image of vultures (Aberdeen Bestiary)

Week 8: Physiologus.

Background | Background Quiz | Starting Assumptions | Resources | Extras
Vocabulary | Etymology | Grammar | Perseus Dictionary | Perseus Tool

Reading Overview | Reading Quiz: English
| Reading Quiz: Latin
Discussion Questions | Latin Composition | Weekly Checklist

Discussion Questions

Please choose 3 of the following questions to answer and send your response in an email to the instructor ( Each answer should be a solid paragraph (150-250 words for each English discussion question, 500-750 words for the overall assignment).

You should then post your answers to the class Discussion Board. You need to have sent the email and posted your answers by Friday midnight. At some point you will also be posting at least two replies to comments posted by the other students; you may do that at any time during the week, until Monday midnight.

1. Beaver "in malum." The Physiologus provides an interpretation "in bonum" of the beaver's behavior, showing how the beaver sets a positive example that we should follow. Can you provide an interpretation "in malum" of the beaver's behavior, so that the story of the beaver and the testicles and the hunter is turned into a negative example of temptation and sin?

2. Fox "in bonum." The Physiologus provides an interpretation "in malum" of the fox's behavior, showing how the fox lays a dangerous trap that we should avoid. Can you provide an interpretation "in bonum" of the fox's behavior, so that the story of the fox and the birds is turned into a story of faith and salvation? (You can write this one in Latin if you want: your interpretation should be at least 4 sentences long if you write it in Latin!)

3. Aelian's beaver. There is a version of the beaver's story in the Greek encyclopedist, Aelian (who was born around 170 C.E.). It is like the story of the beaver in the Physiologus, but with some differences:

6.34 The beaver understands the reason why the hunters eagerly rush off chasing after it, so it bends over and with a bite it cuts off its testicles and throws them to the hunters, just as a wise man who has fallen into the clutches of bandits gives up whatever he is at hand in order to save his life, giving it all up as a ransom. But if the beaver who has saved itself by cutting off its testicles is being chased again, then it stands up and shows that there is no reason for them to continue their hurried pursuit, and so the hunters are spared any further effort since the beaver's flesh is less well regarded than the testicles. But it is often the case that beavers who still have their testicles will run as far as they can and pull in the desired part of their body, playing a trick which is very wise and cunning, as if they did not have what they have hidden.

What are the similarities and differences between this story in Aelian, and the story about the beaver found in the Aberdeen bestiary? What is the lesson that Aelian draws from the beaver's example? How is this like / unlike the moral lesson provided by the Physiologus?

4. Elephants' knees. Sir Thomas Browne (in his Pseudodoxa Epidemica) refuted the legend that the elephant has no knees and that it cannot lie down. What kind of evidence does Browne use to refuse this legend? And why is he so strident? What is it about this legend that so enrages Browne? According to Browne, why do people continue to repeat such fantastic and extraordinary stories about animals? Do you enjoy hearing about fantastic stories and weird legends? Or do you agree with Browne that these kinds of stories cause our brains to rot?

5. Favorite image for the week. Was there one of the images for this week which made a big impression on you? Provide a link to the webpage where that image is found, and give a detailed description of the image. What attracted your attention to this image? What are the details that stick in your mind? Do you think that image fits in well with the words of the text? What makes this image stand out from the other images that we looked at this week?

6. Reflecting on the week. Take a look back at what you wrote as your "starting assumptions" for this week, and look at the starting assumptions of the other students in the class. Did anything you read or studied this week make a big change in your starting assumptions? Did the assignment turn out to be pretty much what you expected? More interesting? Less interesting? What surprised you the most? If you were going to continue with this topic, what kind of research and reading would you want to do? What questions are still left unanswered?

7. Grammar revelations. Did you have a Latin grammar crisis this week? Did you get through it? What did you learn? Is there something you grasped this week that was never really clear to you before? A grammar epiphany? Is there something you are still really struggling with? What do you do when you are having trouble understanding a passage in Latin? Where do you look for help? In general, was the reading this week easier or harder than expected? What are you going to concentrate on in your Latin work in the coming week?

8. Website critique. Pick one of the websites that you visited this week as part of your work for this class (it could be a website about this week's topic, or a website for learning Latin). Provide a link to the site, and a brief desription of its contents. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this website? Who would find this website useful? What did you use this website for? What did you find there? Do you think you will visit this website again?

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