|The Physiologus and Beast Lore in Anglo-Saxon England|
|Connecticut: University of Connecticut, 1992|
PhD dissertation at The University Of Connecticut.
"The Physiologus is a book of animal lore with Christian allegorical interpretations. This study examines three versions, each representing a stage in the development of the Physiologus in Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Laud Misc. 129 contains a traditional Latin Physiologus. The Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 448 version is in Latin, but abbreviated and thematic. The innovative Old English Physiologus presents the work in a new thematic frame and, moreover, in poetry. Three ancient Greek and non-Greek traditions influenced the Physiologus: creation myths, Presocratic philosophy, and natural history. In these traditions and in the Physiologus, animals and nature remind humans of their relationship to the vast, wondrous world. Nature functions as the mirror of both the cosmos and the divine. Moreover, divine providence has created animals, plants, and even rocks to serve as didactic models for humans. Beasts serve a didactic purpose in another popular Anglo-Saxon work, Wonders of the East. Wonders and the Physiologus share some related traits. Like the Physiologus, Wonders presents beast stories in near-encyclopedic format, celebrating the variety of creatures on earth, however bizarre and monstrous its creatures may be. Moreover, both works originally developed from the same ancient mythology, philosophy, and natural history traditions, had similar transmission histories, and arrived in Anglo-Saxon England more or less synchronically. However, unlike the Physiologus, Wonders omits explicit Christian allegories or interpretations of beasts. Yet, Wonders contains an implicit Christian message. God has created monstrous beings to remind us of our own bestial natures, which we must control through spiritual affirmation. This study also examines the most famous Anglo-Saxon work containing beast lore, Beowulf. Beowulf aids in the study of Wonders because its monsters, too, lack explicit Christian commentaries or allegories. Yet, they reveal a spiritual, or at least moral message. In all three works, regardless of the presence or lack of Christian allegory, beasts and animals help us to understand our relationship to God and the universe. This study shows that, despite their varied uses in Anglo-Saxon literature, animals and beasts retain a moral didacticism related to the ancient roots of the Physiologus and Wonders of the East." - abstract