Ibis
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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 35r


 

Ibis

Latin name: Ibis

Other names: Ciguigne, Hibicis, Ibex, Ybeux

The dirtiest of birds because it feeds on corpses

 

 
General Attributes

The ibis stays near the edge of the water, looking for dead fish or other carion to eat. It cannot get to the clean fish in deep water because it does not know how to swim, and makes no effort to learn. It is the dirtiest of birds because it feeds on corpses. Snakes flee from the ibis, which also feeds on snake eggs. The ibis lives on the Nile and purges itself with its beak.


Allegory/Moral

The ibis represents the unrepentant sinner who only seeks the fruit of the flesh, rather than entering the water of baptism and feeding on the fruits of the spirit to be found there.


Sources (chronological order)

Herodotus [5th century BCE] (History, book 2): The story goes that with the spring the winged snakes come flying from Arabia towards Egypt, but are met in this gorge by the birds called ibises, who forbid their entrance and destroy them all. The Arabians assert, and the Egyptians also admit, that it is on account of the service thus rendered that the Egyptians hold the ibis in so much reverence. The ibis is a bird of a deep-black colour, with legs like a crane; its beak is strongly hooked, and its size is about that of the land-rail. This is a description of the black ibis which contends with the serpents. The commoner sort, for there are two quite distinct species, has the head and the whole throat bare of feathers; its general plumage is white, but the head and neck are jet black, as also are the tips of the wings and the extremity of the tail; in its beak and legs it resembles the other species. (The History of Herodotus (London, 1858/1997) Rawlinson translation)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 8, 41): The ibis is a bird from Egypt. It uses its curved beak to purge itself "through the part by which it is most conducive to health for the heavy residue of foodstuffs to be excreted." (Book 10, 40): The people of Egypt invoke the ibis to guard against the arrival of snakes. (Book 10, 45): The ibis is born black at Pelesium, but is white everywhere else.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:33): The ibis is a bird of the river Nile. It eats the eggs of snakes, and purges itself by pouring water into its anus with its beak.


Illustration

The ibis is generally shown feeding its chicks with fish or carrion.


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