Beast

Swallow


Latin name: Hirundo
Other names: Aronde, Erundo, Herudio, Hirondelle, Hirundine, Hyrundo, Yrundine, Yrundinis

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 swallows 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

Aristotle [ca. 350 BCE] (De animalibus Book 9, chapter 8.1):The manufacture of its dwelling by the swallow is remarkable among birds; it has the same method of combining chaff with mud, for it mixes the mud with straw, and if mud is not to be found, it dips in the water and rolls itself in the dust; it uses straw in making its nest as men use it, for it places the largest at the bottom, and makes it commensurate with its own bulk; both the male and female labour in support of the young. - [Cresswell translation, 1887]

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.

Aelianus [170-230 CE] (On the Characteristics of Animals, Book 1, chapter 52): A Swallow is a sign that the best season of the year is at hand. And it is friendly to man and takes pleasure in sharing the same roof with this being. It comes uninvited, and when it pleases and sees fit, it departs. Men welcome it in accordance with the law of hospitality laid down by Homer, who bids us cherish a guest while he is with us and speed him on his way when he wishes to leave. [Book 3, chapter 25] Her young are slow to open their eyes, in the same way as puppies. But she collects and brings a herb, and they by degrees gain their sight; then after remaining quiet for a while, when able to fly, they leave the nest to seek for food.- [Scholfield translation]

Saint Ambrose [4th century CE] (Hexameron, Book 5, chapter 17.56-57): The swallow has a very small body, but gives evidence of extremely great affection and devotion. Although devoid of all goods, she constructs her nest as cunningly as if it were a thing 'more precious than gold.' What wiser act is there for a bird given to wandering than that she should avail herself of her liberty and build for her little ones homes near the abodes of men, where no one would attack her brood? It is a commendable act to cause her nestlings from their very birth to become accustomed to human society and thus make them safer from the snares of their bird enemies. Notable, too, is the admirable way she, like a skilled artisan, builds her home without a helper. She gathers twigs in her beak and dips them in the mire so as to fasten them together. Because she is unable to lift the mire with her feet, she sprinkles the tops of her wings with waters so that what before was dry dust now becomes mud. In this way twigs and straw are collected and made compact. Thus is the entire nest built. The nestlings find no obstacles as they busy themselves on the smooth surface within their little house. At the same time, no intruder can damage the structure by planting his feet in an opening. The young ones, too, are not affected by draughts of cold air. ... These birds give evidence of possessing a medical skill. If any of the nestlings suffers blindness as a result of an injury to an eye, its eyes are restored to their former effectiveness by the application of certain curative agents.- [Savage translation, 1961]

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.