In his Buffon des enfants, Félix Lorioux followed in Buffon’s footpath. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, (1707-1788) was a scientist. He classified his animals, and so did Lorioux. However, our second image shows a winged creature. It is a rooster and it may well be the emblematic coq gaulois (as in Gallic), the rooster of France. In 1870, France, under the French Second Empire, attacked Prussia. Self-proclaimed French Emperor Napoléon III was taken prisoner at the Battle of Sedan. The Franco-Prussian War was a bitter defeat for France. When it signed the Treaty of Frankfurt, in 1871, France gave Germany billions of francs in war indemnity, as well as most of Alsace and parts of Lorraine. (See Franco-Prussian War, Wikipedia.) I suspect, therefore, a soupçon of nationalism in Lorioux’s Les Oiseaux de chez nous (Our Birds) and Les Insectes de chez nous (Our Insects). France was again declared a republic, the French Third Republic, which lasted until 1940.
Lorioux’s insects are not only French; they are also anthropomorphic, or humans in disguise. Our insect musician, just above, has a dressed insect audience. Also, look at the image below this paragraph. It also has an audience. If they are dressed like human beings, animals are closer to children. Taming his animals reflects Lorioux’s insight into the nature of children. Here, Lorioux exemplifies a child’s need to identify with the animals of illustrations. One also senses that Lorioux was influenced by the very talented and numerous English illustrators of his age or nearly so.
The Internet has a limited number of illustrations by Loriaux. I will have to purchase books Lorioux published. Le Buffon des enfants was Lorioux’ finest achievement. Consequently, Le Buffon des enfants is a good example of Lorioux’s immense talent. The main, if not the only, source of Loriaux’s pictures featuring birds and insects is: https://animationresources.org/illustration-felix-loriouxs-fantastic-worlds/ It is an admirable site. Lorioux’s use of pink is most fortunate. What insects are seeking in blushing flowers is their nectar.
This beautiful lion has little to do with Valentine’s Day. It is part of the Ishtar Gate “constructed in about 575 BCE by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II” in the area of present-day Hillah, Babil Governorate, Iraq. (See Ishtar Gate, Wikipedia.) Ishtar was a goddess and Marduk the most powerful of two gods, he and Adad. Part of the gate was still standing in the early 1930s. It was taken to Germany and reconstructed. The Ishtar Gate had been put out of harm’s way before WW II, but it was bombed and reconstructed. Our lion is housed in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and the Ishtar Gate is part of the UNESCOWorld Heritage. Many of the animals the gate features are housed in museums other than the Bergamon Museum.
The New Year’s celebrations started immediately after the barley harvest, at the time of the vernal equinox. his was the first day of the ancient month of Nisan, equivalent to today’s date of March 20 or 21.
Roman poet Ovid wrote a Metamorphoses in 8 CE (Common Era). Apuleius (2nd century CE) wrote The Golden Ass, first entitled Metamorphoses. The Golden Ass contains The Tale of Psyche and Cupid, but its main narrative is the account of Lucius’ transformation into an Ass, rather than a bird. The Tale of Psyche and Cupid would be associated to the lore of Valentine’s Day, as would Rabbie Burns’ Red, Red Rose.
Once per year, the Ishtar Gate and connecting Processional Way were used for a New Year’s procession, which was part of a religious festival celebrating the beginning of the agricultural year. In Babylon, the rituals surrounding this holiday lasted twelve days. The New Year’s celebrations started immediately after the barley harvest, at the time of the vernal equinox. This was the first day of the ancient month of Nisan, equivalent to today’s date of March 20 or 21.
Christians associate Easter with the vernal equinox, but the vernal equinox happens globally. In Babylon, it was the New Year and inspired a procession among other celebrations of the agricultural year. But the governing factor concerning the date on which the procession would take place was the degree of lightness and darkness, the vernal equinox, when the degree and light and darkness is nearly equal. The earth feeds man and men and women perpetuate themselves. The rosettes, the red, red roses, above and below the lion are fertility symbols.
I was attracted by the image of the lion, but the Ishtar Gate was “foreign” to me. Now, I cannot help marvelling at all that binds us, hence this surprise post, except that I have studied and taught animals in literature, la Renardie. We have Reynard the Fox, Le Roman de Renart, tricksters, but we also speak of love, the Roman de la Rose. We all need our little corner of the world, but we are nevertheless the world.
In a post dated 22 February, I indicated that writers and artists who produced the bestiaries of the Middle Ages used as their main source a book entitled The Physiologus (‘The Natural Scientist’). “It consists of stories based on the ‘facts’ of natural science as accepted by someone called Physiologus (Latin: “Naturalist”), about whom nothing further , and from the compiler’s own religious ideas.”[i]
There is no doubt concerning the authenticity of our unknown “naturalist,” i.e. the person who compiled the texts contained in the Physiologus. But there is some disagreement with respect to the authorship of the texts included in the Physiologus. The Physiologus “is ascribed to one or other of the 4th-century bishops Basil and Epiphanius.” Peter of Alexandria, Basil, John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Ambrose, and Jerome; even pre-Christian authors like Solomon and Aristotle were said to have written parts of it (Curley, p. xvi). (See Medieval Bestiary)
However, for our purposes, we need simply know that “medieval bestiaries ultimately are derived from the Greek Physiologus.”[ii] but that India “may also be a source:”
Some Indian influence is clear—for example, in the introduction of the elephant and of the Peridexion tree, actually called Indian in the Physiologus. India may also be the source of the story of the unicorn, which became very popular in the West.[iii]
The Popularity & Dissemination of the Physiologus
The Physiologus may not have been as popular as the Bible, but nearly so. “It was translated into Latin (first in the 4th or 5th century), Ethiopian, Syriac, Arabic, Coptic, and Armenian. Early translations from the Greek also were made into Georgian and into Slavic languages.”[iv] It was then translated into several other languages. However, the symbolism attached to these allegorical animals may have changed and new symbols may have been added as various manuscripts wound their way through translations and possible “editions” of some original Physiologus. A thousand years elapsed between the publication of the Physiologus and that of the Aberdeen Bestiary.
According to Britannica, The Physiologus would have “48 sections, each dealing with one creature, plant, or stone and each linked to a biblical text.” As for animals featured in the Physiologus, they are listed in Wikipedia. In its list, Wikipedia names the dragon and the unicorn, both of whom are “fantastic” animals, as are the griffin, the phœnix, and other animals . (See Physiologus, Wikipedia and Medieval Bestiary)
Griffin couchant facing throne at Knossos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Dragon, the Griffin, the Unicorn, and the Phoenix
In the Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth & Religion, the Physiologus is described as “an exposition of the marvellous properties of some 50 animals, plants and stones, with a Christian interpretation of each.”[v] In this statement, the key word is “marvellous.” It matches the word used to describe the “fantastic” aspects of certain documents dating back to the French Middle Ages. Several mediavelists speak of the “merveilleux [marvellous] chrétien.”
Truth be told, among animals described in the Physiologus, some do not exist. The dragon and the unicorn, who are listed in Wikipedia’s entry on the Physiologus, are legendary animals that I call “mythical animals.” There are other mythical animals, two of whom are the afore-mentioned dragon and unicorn, but the Physiologus does not feature the phœnix, a mythical creature who was adopted as a symbol in Early Christianity. Nor does it mention the griffin. However, somehow I discovered the above fresco of the griffin while reading about the Physiologus. It is so lovely that I could not resist inserting it in this post. Although there are several mythical animals, the dragon, the griffin, the phœnix, and the unicorn are the more familiar. They are the four animals I call “mythical animals.”
Mythical vs Mythological Animals
Mythical animals may inhabit mythologies, east and west, but unlike the Minotaur of Greek mythology, they are legendary beasts who do not have a lineage. In this regard, they differ from Greek mythology’s Minotaur who is the son of a bull and Phasiphaë, the daughter of Helios and the wife of Theseus, the mythical and mythological — Greek mythology — founder-king of Athens. As for Pegasus, the winged horse, he is the offspring of Poseidon and Medusa. However, among the fifty or so beast Physiologus depicts, there is a Centaur, a zoomorphic — half human, half horse — mythological animal as well as the Siren of Greek mythology.
(please click on the image to enlarge it)
A phœnix depicted in a book of mythological creatures by F. J. Bertuch* (1747-1822)
The reality of these “fantastic” animals is poetical. It is the reality that J. K. Rowling used when she wrote the Harry Potter series. For instance, she featured the mythical phœnix, who is described in the Physiologus as an animal that rises from its own ashes and therefore represents Christ rising from the dead three days after his crucifixion. Similarly, the legendary pelican kills its off springs and, three days later, revives them by feeding them her blood.[viii] The author of the Physiologus may have borrowed from “pagan” sources, but his interpretation of the 50 animals, plants and stones is a Christian interpretation, which would suit medieval and Christian authors of bestiaries and artists depicting the fanciful animals bestiaries featured.
The animals featured in the Physiologus are in fact all the more “marvellous” and poetical in that they are zoomorphic, i.e. combining human and animal features, which is the case with the Centaur. But mythical and mythological animals may also combine the features of several animals, which is the case with Pegasus, the winged horse. However, whatever their appearance, these animals all stand for human beings or all symbolize human attributes. They are not humans in disguise, but allegorical or animals depicting mankind.
I wanted to write on the Aberdeen Bestiary, but many of the animals featured in the Aberdeen Bestiary originate in the Physiologus, as does the symbolism attached to them. It would appear that the “religious sections of the Physiologus (and of the bestiaries derived from the Physiologus) are concerned primarily with abstinence and chastity; they also warn against heresies.”[ix]
However, what is most fascinating about these animals is that they are part of our world. They are fanciful and the iconography attached to them, mostly delightful, but it could be that we actually need the phœnix. If the phœnix rises from its ashes, we can also rise again, whatever ordeal has befallen us. As for the pelicans who stretch maternal love to the point of reviving dead off springs by feeding them their blood, they are quintessential motherhood. In other words, both the Physiologus and bestiaries it inspired tell our story, and that story is one we created.
Illumination from the Ashmole Bestiary, Monoceros and Bear (Folio21r)
We have seen Books of Hours and I provided a list of other illuminated manuscripts, most of which are liturgical and/ or devotional. However, we will now be looking at allegories called Bestiaries. In Bestiaries, an animal stands for jealousy, virginity, evil, aspects of love, depending on the subject of the masnuscripts.
We already have a post on the Phœnix (listed below) and a very short post on the Aberdeen Bestiary, the richest illuminated bestiary, and at the same time we will look at the history of printing and the history of books. We know that illuminations became our illustrations, common in children’s literature. We also know that medieval calligraphy gave us many of the fonts we still use, but there are other elements.
Francesco Maria I della Rovere (22 March 1490 – 20 October 1538), the adopted heir of Guidobaldo de Montefeltro (January 17, 1472 – April 10, 1508), Elisabetta’s impotent husband, lost control of the dukedom of Urbino to the Medici. However, the Medici also lost control of the dukedom. It was returned to the Montefeltro family. These were embattled families.
As for Lorenzo II, Machiavelli’s student and briefly a Medici Duke of Urbino, he died of the plague in 1519, one year fafter his marriage to Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne and a few weeks after the birth of his daughter Caterina who would marry Henry II, the King of France where she became Catherine de Médicis, Queen consort, and incited her son Charles IX to order the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre (1572). Lorenzo II’s wife, Madeleine, also died in 1519.
Although Machiavelli’s Il Principe was dedicated to a Duke of Urbino, it could be viewed as the dark side of Il libro del cortegiano. Il Cortegiano describes a courtier whose manners we associate with medieval courtly love and the gallant behaviour of the men who were habitués, regulars, in the salons of seventeenth-century France. But there is nothing gallant about Machiavelli’s prince. Il Principe is the description of the ruthless ways in which a prince, preferably a new prince, attains and retains power.
In fact, if any book influenced Machiavelli, it may be Reynard the Fox, beast literature’s foremost trickster. In Chapter XVII of The Prince, Machiavelli writes that it is best to be loved than to be despised, but in Chapter XVIII, he speaks of faithlessness and instructs the prince to be ruthless and “employ” the fox.
Of this [faithlessness] endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has know best how to employ the fox has succeeded best.
Machiavelli builds a degree of ambiguity as to whether his ThePrince should own a lion and a fox, because of the attributes literature has bestowed upon these animals, or be like the lion and particular the fox. But all ambiguity is dispelled when Machiavelli refers to the zoomorphic Centaur, half human and half beast, and writes that “it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable.”
One may therefore look upon ThePrince as the depiction of a profoundly corrupt world. However, it may be more prudent to consider this enormously influential work as both descriptive and prescriptive. Although Machiavelli teaches the now proverbial “the end justifies the means,” the end being ‘righteous’ power, the Centaur is half human. The human half does not however redeem the bestial half, but Machiavelli’s advice to the prince is the fruit of experience. Men are not entirely good, hence the need for the prince to be ‘beastial’ and as crafty as the fox.
If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but beacause they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them.
Machiavelli knew about rulers. In 1498, he was appointed secretary and second chancellor to the Florentine Republic. In the fifteenth century, such an appointment would have been prestigious. Humanists were revered. However, in the sixteenth century, humanism had started to lose its prestige. According to Jacob Burckchardt, like Florentine historians at the beginning of the sixteenth century, humanists “wrote Italian not only because they could not vie with the Ciceronian elegance of the philologists but because, like Machiavelli, they could only record in a living tongue the living results of their own immediate observation.”
Machiavelli had gleaned his information as a diplomat. He had travelled to the court of Louis XII of France and to the court of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian. He had also accompanied Pope Julius II on this first campaign of conquest. Powerful families ruled city-states and could be ruthless. The most important of these families was the Medici family who ruled Florence and justified any action perpetrated in gaining and retaining power. “His The Prince and his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (both published posthumously) codified the actual practices of Renaissance diplomacy for the next 100 years.”
As for the world in which we live in, it has seen a Nixon, impeached because of corrupt actions. But former President Nixon was not altogether bad and he would not have killed. The world has also seen Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. And we know about Hitler. History rewrites itself as though humans had no memory.