Ass
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Source: British Library Images Online Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 3244, Folio 48r


 

Ass

Latin name: Asinus

Other names: Ane, Asellus, Mule

An animal that is slow and resists commands

 

 
General Attributes

Large and tall asses come from Arcadia, but the smaller animals are more useful because they can sustain hardship. Asses are slow and resist commands.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 68): Asses are useful for ploughing, and for the breeding mules, which are the offspring of an ass and a horse. Though female asses have great affection for their young, they have an even greater dislike of water, so that they will go through fire to reach their foals but will not cross even a small stream to do so. Asses will only drink from a stream they are used to and can reach without wetting their hooves; they will refuse to cross a bridge if the water of the river can be seen through cracks in the bridge boards.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 1:38): The ass (asinus) takes its name from "sitting" (sedendo, taken as a-sedus). It resists commands for no reason, and is a slow animal.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): The ass is fair of shape and of disposition while he is young and tender, or he pass into age. For the elder the ass is, the fouler he waxeth from day to day, and hairy and rough, and is a melancholy beast, that is cold and dry, and is therefore kindly heavy and slow, and unlusty, dull and witless and forgetful. Nathless he beareth burdens, and may away with travail and thraldom, and useth vile meat and little, and gathereth his meat among briars and thorns and thistles.... And the ass hath another wretched condition known to nigh all men. For he is put to travail over-night, and is beaten with staves, and sticked and pricked with pricks, and his mouth is wrung with a bernacle, and is led hither and thither, and withdrawn from leas and pasture that is in his way oft by the refraining of the bernacle, and dieth at last after vain travails, and hath no reward after his death for the service and travail that he had living, not so much that his own skin is left with him, but it is taken away, and the carrion is thrown out without sepulture or burials; but it be so much of the carrion that by eating and devouring is sometimes buried in the wombs of hounds and wolves. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


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