Nightingale
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Source: Koninklijke Bibliotheek - Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts Copyright 2002 Koninklijke Bibliotheek / Used by permission Manuscript description Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 93r


 

Nightingale

Latin name: Luscinia

Other names: Lousegnol, Lucina, Rosignol

A bird that that sings so enthusiastically that it almost dies

 

 
General Attributes

The nightingale has a sweet song, and loves to sing. It sings to relieve the tedium as it sits on its nest through the night. At dawn it sings so enthusiatically that it almost dies. Sometimes nightingales compete with each other with their songs, and the one that loses the competition often dies.


Allegory/Moral

The Aberdeen Bestiary likens the nightingale to a poor mother: "The poor but modest mother, her arm dragging the millstone around, that her children may not lack bread, imitates the nightingale, easing the misery of her poverty with a night-time song, and although she cannot imitate the sweetness of the bird, she matches it in her devotion to duty."


Sources (chronological order)

Pliny the Elder [1st century CE] (Natural History, Book 10, 43): Nightingales sing continuously for fifteen days and nights when leaves first appear in the spring. This bird has a remarkable knowledge of music, and uses all of the arts that human science has developed in the mechanism of the flute. Each bird knows several songs, with the songs differing beween birds. There is great competition and rivalry between them; the one who loses the competition often dies, her breath giving out before her song. Young nightingales are taught music by their elders; they are given verses to practice, and improve their singing under the criticism of the instructor.

Isidore of Seville [7th century CE] (Etymologies, Book 12, 7:37): The nightingale (luscinia) is a bird that marks the beginning of the day with its song; hence its name [luscinia implies "brightness; Luscinia is also the goddess of childbirth].


Illustration

The nightingale is usually depicted as a nondescript bird, but in Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Médecine, H.437 the illustration shows the loser in the battle of songs dropping dead from one tree while the winner remains in another.


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