The Bestiary gives an insight into the mediæval mind. We read of animals to learn the moral about Godly conduct which each illustrates. Legendary and real animals are included. I bring them to you, because I love the pictures. Here are some pictures from the Aberdeen Bestiary, an English manuscript from the 12th century, so called because it is held in the library of the University of Aberdeen.

The Tyger

drawn from a garbled description, perhaps. That is definitely a feline waist, but asses’ ears and a human face. The horseman has robbed the tigress of her cubs. When she chases and gets near to him, he throws down a glass sphere. She sees her reflection in it, and is deceived, thinking it her cub. She nuzzles it and seeks to suckle it.

The Hyæna

is transsexual. I kid you not. Sometimes it is masculine, sometimes it is feminine, and therefore it is an unclean beast. It lives in the graves of men, and eats them; it mimics human voices so it can call dogs from their masters, and eat them. It has a stone in its eye, which if anyone puts under his tongue he is enabled to tell the future.

Jeremiah 12:8: My heritage has become like the hyæna’s lair.


The Dragon

is the largest of beasts; even the elephant, which it wraps itself around to suffocate, is not safe from it. The Dragon is like Satan, who rises from the Abyss and transforms himself into an angel of light in order to tempt men. Just as the dragon lies by the paths of elephants, so Satan lays coils of sin in the paths of men, to enwrap them, and so suffocate them and take them to Hell.

I have taken my tales from the Folio Society Bestiary, which is a translation of a manuscript in the Bodleian Library. The edition they publish now is considerably up market of my copy, but printed in Latin: I wanted to read the thing, I find the stories as fascinating as the pictures.

4 thoughts on “Bestiary

  1. It’s the imaginary animals I find most intriguing. Unexpectedly, we’re exposed to dream-flights of aspirations and fears. We, who have a world at our fingertips, enter their realms only as guests of this earlier era. Maybe it’s a way of saying there’s so much we cannot comprehend, try as we may.


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