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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 35v



Latin name: Assida

Other names: Asida, Assidam, Autruche, Chamoi, Ostrice, Ostruche, Otrusce, Struthiocamelon, Struthione, Strutio

A bird that can digest anything, even iron, but is careless of its eggs


General Attributes

The ostrich is a bird that has wings but cannot fly. It has feet like a camel's, or perhaps cloven hooves like a cow. It can digest anything, even iron. It lays its eggs when it sees the star Virgilia (the Pleiades) rising. It is careless of its eggs; it lays them on the ground and covers them with sand, then leaves them to hatch on their own, warmed by the summer sun.


Just as the ostrich forgets its eggs, so should man forget the world, and as the ostrich looks to the star, so should man concentrate on heaven.

The Aberdeen Bestiary uses the chapter on the ostrich to launch into a seven page (f. 41r to f. 44r) sermon on hypocracy.

Sources (chronological order)

Bible (Job 39:13-18, Douay-Rheims): "The wing of the ostrich is like the wings of the heron, and of the hawk. [modern versions say: "The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of a stork."] When she leaveth her eggs on the earth, thou perhaps wilt warm them in the dust. She forgetteth that the foot may tread upon them, or that the beasts of the field may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers, she hath laboured in vain, no fear constraining her. For God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither hath he given her understanding. When time shall be, she setteth up her wings on high: she scorneth the horse and his rider." (Latin Vulgate): "pinna strutionum similis est pinnis herodii et accipitris / quando derelinquit in terra ova sua tu forsitan in pulvere calefacis ea / obliviscitur quod pes conculcet ea aut bestiae agri conterant / duratur ad filios suos quasi non sint sui frustra laboravit nullo timore cogente / privavit enim eam Deus sapientia nec dedit illi intellegentiam / cum tempus fuerit in altum alas erigit deridet equitem et ascensorem eius".

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 1): The ostrich, found in Ethiopia and Africa, is the largest of birds, being taller and faster than a mounted horseman. It cannot fly; its wings are used only to assist it in running. Its feet, which it uses as weapons, resemble the hooves of stags, being cloven in two. When it runs from pursuers it picks up rocks with its feet and throws them back at the enemy. It has a remarkable ability to digest anything it swallows. Its stupidity is shown when it hides its head in a bush and thinks it is invisible, even though its large body is not hidden.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:20): The ostrich (struthio) has wings but does not rise high above the ground. It does not warm its eggs after they are laid, but leaves them to be warmed by the dust.


The ostrich is usually illustrated burying its eggs in the sand, sometimes looking up at a star while doing so. The artist's concept of the ostrich is often very strange; it sometimes doesn't look like a bird at all. The picture in Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 3466 8 (f. 34v) shows a winged, green, dragon-like beast, not looking anything like an ostrich, though the eggs falling on burning sand and the star Virgilia are as they should be.

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