Philippe de Thaon
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Philippe de Thaon
 

What little is known of Philippe de Thaon (or ThaŁn) comes from his own writing. He was an Anglo-Norman poet, possibly from the area around Caen in Normandy, who was active in the early thirteenth century. He says that he had an uncle named Humfrey de Thaun, who was chaplain to Yhun, Yun, or Ydun, and seneschal to the king ("ÖUnfrai de Thaun, le chapelein Ydun / E seneschal lu rei").

Philippe's first book is called Livre des Creatures, or Liber de Creatures, probably written around 1119. It is a treatise on "creatures" in the sense of being about created things. It is primarily a discussion of the calendar and its relation to the planets, and an explanation of how the various parts of the calendar and the various sky objects (particularly the signs of the zodiac) got their names and meanings. The text is also called the Comput from its focus on numbers; it deals with numbers in the calendar and in astronomy, as well as numbers of religious or mystical significance.

Some time shortly after 1121 Philippe wrote his Bestiaire. He says he translated it into French, presumably from Latin; evidence shows that he probably used a Latin bestiary of the B-Is Family, similar to Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 247. The text, 3194 lines of verse in the Anglo-Norman dialect, is the oldest of the French bestiaries. It exists in only three manuscripts, two of which are illustrated.

Philippe dedicates the book to a queen, the wife of Henry I of England:

 

Philippe de Thaun into the French language

has translated the Bestiary, a book of science,

for the honour of a jewel, who is a very handsome woman,

Aliz is she named, a queen she is crowned,

queen she is of England, may her soul never have trouble!

In Hebrew, in truth, Aliz means praise of God.

I will compose a book, may God be with its commencement.

(from the Popular treatises on science written during the Middle Ages, in Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and English. Edited from the original manuscripts (London, 1841) Wright translation)

"Aliz" is Aelis (or Adelaide) of Louvaine, who married Henry in 1121. The Historical Background of Philippe de ThaŁn's Bestiaire (1944) Alexander Krappe suggests that Philippe's true patron was Henry himself; Henry had an interest in what is now called zoology. As Krappe says: "Öthis would seem to show that Philippe de ThaŁn enjoyed the patronage of Henry I, the naturalist, and that it was with this hobby of his master in view, if not at the latter's express orders, that he composed his Bestiaire, which he dedicated to Henry's young queen."

Philippe describes some 41 beasts in 38 chapters. Each chapter is introduced with a title of phrase in Latin, most of which give a brief description of the animal, though some appear to be instructions for the illustrator. The prologue to the poem is also in Latin. The chapters are divided into those on Beasts (1-23), Birds (24-34), and Stones (35-38). Most of the chapters include a moral or allegorical lesson based on the characteristics of the animal. Philippe quotes the Physiologus, Isidore of Seville, Bible scripture, and a bestiaire, probably the Latin bestiary. The attributes given to the animals are similar to the usual ones found in the Physiologus and the Latin bestiaries, though Philippe occasionally misinterprets details.

Philippe's Bestiaire has been sometimes criticized by scholars as being poor poetry, but as Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chapel Hill, 1962) McCulloch (p. 54) says, "Öit should be remembered Ö that no more than a translation was proposed, and that this is an early work in a language still groping to express itself. All of these scholars appear to miss the excitement inherent in the fact that a tradition already ancient and rich had now entered the vernacular to become widely read and known in the next century and a half."

Editions of the Bestiaire have been published by Popular treatises on science written during the Middle Ages, in Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman, and English. Edited from the original manuscripts (London, 1841) Wright and by Le Bestiaire de Philippe de ThaŁn (Paris and Lund, 1900) Walberg; the Wright edition and translation is available here.

The 38 chapters of the Bestiaire are (from Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries (Chapel Hill, 1962) McCulloch, p. 54-54):

 

Leun (lion)

Monosceros (monocerus)

Pantere et Dragun (panther and dragon)

Dorcon (goat)

Ydrus et Cocodrille (hydrus and crocodile)

Cerf (stag)

Aptalon (antelope)

Furmi (ant)

Onoscentaurus (onocentaur)

Castor (beaver)

Hyena (hyena)

Mustele (weasel)

Assida (ostrich)

Sylio (Salamander)

Serena (siren)

Elefant (elephant)

Aspis (asp)

Serra (sawfish)

HeriÁun (hedgehog)

Gupil (fox)

Onager (onager)

Singe (ape)

Cetus (whale)

Perdix (partridge)

Aigle (eagle)

Caladrius (caladrius)

Fenix (phoenix)

Pellicanus (pelican)

Colum et Peredixion (dove and peridexion tree)

Turtre (turtledove)

Huppe (hoopoe)

Ibex (ibis)

Fullica (coot)

Nicticorax (owl)

Turrobolen (fire stones)

Adamas (diamond)

Douze pierres (fire stones)

Union (pearl)


 
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