Goat
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Source: Janet Backhouse, 1997 (Illuminated Page: Ten Centuries of Manuscript Painting in the British Library) Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Royal MS 12 C. xix, Folio 31v


 

Goat

Latin name: Caper

Other names: Bouc, Bouquetin, Buc, Capra, Caprea, Chevre, Chievre, Corcon, Dorcas, Dorcon, Porcon, Roe

An animal that likes to live on high mountains

 

 
General Attributes

Goats like to live on high mountains, but also like pastures in valleys. They can see over great distances whether approaching men are harmless travellers or hunters. The caprea is the wild goat. The blood of a goat can dissolve diamond.


Allegory/Moral

The goat's love of high mountains represents Christ, who also loves high mountains, that is, the prophets, angels and patriarchs. As the goat feeds in the valleys, so does Christ in the church, where good works are his food. The sharp eyesight of the goat shows the omniscience of God and his perception of the tricks of the devil.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 41): Goats use a diet of ivy and crabs thrown up from the sea to cure themselves of sickness. (Book 8, 76): It is said that goats can see at night just as well as they can by day; a diet of goat liver can restore sight in someone suffering night-blindness. If a goat licks an olive tree the tree will become barren; the bite of a goat will kill a tree. Archelaus says that goats breathe through their ears instead of their nostrils, and always have a fever; this may be why they are so lively and hotter during mating.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 1:14-15): The goat (hircus) is a lascivious animal; it likes to butt heads and is always ready to mate. Because of its lust its eyes are slanted, from which it gets its name (hirqui are the corners of the eyes). The nature of goats is so hot that their blood can dissolve diamond. Wild goats (male capri, female caprae) are said to take their name because they pluck (carpendis) shrubs, or from the noise of their legs (crepitu crurum), or because they pursue difficult things (captent aspera). Wild goats live on high mountains and see from far away all who approach.


Illustration

The goat is often illustrated grazing on a mountain, standing near or braced against a tree, feeding on its foliage. A common image in manuscripts is of the prophet Amos tending goats; Amos was said to have had flocks of goats and sheep.


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