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Source: Kongelige Bibliotek (Bestiarius - Bestiary of Anne Walsh (Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4)) Copyright 2003 Kongelige Bibliotek / Used by permission Manuscript description Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4, Folio 26v



Latin name: Equus

Other names: Caballus, Cheval

A horse is a horse, of course, of course...


General Attributes

Horses are lively and high-spirited. They are happy in fields, can smell war, are provoked to race by a voice, are called to battle by the sound of the trumpet, grieve when defeated and exult when victorious. Some horses can recognize an enemy in battle and attack by biting. Some recognize only their masters and will allow no other to ride them. Only the horse weeps and grieves for its dead or dying master. Mares are sometimes impregnated by the west wind. There are three kinds of horses: noble, good for battle and work; common, good for carrying burdens but not for riding; and hybrids, born from a mixture of two kinds.

Most sources have a long chapter on horses, which includes not only the attributes of the horse, but also examples of famous horses and tips on what makes a good horse.

Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 64-67): Several stories are told of horses that would let only their master ride them, who defended their rider in battle, or who grieved at the death of their master. Horses are very intelligent. They may live up to 50 years, but mares die sooner. The mare loves her young more than any other animal does. At birth, horses have on their foreheads a love-poison called horse-frenzy; this is the size of a dried fig and is black. If the mare fails to eat this immediately, she will not suckle her foal. Is someone takes it before the mare can eat it, the scent of it drives him into a sort of love-madness. Near the town of Lisbon, mares stand facing a west wind and conceive a foal from it; such colts are very swift but only live three years. (Book 10,83): To make a mare willing to mate with an ass, her mane must first be clipped; a mare with a long mane is too proud and high-spirited. After mating, mares run either north or south, depending on the sex of the foal they have conceived.

Augustine [5th century CE] (City of God, Book 21, chapter 5): In Cappadocia the mares are impregnated by the wind, and their foals live only three years.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 1:41-59): Horses exult in fields, can smell war, and are roused to battle by the sound of the trumpet; when provoked by a voice to race, the exult when they win but grieve when they lose. Some horses recognize enemies and attack them by biting. They recognize their own masters, and some will not allow anyone else to ride them. They weep for dead or dying masters, being the only animal to do so. [Isidore continues with tips on what makes a good horse and describes their various colors.] There are three kinds of horse: one is noble and good for war and work; the second is common and good only for carrying burdens, not for riding; and the third is a hybrid of the first two.

Bartholomaeus Anglicus [13th century CE] (De proprietatibus rerum, book 18): Horses be joyful in fields, and smell battles, and be comforted with noise of trumpets to battle and to fighting; and be excited to run with noise that they know, and be sorry when they be overcome, and glad when they have the mastery. And so feeleth and knoweth their enemies in battle so far forth that they a-rese on their enemies with biting and smiting, and also some know their own lords, and forget mildness, if their lords be overcome: and some horses suffer no man to ride on their backs, but only their own lords. And many horses weep when their lords be dead. And it is said that horses weep for sorrow, right as a man doth, and so the kind of horse and of man is medlied. Also oft men that shall fight take evidence and divine and guess what shall befall, by sorrow or by the joy that the horse maketh. Old men mean that in gentle horse, noble men take heed of four things, of shape, and of fairness, of wilfulness, and of colour. In his forehead when he is foaled is found Iconemor, a black skin of the quantity of a sedge, that hight also Amor's Veneficium; and the mother licketh it off with her tongue, and taketh it away and hideth it or eateth it. For women that be witches use that skin in their sayings, when they will excite a man to love.... The colt is not littered with straw, nor curried with an horse comb, nor arrayed with trapping and gay harness, nor smitten with spurs, nor saddled with saddle, nor tamed with bridle, but he followeth his mother freely, and eateth grass, and his feet be not pierced with nails, but he is suffered to run hither and thither freely: but at the last he is set to work and to travail, and is held and tied and led with halters and reins, and taken from his mother, and may not suck his dam's teats; but he is taught in many manner wise to go easily and soft. And he is set to carts, chariots, and cars, and to travel and bearing of horsemen in chivalry: and so the silly horse colt is foaled to divers hap of fortune. Isidore saith, that horses were sometime hallowed in divers usage of the gods. (Mediaeval Lore from Bartholomew Anglicus (London, 1893/1905) Steele edition of 1905)


Horses are generally well drawn. They mostly appear on their own in bestiaries, but are common in other types of manuscripts, where they are usually depicted being ridden by soldiers or hunters.

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