(very nice results)
TEACHERS SEE ALSO the evaluation form at
The Medieval Bestiary
(Site Excerpt) Studies that attempt to identify the fabulous creatures described in a medieval bestiary with their living counterparts, such as equating the Bonnacon with the European bison, miss this point. Too, the same creature might often represent both good and evil, Christ or the Devil, depending upon its biblical reference, a dichotomy that often was subtle and complex. Portrayed most often by the medieval artist, the lion is an example of these seemingly contradictory connotations.
Physiologus: A Metrical Bestiary Of Twelve Chapters By Bishop Theobald
(Site Excerpt) This text is a translation and facsimile of a copy of the Physiologus attributed to Bishop Theobald (Theobaldus) which was printed in 1492. The text of the 1492 edition is taken from an earlier (unidentified) manuscript. The print edition of this text was published in London in 1928; the digital edition was created from the original in 2003 by David Badke.
(Site Excerpt) Perhaps even more so than in Classical times, it's not so much a matter of monsters per se in the Middle Ages, but monstrosities rather. We do have the blood-drinking, Geat-eating Grendel and his swampy mother in Beowulf, emerging from folktale and given the properly improper genealogy of belonging to the race of Cain by the vaguely Christianizing narrative filter. For a perspective on dragons and reptiles, see the Dinosaur-Dragon Abstract (or the article published in Popular Culture Review). Arthurian knights encounter some bizarre spectacles, but no "classic" monsters take hold of our consciousness in these romances, nor in those of the better-travelled infidel-slayers and Mandevillian map-trotters.
WORLDCAT Find in a Library: A medieval bestiary.
. By: Thomas J Elliott
Use worldcat to track down bestiary and other books in a library near you, world-wide.
Medieval Literature Annotated Bibliography
Symbolism in Christian Art
Monkeyfilter: The Medieval Bestiary: animals in the middle ages
(Site Excerpt) The Medieval Bestiary: animals in the middle ages. The illustrations of beasts and the accompanying text on illustrations of bests and accompanying text on this site are compiled from from various medieval sources, and are not taken from any single manuscript. From such selections, it's possible to savour the 'beasts', even as the medieval scholar and scribes surely did.
White's Book of Beasts online
The Red Winged Lion
An Illuminated Page in the Style of Aberdeen
(Site Excerpt) The Commissioning of a Medieval Manuscript Following the rise of universities around 1200, the growth in both secular production and consumer demand led to increased specialization and commercialization in book production. A group of middlemen, known as stationers, emerged. Stationers supplied materials to craftsmen and received and subcontracted commissions from patrons, often with formal recognition of the universities. This decentralization stimulated new techniques of book production, such as the systematic marking up of leaves and quires for assembly by the stationer and the provision of instruction. (Brown,118)
(Site Excerpt) While some works of the Latin Classics were carefully and accurately transcribed for their value as exemplars of the Latin language, other works from the Classical era became incorporated into medieval literature. Sometimes mistranscribed, mistranslated or misunderstood, they were then adorned with various additions to become something completely different and part of a living, growing literary tradition in the medieval era. Possibly the most delightful of this genre is the category of works known as the bestiary. This class of work is also a good example for contemplation of the difference between medieval literary and practical knowledge.
Getty Museum Bestiaries
(Site Excerpt) Are bestiaries secular or sacred literature? The genre illustrates the problem of applying such modern-day distinctions to a period like the Middle Ages, when the lines between secular and sacred were not clear-cut. Lay brothers serving in cathedrals, for example, read bestiaries, and preachers also looked to them for source material for their sermons. Yet the wide distribution of vernacular translations also suggests they were enormously popular with lay readers.
Medieval Latin Online: Week 8. Physiologus
(Site Excerpt) These European bestiaries are a mixture of traditional stories and beliefs about the animals, some of them grounded in natural history and others purely fantastic! The stories are often supplied with allegorical interpretations. As we saw last week, these allegorical interpretations fall into two broad categories: interpretations in bonum, where the animals provide examples of faith and salvation, and also interpretations in malum, where the animals are examples of temptation and sin.
Monsters and Fabulous Beasts (Suite 101 online)
A Set of links to other works on the subject, from lycanthropy (werewolf, anyone?) to Bestiaries. You can even adopt a Daemon.