Noah’s Ark (1846), a painting by the American folk painter Edward Hicks(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I knew there was a song about the Unicorn missing the boat, Noah’s Ark. I had not retrieved the song, but our WordPress colleague Gallivanta sent me the link. The Unicorn is an important legendary and zoomorphic, creature. Zoomorphic animals combine the features of many animals, including humans. (See Legendary animals, Wikipedia.)
The Bible, the Book of Genesis in particular, is an etiological text, or the pourquoi story of children’s literature, the preeminent example being Rudyard Kipling‘s (30 December 1865 – 18 January 1936) Just So Stories, in which he describes the origins of a certain animal’s characteristic. How the Camel got its Humpis an example of Rudyard Kipling‘s Just So Stories, published in 1902.Kipling’s book is not restricted to the origin of animal features.
The Dove and the Unicorn resemble one another. For instance, both the dove and the Unicorn are white, and, in Christianity, the Unicorn can only be tamed by a maiden, representing the Virgin Mary, and it stands for the Incarnation. As for the white dove, it represents the Holy Spirit and is also a messenger. In this respect, we must examine doves more closely. Messengers are frequent in the Abrahamic religions, Islam especially. However, the Unicorn is transcultural and the product of man’s imagination.
The medieval bestiary is abundant and it includes several legendary animals many of which are allegorical. The Middle Ages, which ended after Constantinople fell to the Ottomans (1453),was the Golden Age of Bestiaries. Bestiaries are home to several allegorical animals that may be real animals, or fantastical. The Unicorn is featured in the Bible. (See Daniel 8:5, NIV.)
Jesus Christ in his Passion as the Lord of Patience or Lord of Contemplation as offered with the crown of thorns, the scepter reed and mocked by Roman soldiers. Oil on canvas by Matthias Stom.
As we have seen, the Unicorn is featured in the six tapestries known as Dame à la licorne and housed in the Cluny museum, in Paris.
The Just so Stories are Gutenberg project’s [EBook #2781]
Love to everyone♥ ____________________
 Boria Sax, The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Animals in World Myth, Legend, and Literature (Santa Barbara, US; Denver, US; Oxford, UK: ABC-CLIO, 2001). See The Fall of Constantinople, Wikipedia
“The Announcement to the Shepherds” is classified as a Bestiaire by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) which houses the original Livre d’images. But Le Livre d’images de Madame Marie Hainault is also, and perhaps mainly, a martyrology and it contains a picture of Saint Nicholas given alms.
When I was a child growing up in a cold Quebec, my mother kept traditions alive. We celebrated la Saint-Nicolas, food and decorations.
La Saint-Nicolas is celebrated on 6 December. One eats mandarines and drinks hot chocolate. One also eats mannalas (small figures) and schnakalas (escargots). Mandarines and hot chocolate quite satisfied us.
Saint Nicolas came to North America when New York was New Amsterdam. He was called Sinterklaas (Dutch) which became Santa Claus, the English for lepère Noël. (See Saint Nicholas, Wikipedia)
Pictures of St Nicolas
please follow this link and to see more pictures of Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicolas et les trois enfants tués par le charcutier. Psautier cistercien. XIIIe
« La Légende de Saint Nicolas »
Associated with Saint Nicholas is the legend of Saint Nicholas, the story of three children cut into pieces by a butcher (le charcutier), but resurrected seven years later by Saint Nicolas. It appears the legend originates in Alsace-Lorraine. Benjamin Britten composed a cantata entitled Saint Nicholas.
Refrain: Ils étaient trois petits enfants There we three little children Qui s’en allaient glaner aux champs. Who were gathering food [gleaning] in the fields.
1. Tant sont allés, tant sont venus They so went here, they so went there Que vers le soir se sont perdus. That come evening, they were lost. S’en sont allés chez un boucher : So they went to a butcher: Boucher, voudrais-tu nous loger ? Butcher, would you give us lodging?
2. Ils n’étaient pas sitôt entrés But no sooner did they enter Que le boucher les a tués, Then the butcher killed them, Les a coupés en p’tits morceaux Cut them up into tiny pieces Mis au saloir comme un pourceau. Put them in his salting box, like pork.
3. Saint Nicolas au bout d’sept ans Seven years had passed when Saint Nicholas Vint à passer auprès du champ, Happened to go near that field, Alla frapper chez le boucher : He went and knocned at the butcher’s: Boucher, voudrais-tu me loger ? Butcher, would you give me lodging?
4. Entrez, entrez, Saint Nicolas, Come in, come in, Saint Nicholas, Y’a de la place, n’en manque pas. There’s room, there’s no want of it. Il n’était pas sitôt entré, No sooner did he enter, Qu’il a demandé à souper. Then he asked for supper
5. Voulez-vous un morceau d’gâteau ? Do you want a piece of cake? Je n’en veux pas, il n’est point beau. I don’t want any, it isn’t good. Voulez-vous un morceau de veau ? Do you want a piece of veal? Je n’en veux pas, il n’est point beau ! I don’t want any, it doesn’t look nice!
6. Du p’tit salé je veux avoir, I want something from the saloir, Qu’il y a sept ans qu’est au saloir. That has been there for seven years. Quand le boucher entendit cela, When the butcher heard that, Hors de sa porte il s’enfuya. Out of his door he fled.
7. Petits enfants qui dormez là, Little children who sleep there, Je suis le grand saint Nicolas. I am the great Saint Nicholas. Sur le saloir posa trois doigts, On the saltoir he put three fingers, Les p’tits soldats n’entendaient pas. The little sodiers couldn’t hear.
8. Le premier dit: « J’ai bien dormi ! » The first [child] said: “I slept well!’ Le second dit: « Et moi aussi ! » The second said: “Me too!” Et le troisième, le plus petitt : And the third answered: « Je croyais être en paradis ! » “I thought I was in paradise!”
(Except for the last stanza, I omitted quotation marks.)
« Ils étaient trois petits enfants. » is believed to date back to the 16th century but the legend is older. There are several versions of the song. Mine is based on the recording and it is translated accordingly.
One version is by Gérard de Nerval, a celebrated 19th-century French poet, essayist and translator. Nerval is a tragic figure. He suffered two mental breakdowns and committed suicide.
_______________  I found a version of La Légende de Saint Nicolas [click], with a translation and a recording. It contains familiar lines: Saint Nicolas tells the butcher not to flee but to repent as Good will forgive him. The words salting-tub and salter are used. I borrowed the better: “give us/me lodging.”
In Saint Nicolas festivities (he visits schools, etc.), the butcher is called Père Fouettard [click].
If the myth of the phœnix did not exist, we would probably invent it. Mythical creatures are usually born of a human need, which, in this case, is the need for rebirth. Moreover, given that the Phœnix is a transcultural and nearly universal figure, we can presume that the need for rebirth is widely and profoundly rooted in the human imagination.
Our phœnix is the mythical singing bird that is reborn from its ashes. It [le phénix] is associated with a 170 elegiac-verse poem written by Lucius CæciliusFiminatureLactantius, an early Christian author (c. 240 – c. 320) and an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I. The Ave Phœnice is about the death and rebirth of a mythical bird, a bird that rises from its own ashes. This poem was retold in English as The Phœnix, an anonymous Old English poem composed of 677 lines, based on Lactantius’s Ave Phœnice.
Given that the phœnix rises from its ashes, it constitutes a powerful symbol that one can associate with survival, as is the case with Évangéline and Maria Chapdelaine‘s mythic “pays de Québec.” The phœnix is a source of hope to the inhabitants of lands decimated by wars or natural disasters. As a symbol of rebirth, the phœnix also brings hope to those who, like Job, who have lost everything. This is how it appears in the Hebrew Bible:
I thought I would end my days with my family/ And be as long-lived as the phœnix. (Job.29:18) [i]
Mythical and Mythological Animals
Although it appears in the Bible, I am tempted to consider the phœnix as a mythical rather than mythological figure. Mythological figures have ancestors and descendants, or a lineage, which can hardly be the case with the immortal phœnix. However, given that it can rise from its ashes and is therefore immortal and godlike, this distinction may be rather artificial and insignificant. In other words, whether mythical or mythological, the phœnix is a more powerful symbol than the dragon, the unicorn and the griffin, creatures that also lack a lineage, or mostly so.
In beast literature, he is zoomorphic in that he combines features borrowed from many animals, except obviously human features. Remember that Machiavelli’s centaur was half human and half horse. Our phœnix is an animal, albeit legendary.
In Greece, the phœnix (purple) was an “Arabian bird, the only one of its kind, which according to Greek legend lives a certain number of years, at the end of which it makes a nest of spices, sings a melodious dirge, flaps its wings to set fire to the pile, burns itself to ashes and comes forth with new life.”[ii]
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica “in ancient Egypt and in Classical antiquity, [the phœnix] was a fabulous bird associated with the worship of the sun. The Egyptian phœnix was said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry.[iii] Besides, it had a life span of no less than 500 years and “[a]s its end approached, the phœnix fashioned a nest of aromatic boughs and spices, set it on fire, and was consumed in the flames. From the pyre miraculously sprang a new phœnix, which, after embalming its father’s ashes in an egg of myrrh, flew with the ashes to Heliopolis (“City of the Sun”) in Egypt, where it deposited them on the altar in the temple of the Egyptian god of the sun, Re.”[iv] The Egyptian phœnix symbolized immortality.
Phoenix depicted in the book of mythological creatures by F. J. Bertuch (1747-1822).
In Islamicmythology the phœnix was identified with the ‘anqā,’ also a bird, but one that “became a plague and was killed.”[v]
Fantasy Literature and elsewhere
The phœnix was used by J. K. Rowling in the fifth book of the Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phœnix, 2003. It is also featured in Jean de La Fontaine, “Le Corbeau et le Renart,” (Book I.2), or the “Raven and the Fox,” where the Fox tells the crow that because of its beautiful voice, it is a phœnix among the guests of forests: “Vous êtes le phénix des hôtes de ces bois.” In French, blackmail is translated by le chantage. The fox makes the corbeau sing and the cheese drops.
Even the ageless Cinderella narrativehas phœnix-like dimensions. The word Cinderella (Cendrillon) is derived from ashes: cinders and cendres. Through the mediation of her fairy godmother, the ash-girl, reduced to that role by jealous sisters and a mean stepmother, a second wife, becomes the princess of fairy tales.
Moreover, we cannot leave aside the phœnix as a Christian symbol. For Christians, the immortal bird represents the resurrection of Christ. On the third day, Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead as the phœnix rises from his ashes. In the liturgical year, Christians go from Ash Wednesday to the Resurrection: Easter.
We cannot escape death as we are mere mortals, but life is nevertheless perpetuated. Outside my window there are naked trees, but they will again be adorned. And even if one’s land is a paper land, a literary homeland, that too is a land. In 1889-1890, Henri-Raymond Casgrain, the author of Pèlerinage au pays d’Évangéline was President of the Royal Society of Canada and quite lucid. Yet there is no “real” Évangéline. She was created by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in 1847.
The manner in which humanity copes with its condition often leads to mythification and once the myth is in place, it can be as real and powerful as is Évangéline to Acadians and her “pays de Québec” to Maria Chapdelaine.
Phoenix, from Aberdeen Bestiary
[i]Donald Ray Schwartz, Noah’s Ark: an Annotated Encyclopedia of Every Animal Species in the Hebrew Bible (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 2000), p. 400, p. 405, pp. 408-409.
[ii] “phœnix,” in Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, revised by Adrian Room (London: Cassel House, 2001).
January, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year♥
Illuminated manuscripts are the ancestors of our illustrated books. Famous examples are the Book of Kells, Les Très Riches Heures de Jean de France, Duc de Berry, and Medieval Bestiaries.
During the Middle Ages, le livre d’images (the picture book) was very popular. If one couldn’t read, the image must have been a delight. The most popular book of the Middle Ages was the Légende dorée (The Golden Legend), by Jacobus de Voragine. It was a hagiography, lives of saints and martyrs, but it outsold the Bible. The first printed Bible is the Gutenberg Bible, which I have not discussed yet.
Refugees started arriving yesterday at Montreal’s Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau airport. Those who arrived yesterday were privately sponsored but the next group will be government-sponsored refugees.
Canadian planes are picking them up and they will find products they may need at the airport. They will also be given a Social Insurance Number so they can start looking for employment and have access to essential services.
I suspect they will also be seen by medical doctors. To my knowledge this is standard procedure. Some may be ill and most will have suffered from exposure. They will be fragile. Their health is an important issue.
We should also consider that many refugees may not find in Canada as comfortable a lifestyle as they enjoyed before war forced them out of their country. They will be homesick.
Given the recent attacks on Paris, several Canadians oppose the Trudeau government’s willingness to take in refugees. They are afraid some Syrian refugees will be terrorists in disguise. Reticence on the part of Canadians is understandable. Moreover, there are real problems in Canada, such as unemployment and underfunded social programmes. Accepting refugees is difficult, but…
Persian Winged Lion with Ram’s Head (Photo credit: Britannica)
Persian Susa (Photo credit: Flicker)
Consider the Opportunities
There is also a very real possibility that these new Canadians will be helpful to Canada. They are bringing far more than a body to feed. They are bringing fine minds and fresh ideas.
A year or two from now, many will be our doctors and teachers. I hope Canadian universities start offering more courses on the Arabic language and Arabic literature. Canadian entrepreneurs could also establish a rug-making industry. Few Canadians can afford hand-knotted rugs made in Canada, but we have billionaires who might commission a few if they find skilled immigrants. The rest of us will make do with tiny manufactured rugs.
According to the Ottawa Citizen, Air Canada has offered to airlift refugees.
It is within the nature of the human mind to invent what is lacking. We cannot fly, but birds fly. Flying is so powerful a wish that we have invented angels and archangels who inhabit not only the Old and the New Testaments, but also belong to other cultures. For instance, there are Islamic angels and their role is that of messengers, or oracles. According to the Old Testament, Gabriel is the archangel who announced to Mary that she was bearing Jesus. In Islam, Gabriel (Jibra’il) is one of four archangels whose duty it is to deliver God’s messages to prophets. We also have “pagan” angels.
The Wish to Fly
The wish to fly has led to the invention of aircrafts. Humans can now fly to the moon. However, this post is not about the history of aviation. It is about the wish to fly as expressed in Greco-Roman mythology. Not that such a wish begins with Greco-Roman mythology but that Greco-Roman mythology tells the story of Pegasus and Icarusand, by the same token, that of their entourage: Bellerophon, who rode Pegasus, Daedalus, who crafted wings for Icarus, not to mention Medusa and Chimera, female monsters.
Pegasus is the son of Poseidon, a god, and the Gorgon Medusa, a monster
Medusa was slain by Perseus
Pegasus, a winged horse, was tamed by Bellerophon
Bellerophon, a slayer of monsters, tamed Pegasus
Pegasus helped Bellerophon kill the Chimera, also a monster
There are many winged creatures in Greek mythology, but the most famous are PegasusandIcarus.
Pegasus,is a winged horse who “carrie[d] the thunder and lightning of Zeus [Jupiter].” He is the son of Poseidon, the “god of the sea, earthquakes, storms, and horses.” (See Poseidon, Wikipedia.) His mother, however, is Medusa, a mortal Gorgon and a monster. She had living venomous snakes in place of hair. The coupling of gods and mortals sometimes led to the birth of “monsters.”
Medusa was killed by Perseus, who, like Bellerophon, was also a slayer of monsters. In order to destroy Medusa, Perseus was provided with “winged sandals, Hades‘ cap of invisibility and a sickle.” As mentioned above, Hades is the god of the Underworld, but he is also capable of making himself invisible, another one of mankind’s wishes.
Pegasus was born from the blood flowing from the severed head of Medusa, his mother. A lesser sibling, Chysaor, was also born from the blood pouring out of Medusa’s head. Both were Poseidon’s offsprings. (See Gorgon, Wikipedia, and Gorgo/ Medusa, the Oxford Classical Dictionary.)
Perseus, bronze sculpture by Benvenuto Cellini, 1545–54 (Photo credit: Art Resource, NY, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica)
Bellerophon and Chimera
Pegasus was tamed byBellerophon, who slayed monsters. In fact, Pegasus helped Bellerophon killChimera, a female and mortal sibling of Cerberus/ Kerberos (GR), the three-headed dog who guarded the entrance to the Underworld.
Bellerophon was falsely accused of trying to rape Anteia (later called Stheneboea). Anteia’s husband, Proetus, sent him to Iobates, king of Lycia and Anteia’s father. Bellerophon was to deliver a sealed letter in which Proetus was requesting that Iobates kill the bearer of the letter, Bellerophon.
Convinced that Bellerophon would not survive what seemed an impossible mission, Iobates asked him to slay Chimera. He also asked him to fight the Solymi and the Amazons. With the help of Pegasus, Bellerophon performed the tasks assigned to him successfully. Iobates therefore married him to his daughter.
Bellerophon died when he flew Pegasus to Olympus, home of the twelve Olympians. Flying to Olympus was hubris, or “extreme pride and self-confidence,” on the part of Bellorophon. (See Hubris, Wikipedia.) The gods of antiquity always punished hubris. Pegasus, a zoomorphic being, did not perish because he was born a winged creature. No god would punish him for being what he was. After Bellerophon’s death, Pegasus became a constellation and was made a symbol of immortality in Latin Mythology.
“In late antiquity Pegasus’s soaring flight was interpreted as an allegory of the soul’s immortality; in modern times it has been regarded as a symbol of poetic inspiration.”
Daedalus and Icarus by Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), c. 1645, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Master craftsman Daedalus had a son named Icarus. Daedalus had built the labyrinth inside which the Minotaur, part bull, part man, was held. Daedalus crafted wings for his son Icarus who wanted to fly, which was hubris. Icarus defiantly flew so close to the sun, the god Helios, that the wax used to attach wings to his body melted. He therefore fell to his death into the sea of Icarus, named after him. Mere mortals cannot fly.
Daedalus had accompanied Icarus, but managed to land in Sicily and he became an Etruscan, ancient Italy, celebrity. His image appears on a gold coin or seal called a bulla. However, there are divergent accounts of Daedalus’ fate. Greek historians differ. According to one account, Daedalus became jealous of Talos, his nephew and apprentice, who invented the saw, thereby surpassing his mentor, Daedalus.
Daedalus was known as the best craftsman. Talos’ invention therefore aroused Daedalus’ jealousy. So envious was Daedalus that he pushed Talos off the Acropolis. The goddess Athena saved Talos by turning him into a partridge, a metamorphosis. Talos acquired a new name, Perdix (partridge orune perdrix [FR]). As for Daedalus, he left Athens. (See Daedalus, Wikipedia.)
Pegasus could fly. He was a beautiful white and winged horse. But in Greek mythology, one does not defy the gods with impunity. Bellerophon tried to fly Pegasus to mount Olympus, attracting the wrath of the gods. He therefore fell to his death. For his part, Icarus soared so high that the sun, Helios, melted the wax that kept his wings attached to his body. So he too fell to his death.
The story of Pegasus is an interesting case of zoomorphism. Only his wings differentiate Pegasus from a horse. Similarly, only their wings differentiate angels from human beings. However, Chimera combined many features and was viewed as a monster. She was in fact grotesque but not in the same way as gargoyles and the large number of figures ornamenting misericords. TheMedieval Bestiaryis its own world. Or is it the other way around? Greco-Roman Mythology is its own world?
I should note that:
“Chimera, or chimère, in architecture, is a term loosely used for any grotesque, fantastic, or imaginary beast used in decoration.”
Zoomorphism is a complex subject. For instance, we have yet to discuss shapeshifting beings: lycanthropy or the werewolf(le loup-garou), a dual incarnation with a human literary counterpart, Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
The Chimera of Arezzo, bronze, Etruscan, 5th century BCE; in the Museo Archeologico, Florence. (Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, New York & Britannica)
I am providing you with a list of natural historians. There are other historians than those I have listed. Moreover, some of the authors of Medieval Bestiaries were historians. My sources are the Medieval Bestiary and Wikipedia.
The Contents of Natural Histories
Nature included not only animals, plants, flowers, but “the moon, stars, and the zodiac, the sun, the planets, the seasons and the calendar[.]” (Vincent de Beauvais). I have already noted that our humble calendars were cultural monuments. Jean de France’s Livre d’heures (Book of Hours) is probably the chief example of humanity’s need to chronicle its hours and the labours of the months. Les Très Riches Heures de Jean de France, Duc de Berry and the Book of Kells are genuine treasures. The beauty of the Book of Kells never ceases to amaze me. It is always new. As for Jean de France, Duc de Berry’s Livre d’heures, it is also an extremely beautiful book and it features the zodiac, thereby attesting to the continuity between “paganism” and Christianity.
The Testimonial of Explorers: Marco Polo
The authors of the Natural Histories relied to a large extent on the testimonial of earlier natural historians, which did not make for accuracy, but was acceptable in the Middle Ages. Predecessors were masters one strove to equal. Marco Polo‘s (15 September 1254 – 8–9 January 1324) Book of the Marvels of the World (Le Livre des merveilles du monde), c. 1300,was also a source for natural historians who lived during Marco Polo’s lifetime and afterwards.
Marco Polo, however, did not have a camera and it would appear that few artists accompanied him. His descriptions could therefore be edited. Discovering trade routes, the silk road, was a more important mission for him than cataloguing animals. Last September (2014),it was suggested that Marco Polo discovered America. (See The Telegraph.)
The Bestseller of the Middle Ages: The Golden Legend
Although Natural Histories listed mythical animals and much lore, I would not dismiss the accounts of the natural historians of Greece, Rome, early Christianity, and the Christian Middle Ages. Their books reveal various steps in our history. For instance, the bestseller of the Middle Ages was Jacobus de Voragine’s (c. 1230 – 13 or 16 July 1298) Golden Legend, which contained mostly inaccurate hagiographies (lives of saints). Although it was rather fanciful, it served as mythology and humans need mythologies. They need to trace their roots.
Claudius Alienus’ On the Characteristics of Animals is available in print: Book 1, Book 2. But it may be read online at Internet Archive (Book 1, Book 2, Book 3). So are other books. For my purposes, On the Characteristics of Animals (EN) was extremely useful. It is the natural history I used when I prepared my course on Beast Literature.
Pliny the Elder (23 CE – 79 CE) wrote a Naturalis Historia, a History of Nature. Pliny died in the eruption of Vesuvius, on 24 August 79 CE. Accounts differ. Pliny the Elder may have been studying the eruption, but he was also trying to rescue friends. Pliny the Younger, Pliny the Elder’s nephew, wrote two letters on the eruption of Vesuvius that he sent to Tacitus. Pliny the Younger was a witness to the eruption of Vesuvius, but survived. (See Pliny the Elder, Pliny the Younger, and Tacitus, Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia.)
“The lion’s cubs [below] are born dead; after three days the father comes and roars over them, and brings them to life.” (fol. 96v) (Photo credit: The Medieval Bestiary)
Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 308, Folio 96v
In his Preface to Æsop’s Fables, its translator, George Fyler Townsend, states that “[t]he introduction [in fables] of the animals or fictitious characters should be marked with an unexceptionable care and attention to their natural attributes, and to the qualities attributed to them by universal popular consent. The Fox should be always cunning, the Hare timid, the Lion bold, the Wolf cruel, the Bull strong, the Horse proud, and the Ass patient.” (Bold characters are mine.)
Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 366, Folio 71v
“A fox [above]runs off with a cock, while a woman carrying a distaff gestures angrily.” (fol. 71v) (Photo credit: The Medieval Bestiary)
Medieval Animal Lore
The Fox as the Devil, etc.
Townsend’s statement reflects an anthropomorphic vision of animals (humans in disguise), as in George Orwell‘s 1945 Animal Farm). In fables and in beast epics, such as Le Roman de Renart, animals are anthropomorphic. But Townsend’s comment also reflects a will to stereotype animals and transform them into allegorical creatures. In Medieval Bestiaries, they are symbols.
Medieval writers were fond of allegories, hence the questionable, but poetical, qualities bestowed on medieval beasts. The Lion is God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Only a virgin can catch the legendary or mythical Unicorn. (See Unicorn, Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia). The Beavereats its own testicles to avoid being caught by hunters. The fox is not only devious, but the devil himself:
“The fox represents the devil, who pretends to be dead to those who retain their worldly ways, and only reveals himself when he has them in his jaws. To those with perfect faith, the devil is truly dead.” (See David Badke or The Medieval Bestiary[bestiary.ca].)
British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 9r
“Hunted [above] for its testicles, it castrates itself to escape from the hunter.” (fol. 9r) (Photo credit: The Medieval Bestiary)
Exceptions to the lore, but…
There are exceptions to the lore. The real Dog is a very loyal animal. It can sniff out nearly anything or anyone. However, a real Dog does not let go of the prey it holds for the prey it might catch. In other words, the fanciful and the fantastic suffuse Medieval Bestiaries, such as the Aberdeen Bestiary or the Ashmole Bestiary (or Bestiaries). The same is true of several extraordinary medieval beasts, not to mention qualities attributed to birds, stones, and other aspects of nature. The merveilleux FR characterizes more than a thousand years of Natural Histories. It is often called le merveilleux chrétien, a Christian magical realism (the fantastic).
Writers of Medieval Bestiaries used Natural Histories such as Claudius Alienus‘ (170 CE – 235 CE) On the Nature of Animals (17 books) as their reference. Yet, these works were rooted in earlier texts, such as Herodotus‘ Histories and Pliny the Elder‘s (c. 23 CE – 24 or 25 August 79 CE) Historia Naturalis. However, as we have seen, the preferred source of writers of Medieval Bestiaries was the anonymous Physiologus, which cannot be considered “scientific.” (See Manuscript shelf.)
The Naming of Reinardus/Renart
This depiction of animals seems all the more anthropomorphic when the animal is given a name. In the Ysengrimus, the Fox is called Reinardus, a Latin form of Renart, the Fox’s name in the Roman de Renart, and La Fontaine’s Renard, the current spelling. The Fox is all too human. Professor Jan M. Ziolkowski writes that animals featured in the Roman de Renart are
so highly individualized that they have names, like human beings.
The naming of the Roman de Renart‘s animal cast begins with the Ysengrimus (1148-1149), the birthplace of Reinardus (Latin) who becomes Renart beginning in 1274-1275, when the first “branches” of theRoman de Renart, written in “Roman,” the vernacular, were published. Animals in the Medieval Bestiary are seldom presented with animal attributes, with the probable exception of illuminations (enluminuresFR).
In other words, beasts inhabiting the Medieval Bestiary are stereotypes, or archetypes. Deviousness is the Fox’s main attribute, but it is a literary attribute, by “universal popular consent.” In fact, Medieval Beast literature is an example of intertextuality EN, a term coined by Julia Kristeva in 1966. Intertextuality is a theory according to which texts are rooted in an earlier text or earlier texts. One could also use the word palimpsest.
Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1511, Folio 21r
British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 6r
“Bear cubs are born as shapeless lumps of flesh, so their mother has to lick them into their proper shape.” (fol. 21r) (Photo credit: The Medieval Bestiary)
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951, Folio 18r
“‘le lyon [above] qui fait revivre ses lyonciaus’ – The lion revives its dead cubs. In the Bestiaire d’amour the man says that in the same way the woman can revive him from his love-death.” (fol. 18r)(Photo credit: BnF)
licking into shape (Pliny the Elder)
Pliny the Elder
In fables and the Reynard the Fox cycle, Renart’s main fictitious characteristic is his devious nature, an attribute bestowed upon him by humans and which he possesses in fables, beast epics, medieval bestiaries, and in Natural Histories, by “universal popular consent.”
Licking into Shape
Pliny the Elder, however, does not mention deviousness with respect to the fox. What Pliny reveals is the birth of incomplete offspring that have to be licked into shape. I have yet to find an image of the Fox licking its offspring into shape, but Bears and Lions also lick their incomplete progeny into shape. (See Fox, in The Medieval Bestiary.) Although this characteristic, i.e. licking into shape, was noted in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, or Natural History (published c. 77– 79 CE), it may have entered animal lore long before Pliny was born.
As noted above, I have not found an image of the Fox licking unfinished foxes into shape, but I have found images of Bears licking their cubs into shape and Lions breathing life into lions born dead.
Animal “lore” also presents a second image of the Fox. We have seen that in “The Crow and Fox” (« Le Renard et le Corbeau, » (La Fontaine I.3) the fox flatters the crow into singing and dropping its dinner. But the literary fox also plays dead to catch food, which is yet another manifestation of the fox’s deceptive literary “nature.” The theft of fish is motif number 1 in the Aarne-Thompson-Üther classification system.
Abstemius 146, the pseudonym of Lorenzo Bevilaqua.
Abstemius is the author of the Hecatomythium(A Hundred Fables). Abstemius’ real name wasLorenzo Bevilaqua. He was a professor of literature at Urbino in the 15th century. He published the Hecatomythium, (A Hundred Fables) in 1495, followed by 97 fables, the content of his 1499 Hecatomythium Secundum, published in Venice in 1499. Hecatomythium is a Greek word, but Abstemius wrote in Latin. (See Laurentius Abstemius, Wikipedia – the free Encyclopedia.)
Several Natural Histories were written in Greco-Roman Antiquity, going back to Herodotus‘ Histories. Herodotus described the crocodile, thehippopotamus and phoenix. Many Natural Histories were also published in the early Middle Ages.
However, animals dwelling in
in beast epics, such as the Reynard the Fox cycle;
in Medieval Bestiaries;
and in Natural Histories are not zoological creatures, but the denizens of literature.
They possess qualities attributed to them “by universal popular consent,” which, in the Middle Ages, may have been the consent of Christian “naturalists,” some of whom were monks and scribes.
The fox, a beloved rascal, was the devil himself. Besides, we owe fox “lore” at least two English expressions: to “lick into shape” and “sour grapes.”
I apologize for my tardiness and send all of you my kindest regards. ♥
Three elegant dogs stand ready. F 25r (folio 25 recto)
A bestiary is a compendium of beasts most of which have identical characteristics from bestiary to bestiary. In Europe, bestiaries are mostly a product of the Middle Ages, the 12th and 13th centuries in particular. Exceptionally beautiful are the Aberdeen Bestiary MS 24) and the Ashmole Bestiary (MS 1462 & MS 1511), both dating back to the late 12th and 13th century.
They are illuminated manuscripts and, in this regard, resemble books of hours. They therefore contain images complemented by superb calligraphy that could vary from bestiary to bestiary, some of which are ancestors to our “fonts.”
Not all animals described in bestiaries are real animals. The authors of natural histories often relied on information obtained from individuals who had travelled to the Orient or elsewhere. Thus was born the unicorn. The rhinoceros is a real animal that has one horn, but the unicorn, the monocerus in Greece, is a both an anthropomorphic and zoomorphic animal.
Zoomorphic animals combine the features of several beasts and may be part human and part beast. Such is the case with centaurs and the minotaur. The lower half of a centaur is a horse, the upper, a man. The minotaur’s body is human, but its head is that of a bull.
The Physiologus: the main Source
The best-known “natural history” is the Physiologus (“The Naturalist”), written in Greek in the 2nd century BCE. Authorship of the Physiologus has not been determined, but it was translated into Latin in about 700 CE, our era. It was the main source of information for persons who wrote and illuminated bestiaries.
The Physiologus described an animal, told an anecdote about that animal and then gave the animal moral attributes (See Physiologus, Wikipedia). In the Medieval Bestiary, the anecdote for dogs was “The Dog and Its Reflection.” Natural histories, however, made animals allegorical rather than humans in disguise. The Physiologus is allegorical and emblematic, but in structure, it resembles the fable.
In the case of dogs, the Medieval Bestiary (http://bestiary.ca/) describes the animal, tells an anecdote, the “Dog and Its Reflection,” and then informs readers that the dog is the most loyal of animals. The dog may be able to kill but, as the lore goes, it is man’s best friends and therefore emblematic of loyalty. We learn as well that the dog licks wounds.
According to Pliny the Elder (23 BC – 25 August 79 BCE), one of many authors of natural histories, “[t]he domestic animal that is most faithful to man is the dog.” The iconography, images, tells a similar story, but also shows us many greyhounds, as do 20th-century fashion illustrators.
So here are some pictures of faithful dogs who lived in the Middle Ages. The dog featured at the very bottom of this post is about to avenge his master’s murder, but is also a healer. The bestiary in which it is depicted is housed at the Royal Library in Copenhagen. It is an illumination (enluminures) executed on the front page, the folio, of a Bestiary. The front of the folio (the page) is called recto vs verso, the back.
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 48v
Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 49r
A pair of dogs, possibly greyhounds? F 48v (verso: back)
Two dogs, possibly greyhounds or other hunting dogs. F 49r (recto: front)
Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 12v
British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 30v
Morgan Library, MS M.81, Folio 28r
Bibliothèque nationale de France, lat. 6838B, Folio 12r
A dog refuses to leave the side of its dead master. F 12v
King Garamantes, captured by his enemies, is rescued by has pack of dogs. f 30v
At the top, a dog attacks the man who killed his master, thus pointing out the guilty. At the bottom, the faithful dog refuses to leave the body of its dead master. f 28R
King Garametes, captured by his enemies, is rescued by his dogs. f 12r
“Dogs are unable to live without men. There are several kinds of dogs: those that guard their master’s property; those that are useful for hunting wild animals or birds; and those that watch over sheep. A dog cures its own wounds by licking, and a young dog bound to a patient cures internal wounds. A dog will always return to its vomit. When a dog is swimming across a river while holding meat in its mouth, if it sees its own reflection it will drop the meat it is carrying while trying to get the meat it sees in the reflection.
Several stories are told about the actions of dogs. King Garamantes, captured by his enemies, was rescued by his dogs. When a man was murdered and there were no witnesses to say who did it, the man’s dog pointed out the slayer in the crowd. Jason‘s dog was said to have refused to eat and died of hunger after his master’s death. A Roman dog accompanied his master to prison, and when the man was executed and his body thrown into the Tiber River, the dog tried to hold up the corpse.
A dog that crosses a hyena‘s shadow will lose its voice.
Le Roman de Renart. Noble le Lion, (Bibliothèque nationale de France BnF [br. Va])
BEAST EPICS AND FABLES
Generally speaking, European beast literature consists of two genres: fables and beast epics, or mock-epics. Fables are short, but epics are very long. Le Roman de Renart is a beast epic, but it contains the story of a Crow, Tiécelin or Tiercelin, who is led to sing (chanter) by a cunning Sir Fox,andloses his living. Jean Batany calls the various fables “parcellaires” and the entire beast epic, or fabliau, “unitaire.”[i] In short, beast epics are frame-stories (outer stories) that join shorter stories (inner stories).
One of our WordPress colleagues added the expression “to eat crow” to my “crowing.” As it turns out, Mr Boehner, Sir Fox, may well be “eating crow,” and the expression “to eat crow,” may be rooted in “The Fox and the Crow.” So, it is possible that “The Fox and Crow” shaped the English language to a greater extent than I suspected and that it may have done so because of the wide dissemination of beast literature in both fables, popular collections of fables, and various epic poems we will name Reynard the Fox stories, an umbrella term. So we have another curtain to raise.
Where fables are concerned, there exist several sources.[ii] However, we could begin with Marie de France[iii] who was born in Normandy but then lived in England. She is French literature’s first, chronologically, important woman writer. Her collection of fables contains a “Fox and Crow” narrative, entitled “Del corbel e del gupil,” that may predate the Ysopet-Avionnet, but not necessarily.[iv]The Ysopet-Avionnet dates back to the period during which the goupil became a renard,whichmay explain why her Fox is named gupil. Marie lived in the 12th century and retold 103 ‘Æsopic’ fables, her “Fox and Crow” being the 13th.
In the Ysopet-Avionnet, our fable is entitled “Du Renart et du Corbel” and is fable number 15. Foxes used to be called goupils, but as of 1250 approximately, the success of the Roman de Renart led to the “goupil” being renamed “renart.” In other words, the part became the whole, so to speak, as in a synecdoche, a figure of speech, hence its “Fox and Crow” being entitled “Du Renart et du Corbel.”
The Ysopet-Avionnet, a widely-used medieval grammar book, contains a “Fox and Crow,” the above-mentioned “Du Renart et du Corbel,” a translation of the Latin “De Vulpe [fox] et Corvo,” fable number 15 in theYsopet-Avionnet(p. 73).[v] Avianus (Avionnet) lived in the 4th century CE, and he wrote in Latin. However, “Du Renart et du Corbel” is not one of the 18 fables Flavius Avianus contributed to the Ysopet-Avionnet. It is one of the 64 fables attributed to a Romulus.
(Please click on the small images to enlarge them.)
Reynard (Reinardus) was born in the Ysengrimus and attributed to Nivardus of Ghent. Nivardus is a latinizedversion of Nivard. The Ysengrimus is a very long poem: 6,574 lines of elegiac couplets. It was translated into English by Jill Mann and is still available (see Jill Mann). The pioneer, however, was John Voigt who translated the Ysengrimus into German. Ysengrimus was the Wolf and Reinardus, the Fox. In French, Ysengrimus is Ysengrin and in English, he is Isengrim. Renart is Reynard.
The Roman de Renart (1170-1250)
The French Roman de Renart was written between 1170 and 1250. Pierre de Saint-Cloud was its first author, but it has other authors: Richard de Lison, the Prêtre de la Croix en Brie, and others. Beginning with the Ysengrimus, beast epics were written not only as mock-epics, but also as satires of a greedy Church.
Le Roman de Renart contains 27 narratives and 2,700 octosyllabic verses (eight syllables). These are joined into clusters called “branches.” The central theme is the fierce competition between the Fox, who uses ruse or “engin” (ingenuity), and the Wolf, who uses brutal force and is forever hungry. It eats ham mainly, but has been caught eating lamb. Other animals featured in the Roman de Renart are Bruin the Bear, Tibert the Cat, Tiercelin or Tiécelin the Crow, Hersent the She-Fox (Isengrim’s wife), Chantecler the Cock, etc. For a reading, in French, of the Roman de Renart’s “Fox and Crow” episode, one may visit the Bibliothèque nationale de France. It may be that the site is in English as well as French, but I have yet to discover a translation.[v]
England, the Netherlands and Germany
The Roman de Renart then migrated to other lands, the Netherlands in particular. But it also moved to Germany. It was hugely successful in both the Netherlands and German-language states. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is the author of Reineke Fuchs(1793). But the Brothers Grimm also wrote Reynard stories.
Reynard in Georgia, the United States
In North-America, Reynard inhabits Joel Chandler Harris‘ (9 December 1848 – 3 July 1908) Tales of Uncle Remus. However, in The Tales of Uncle Remus, our trickster, the Fox, is replaced by the Rabbit. The traditional North-American trickster is the Coyote.
AN ANTI-SEMITIC REYNARD
Title credit: About Reynard the Fox. (Nederland Film, 1943) Courtesy Nederland Filmmuseum (frame enlargement Ole. Schepp).[vi]
Robert van Genechten (25 October 1895 – 13 December 1945) produced an anti-Semitic version of Reynard the Fox, entitled Van den vos Reynaerde. He was a collaborator.At the end of World War II, Genechten was condemned to death, but committed suicide in his cell to avoid the humiliation of a public and ritualistic execution.
There are so many Reynard stories and, consequently, so many “Fox and Crow” fables that it could argued successfully that expressions featuring linguistic elements such as “to eat crow,” “crowing,” “faire chanter” and, by extension, “chantage” (blackmail) originate in “The Fox and the Crow” and Le Corbeau et le Renart. “The Fox and the Crow,” however, is a transcultural text. Related narratives can be found in Ibn al-Muqaffa‘s KalilahwaDimnaand,earlier, inthe SanskritPanchatantra.
Meanwhile in Washington: The Deceiver Deceived
Farcesbles vs Fa
However, allow me to return briefly to a Washington reading of “The Fox and Crow.” In fables, the birthplace of proverbs, among other forms, the crow ends up eating humble pie, or “eating crow.” In farces, however, the deceiver is deceived, le trompeur trompé. In fables, one can be fooled; Sir Crow opens his mouth and loses the cheese. But Mr Boehner, as Sir Fox, did not succeed in making Sir Crow, President Obama, “crow.” It could be said, therefore, that the shutdown of the American government was not only senseless and far too costly, but that it was… a farce!
[i]Jean Batany, Scène et Coulisses [wings] du « Roman de Renart » (Paris : Sedes, 1989), pp. 48-49.[ii] For a more complete list, see Æsopica: http://www.mythfolklore.net/aesopica/[iii] Harriet Spiegel, editor and translator, The Fables of Marie de France (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000 ).
[iv]They may have been written at approximately the same time.[v] The Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) has a lovely site on the Roman de Renart. “Roman” does not mean novel, it points to the language, “le roman,” in which the text was written. Click on: