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image of vultures (Aberdeen bestiary)
Vultures in the Aberdeen bestiary
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Week 8. Physiologus

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Last week we read some medieval geography; this week we will turn to the animal lore of the Middle Ages. The word "bestiary" is used to describe the popular collections of animal legends, often lavishly illustrated, that circulated throughout medieval Europe. The author of the first such collection of animal lore was the "Physiologus", an anonymous writer (perhaps contemporary of Augustine?) who is shrouded in almost total mystery. The late antique text of the "Physiologus" provided the core text for the later bestiary collections.

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.



Modern Languages 4970 / MRS 4903: Medieval Latin. Spring 2003 Online Course at the University of Oklahoma. Visit for more info.
Laura Gibbs, University of Oklahoma - Information Technology © 2003. Last updated: December 29, 2002 7:12 PM