Swallow
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Source: British Library Digital Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts Copyright Copyright 2004 British Library / Used by permission Manuscript description British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 52v


 

Swallow

Latin name: Hirundo

Other names: Aronde, Erundo, Hirondelle, Hirundine, Hyrundo

The swallow deserts buildings that are about to collapse

 

 
General Attributes

The swallow is noisy, flies in circles, takes its food from the air, and is skilled in nest building and in raising its young. Knowing that a building is about to collapse, the swallow leaves before that happens. In winter, the swallow goes across the sea and returns in the spring. If the eyes of young sparrows are injured, the mother has the medical skill to make them see again.


Allegory/Moral

As the swallow does not feed on the ground but remains in the air and eats only what it can catch there, so those who have no use for earthly things seek the things of heaven.


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 41): Swallows use the herb celandine to treat the sore eyes of their chicks. (Book 10, 34-35): Swallows do not go far when they migrate, but only to sunny valleys in the mountains. They will not enter the city of Thebes because it has been captured so often. It is known that swallows always return to the same nest; this trait has allowed them to be used as messengers. The swallow has a swift and swerving flight, and only feeds while in the air. (Book 10, 49): Swallows build their nests from straw and clay; if there is a lack of clay, they wet their wings with water and sprinkle it on dust. The parents apportion food to their young with great fairness, and keep the nest clean. There is a kind of swallow that nests in holes in river banks; if the river rises and threatens the nests, the swallows leave many days in advance. The chicks of this kind of swallow, when burned to ash, make a medicine for a deadly throat illness.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:70): The swallow catches and eats its food in the air. It flies in winding circles, is noisy, and is faithful in building nests and raising its young. It is not the prey of any other animal. In winter it crosses the sea. It has foresight because it goes out to fall and does not seek the heights.


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