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Source: British Library Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 28r



Latin name: Tigris

Other names: Tigre, Tygris

Tigers are remarkable for their strength and speed


General Attributes

Tigers are remarkable for their strength and speed. They are named tiger for their speed, because in the language of the Medes and Persians the word for arrow is tigris. The Tigris River also has this name because it is the swiftest of rivers. Tigers, which are spotted, live mostly in Hyrcania.

When a man steals the cub of a tiger, the tiger swiftly chases him, and would catch him except for a trick. When the tiger comes near and the robber sees he cannot escape, he throws down a glass sphere (or a mirror); the tiger, seeing its own reflection in the sphere and thinking it is her stolen cub, stops to nurse the supposed cub. This gives the robber time to escape.

Sources (chronological order)

Lucan [1st century CE] (Pharsalia, book 1, verse 371-374): "As tigers in Hyrcanian woods / Wandering, or in the caves that saw their birth, / Once having lapped the blood of slaughtered kine, / Shall never cease from rage...".

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 25): The tiger, which lives in Hyrcania and India, can run with terrific speed. To take the tiger's cubs, the hunter prepares a fast horse and steals the tiger's entire litter, and rides away, changing to fresh horses as necessary. The tiger, seeing that her cubs are gone, tracks them by scent and chases the hunter. When the hunter sees the tiger catching up, he drops one cub. The tiger stops to pick up the cub before resuming the chase. The hunter repeats this ruse until he reaches his ship; in this way he escapes with at least one of the cubs, leaving the tiger to rage impotently on the shore.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 2:7): The tiger (tigris) has its name after the word the Persians and Medes use for "arrow", because tigers are so fast. The Tigris River is named after the tiger because it is the fastest of all rivers. Tigers have many spots and are admired for their strength and speed. Most tigers live in Hyrcania. (Book 12, 2:28): In India female dogs are tied up in the forest at night, where wild tigers mate with them; dogs born in this way are fierce and can overcome lions.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): The tiger is the swiftest beast in flight, as it were an arrow, for the Persees call an arrow Tigris, and is a beast distinguished with divers specks, and is wonderly strong and swift. And Pliny saith that they be beasts of dreadful swiftness, and that is namely known when he is taken, for the whelp is all glimy and sinewy; and the hunter lieth in await, and taketh away the whelps, and fleeth soon away on the most swift horse that he may have. And when the wild beast cometh and findeth the den void, and the whelps away, then he reseth headlong, and taketh the fore of him that beareth the whelps away, and followeth him by smell, and when the hunter heareth the grutching of that beast that runneth after him, he throweth down one of the whelps; and the mother taketh the whelp in her mouth, and beareth him into her den and layeth him therein, and runneth again after the hunter. But in the meantime the hunter taketh a ship, and hath with him the other whelps, and scapeth in that wise; and so she is beguiled and her fierceness standeth in no stead, and the male taketh no wood rese after. For the male recketh not of the whelps, and he that will bear away the whelps, leaveth in the way great mirrors, and the mother followeth and findeth the mirrors in the way, and looketh on them and seeth her own shadow and image therein, and weeneth that she seeth her children therein, and is long occupied therefore to deliver her children out of the glass, and so the hunter hath time and space for to scape, and so she is beguiled with her own shadow, and she followeth no farther after the hunter to deliver her children. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


The tiger is illustrated either chasing a hunter on horseback who holds the stolen cub, or being distracted by the sphere the hunter has dropped. In some illustrations the tiger's reflection can be seen in the sphere. In Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º (f. 2v) only the hunter and the cub are shown; the tiger is not visible. The tiger has colorful spots in most manuscripts, such as Bibliothèque Municipale de Douai, MS 711 (f. 2r) and British Library, Additional MS 11283 (f. 2r), though some do not.

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