The Physiologus: a Poiesis of Nature

Patricia Cox

Church History, 52:4, 1953, 433-443

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"If we were to adopt the standard scholarly perspective on the Physiologus ... we would have to say that, while it is unusually transformative, it is not very good poetry. For, in the traditional view, the imagination of the Physiologus has its base precisely not in reality but in embarrassing flights of zoological fancy. A.-J. Festugiere, for example, characterized the Phusika literature, literature which meditated on nature, as a 'museum of the weird' and contrasted its 'disconcerting credulity' with Aristotle's program of establishing fixed natural laws. In a similar vein, B. E. Perry remarked that the Physiologus was written by 'a simple man for simple people.' Naive and unartistic, fantastical, romantic, and magical, the Physiologus was responsible virtually singlehandedly for blotting out the bright light of Aristotelian science for nearly a thousand years.These scholars obviously have a clear and distinct idea about what constitutes the 'reality' to which the Physiologus was so woefully unresponsive. It is the reality of Aristotelian scientific observation, which catalogues, classifies, orders, and arranges the natural world, placing its bewildering superabundance of forms into a manageable system. From this biological perspective, a document like the Physiologus has no art. ...the reality in which the author of the Physiologus was indeed a specialist may not have been the biological reality of Aristotle but another passion altogether. It is this other reality that I would like to explore in this essay." - Cox

Language: English


Last update December 6, 2021