General Update

A bunch of stuff both new and updated, including several enhancements to the Medieval Bestiary site structure and functionality.

Site Enhancements

  • Image galleries for Encyclopedia entries and Manuscripts can now be displayed in beast name order or in manuscript appearance order. (Beast image galleries are always in manuscript appearance order.) Beast name order is the same as it was before: images displayed in alphabetical order by the name of the beast (e.g. Amphisbaena, Ape, Asp … Unicorn, Viper, Vulture, etc.). With manuscript appearance order the images are displayed in the order they appear on the manuscript pages. This is like how beasts are displayed on the Manuscript Beast pages, where beast name order is on the left and manuscript order is on the right. More information on how to switch between beast name order and manuscript appearance order can by found on the Gallery Help page.
  • The Manuscript Beast page manuscript appearance order list (the list on the right) was not correctly displaying beasts that appeared on more than one page in the manuscript. The beast was only shown once in the list; each appearance will now be shown in the correct order, so if a beast appears two or more times in the manuscript it will appear the same number of times in the list.
  • The Encyclopedia now has an Index. The “Subject Index” tab (which wasn’t an index) has been renamed to “Topics”, and there is a new “Index” tab. The index lists words and phrases related to Encyclopedia entries with links to the entries they refer to; click a link to go to the page for the entry. There’s not a lot in there yet, but it will grow.
  • Some pages (Bibliography and Institute details, image information) are normally displayed in a popup window when a link is clicked. When clicking on such a link in the Search results, the detail page cannot be shown in a popup (Google controls those links), so it was displayed as a normal, unformatted page, which was ugly. It will now be displayed as a proper (though non-standard) Bestiary site page. This is also true if you right click on a link that would normally open in a popup window and select “Open in new tab/window”. Not a perfect solution, but an improvement.
  • There are several other fixes/enhancements that you will probably not notice, that maybe make the site a bit easier to use or look better, or remove something that annoyed me, or maybe I just like it better the new way.


More manuscripts have had their entire sets of images loaded. There are now over 3700 images online. Some manuscripts also have new and updated information.


  • The article on Gervaise and his Bestiaire has been updated with more information, images from the only manuscript where it appears, and some sample text.
  • The article on Lambert of Saint-Omer and his Liber Floridus (an encyclopedia) has a lot more information, a few images, manuscript lists, etc.
  • The article on Pierre de Beauvais and his Bestiaire has been updated with some new information, a bunch of images, several lists and tables and other goodies.


Thanks to bestiary superfan “Wonderlandia” who found several online manuscript facsimiles that I had missed, mostly of the Liber Floridus of Lambert of Saint-Omer. Which got me started on the Lambert encyclopedia article and kept me busy for several days!

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Bestiaire d’amour

The Bestiaire d’amour or Bestiary of Love is not a traditional bestiary. It has bestiary animals doing bestiary things, but it has a much different purpose. Where the traditional bestiary is a tool for teaching Christian morality, the Bestiaire is a desperate attempt by the author, Richard de Fournival, to win the love of a lady. It is a peculiar concept, radical for its time: A merging of a religious text with courtly love literature.

Richard de Fournival was a thirteenth century French writer, poet, songwriter, surgeon and Catholic church cleric. He was also, in modern terms, a misogynistic jerk. In any court today the lady would have no problem getting a restraining order against him. We don’t know who the lady was, but she wrote a spirited Response to Richard’s Bestiaire in which she made her distaste for his advances very plain.

There are around 24 manuscripts currently known which contain the Bestiaire; four of them also contain the lady’s Response. The text is in one of the dialects of Old French, in prose, though Richard did produce a version in verse. Most of the manuscripts are illustrated, and manuscript images have been loaded for three of them so far:

There is a new and fairly long article on Richard de Fournival and his Bestiaire in the Encyclopedia, with samples of the text from some of the manuscripts and excerpts from an English translation of both the Bestiaire and the Response. There is also a surprisingly large bibliography; lots of people have written about the Bestiaire, often from a feminist viewpoint. The Bestiary Family French page has also been updated with a list or the Bestiaire manuscripts.

This update is almost entirely about Richard, the Bestiaire, the lady and the Response. There are a few changes in other areas, and several corrections here and there, but little other unrelated new content. Finding and entering all of the data for this update was a big, time-consuming job, and I am now very tired of Richard, so I won’t be adding much more about him for a while.

The next update will be mainly structural and functionality changes to the site itself; there are several areas I am not yet satisfied with. Of course I will probably sneak in some new content along the way.

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Manuscript Update

Though there several new things in this update, it is mostly about manuscripts and their images.


I have been examining manuscripts, trying to find information on some elusive ones, and updating descriptions and images for the some of the ones I already knew about.

  • Arnamagnæanske Institut, AM 673 a 4º (Icelandic Physiologus): This is the only known copy of the Physiologus written in Old Norse. The manuscript has not aged well; it has darkened and is riddled with holes. Some of the images are barely visible, or have parts that are not visible at all. To make the images usable I have done some digital enhancement to increase the contrast; the content itself is unchanged. The digital facsimile of this manuscript was very well hidden! I finally found it on the Arnamagnæanske Institut web site, attached to the Dictionary of Old Norse Prose (ONP), as an example of Old Norse text. The usual link to the facsimile is on the manuscript page, so you don’t have to search endlessly for it.
  • Biblioteca Ambrosiana, E. 16 sup.: Switching languages, a Greek Physiologus with some odd illustrations. Because I can’t read Greek, and because many of the images are strange, there are several beasts, birds and serpents I have not been able to identify. All of the animal images have been loaded, with the unknown ones marked “unidentified”. The manuscript has darkened and the line drawing images have faded, so a little digital enhancement was needed to increase contrast. No image content was changed.
  • Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, MS gr. IV. 35: The last few missing images have been loaded. These are most birds that I have not been able to identify.
  • Bibliothèque Municipale de Cambrai, MS 259: The part of this manuscript of interest here is the Aviary (book of birds) by Hugh of Fouilloy. I can’t be sure I have all of the images because the facsimile is not complete, but it is likely they are all loaded. The facsimile images are not of the highest quality.
  • Bibliothèque Municipale de Lyon, MS. PA 78: All images updated/uploaded. The online facsimile is of low quality, so I had to digitally enhance the images (color correction, enlargement), but the content of the images was not changed.
  • Bibliothèque Nationale de France, lat. 6838B: A bestiary, not included in the older Bestiary Family lists, but probably Second Family. There are around 120 images, mostly simple colored line drawings.
  • British Library, Harley MS 1585: This manuscript is a collection of medical texts, including a section on the use of animals in medicine. That section looks like a bestiary, except where the bestiary has animal descriptions and allegory, this manuscript has descriptions of medicinal uses for the animal. All of the animal section images have been loaded, as well as a few oddities from the rest of the manuscript.
  • British Library, Harley MS 3244 : Existing images updated to high resolution and all missing images added.
  • British Library, Harley MS 4751 (Harley Bestiary): Existing images updated to high resolution and all missing images added.
  • British Library, Royal MS 12 C XIX: Existing images updated to high resolution and all missing images added. Also some additions to the manuscript description.
  • British Library, Royal MS 12 F XIII (Rochester Bestiary): Existing images updated to high resolution and all missing images added. Also some additions to the manuscript description.
  • Getty Museum, MS. Ludwig XV 3: All images added (probably; the online facsimile is incomplete, so images may be missing).
  • Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25: All images updated to higher resolution.
  • Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 D 07: This is a herbal and a treatise on the medicinal use of animals. All of the animal illustrations have updated to high resolution.
  • Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.81 (The Worksop Bestiary): All images have been added in high resolution. There are also some updates to the manuscript description.
  • Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden, BPL 1283: This manuscript contains a herbal and a treatise on the medicinal use of animals. All of the animal illustrations have been loaded.
  • Yale Center for British Art, Helmingham Herbal and Bestiary: This late fifteenth century composite manuscript contains a herbal (book of plants) and a bestiary in pictures. It is an unusual bestiary in that there is no text describing the animals, only a one or two word label for each entry. All of the animal images have been loaded.


  • The Sources section on the main beast pages has gotten too long, so I moved the whole section to its own page, accessible by clicking the Sources tab.
  • Animal tales from the Histories of Herodotus (fifth century BCE) have been added to Sources for relevant beasts.
  • Several beasts now have excerpts (in Sources) from The wonders of the world by Solinus (third century CE). This is another encyclopedia on various subjects, but less chaotic than that of Aelian.
  • Quotes from The Metamorphoses by Ovid have been added to Sources for the relevant beasts.
  • A few Aesop’s Fables have been added or updated on some beast pages.
  • Multiple beasts have updates to descriptions and lots of new images.
  • A few beasts have been added (water-horse, rat, etc.) and some have had their bounds widened (for example, “Stag” is now “Stag (Deer)”, because I found some deer images that were does and not stags).
  • I have added a new category of animals to handle beasts, birds and serpents I cannot identify. These do not appear as entries in the Beast pages, but they do (usually) appear in manuscript galleries; this lets me add all available images for a manuscript, even if I don’t know what the peculiar beast is. If you run across one of these mystery animals while looking at manuscript images, and you know what it is or can offer a suggestion, please tell me about it.


Many images from various manuscripts and other sources have been added. There are now over 3000 images available on the site, most at a reasonably high resolution.


  • New article on Herodotus (fifth century BCE) with excerpts from his book Histories.
  • New article on Solinus, a third century Roman writer, author of De mirabilibus mundi (The wonders of the world), an encyclopedia.
  • Updates to the article on Aesop’s Fables.
  • Updates to the article on Ovid (first century CE).

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Something for Everyone

This is a general update, with something for everyone. I have added a lot of new data this time.

My workshop doesn’t look like this; there is a computer instead of a writing desk.

Images: There are several hundred new and updated images, bringing the total to almost 2200. This batch are all from manuscripts, and some are spectacular; see Bodleian Library, MS. Ashmole 1511, for example. Several manuscripts and beasts now have much better images, freshly pillaged from the InterWebs.

Manuscripts: There are a few new manuscript descriptions, and many existing descriptions have been updated with new information. The Bestiary Families section has also been updated, with almost all of the listed manuscripts having links to the manuscript descriptions. There are still a few manuscripts I have not been able to find; if you know anything about any of the manuscripts on the Family pages that do not have links (or any manuscripts I don’t yet list), contact your friendly neighborhood Beastmaster. There is one change to the manuscript index lists: I have removed the Shelfmark list (not all that useful, and you can use the Filtered List to get the same information), and replaced it with a manuscript Type index, where manuscripts are sorted by location and shelfmark, and grouped by type (Bestiary, Encyclopedia, Miscellany, and others). See the manuscript Help page for more information.

Beasts: There are a few new beasts, mostly obscure. The big update in Beasts is the addition (in the Sources section) of many excerpts from authors that influenced the bestiaries. These include Aristotle (De animalibus, 4th century BCE), Claudius Aelianus (De Natura Animalium, 2nd century CE), and Saint Ambrose (Hexameron, 5th century BCE). They all had interesting (if sometimes absurd) things to say about animals.

Encyclopedia: There are a few new articles, including those about Aristotle, Claudius Aelianus and Saint Ambrose, with updates to others. If your favorite ancient author is not yet represented, be patient; I will be adding more over the next few months. Or you can contact me to let me know someone is missing.

Bibliography: There are several new entries, and some existing entries now have links to digital resources.

I am trying to do an update once a month, but the May update might be delayed. I do have a life that doesn’t involve bestiaries!

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The Biggest Bully

Even the biggest bully can be defeated.

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Gallery Update

I wasn’t satisfied with the way the galleries were working, and so I changed them. The initial page of image thumbnails is gone; it was slow, and as the number of images went up it just got slower. Instead the gallery page itself will appear immediately (and rapidly) in a small size, though still big enough to be useful. You can make the gallery bigger by clicking either the “expand” button or the “full screen” button (see the Gallery Help page for more information on the various gallery toolbar buttons). The images initially displayed in the gallery have their sizes limited so they fit in the available space, but many of the images are much larger and can be zoomed in. The gallery pages are now much faster to load and (I hope) easier to use.

The image information section of the gallery (at the bottom, just above the thumbnails) has changed significantly. There was never enough space to show the descriptions as I wanted them, and the popup image information window was awkward and confusing. The information area now only shows the beast name and a short description, with the Image Information button below. There is usually lots more information to see in the window that pops up when you click the button. The window is now split into three sections: Description, Source and Copyright; you can switch sections by clicking the tabs. The Description section has more information about the beast and about that image of the beast; the Source section details where I looted pillaged respectfully acquired the image from and the manuscript or book it belongs to; and the Copyright section provides a copyright declaration for the image, which is sometimes required by the image “owner”.

To give the galleries something to work with, I have added or updated a lot of images from manuscripts. There are almost 1800 images available now in the Beast, Manuscript and Encyclopedia gallery pages. Many of the existing images have been updated with higher resolution versions; the new images are all high resolution. In some cases zooming an image will make it slightly fuzzier, but even so it is usually easier to see what is going on with those crazy beasts.

I have also added a lot of manuscripts. Some have little information; I’d swear those libraries and museums don’t want us looking at their manuscripts. As usual, I have entered all the information I could find, and I will add more as I dig it out of the murk that is the average library manuscript catalog. Several of the added manuscript entries are linked to full or partial online facsimiles, and to additional descriptions.

Several of the existing beast entries have new information, and there are a few new beasts, mostly pillaged from encyclopedia manuscripts where the odd is the norm. There is also a new section in the beast pages, “Reality” where I attempt to explain where the idea of the beasts came from, what we know of them today, and provide “interesting” trivia about the beast and the modern world. Only a few of the beast entries have a Reality section, but I will be adding more.

I have made updates to the Bibliography and the Encyclopedia, fixed many spelling mistakes, fixed a few broken links, and, as usual, squashed those bugs and improved that performance.

The Medieval Bestiary site now has a security certificate (that’s SSL for the nerdy readers). That means your browser won’t be warning you about how unsafe the site might be (it’s not) or putting rude icons in the address bar when you access the site with https:/ the way Google intended (note the HTTPS instead of HTTP). With some browsers (Firefox, for example) there is also a setting that will force your browser to use an HTTPS URL if there is one (there is) and only use the “insecure” HTTP URL if it has to.

I leave you with a fish from Jacob van Maerlant’s encyclopedia Der Naturen Bloeme found in the manuscript Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, folio 111r. I don’t know what it is, but it is one of the many peculiar “fish” that came from the idea that every land animal should have an equivalent sea animal.

Now that’s not something I would want to find on the end of my fishing line!

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Bonnacons in Ukraine

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A bunch of changes

Lots of changes, updates, new materials in this update.

The Bestiary Family lists have been updated. Almost all of the listed manuscripts now have a link to the description page for that manuscript. There are a few that remain elusive; the libraries where they live have them well hidden, but I am persistent (possibly obsessive) and I will find them.

While tracking down the manuscripts on the Bestiary Family lists, I found several more Italian bestiaries and other animal manuscripts. There seem to be a lot of them in different versions and by various authors. I don’t have the lineage of those figured out yet – it’s complicated.

There are many new and updated manuscript description pages, with links to additional descriptions and sometimes online facsimiles. There are a lot of high quality manuscript facsimiles available on the interwebs these days.

Some of the Beast pages have been updated with new information. The Satyr has been split off from the Ape into its own page, as has the Siren (Serpent) from the Siren (freaky and deadly woman-bird-fish).

The manuscript lists have a new feature: a Filtered List. This displays a simple list of all the manuscripts, with an input box where you can type partial words or numbers to filter the displayed manuscripts. Any manuscript rows that do not contain the word or number you enter will be magically hidden, leaving only the ones you want to see. With the manuscript lists now containing over 340 rows, there needed to be a fast way to get to a manuscript if you already knew part of its name, location or shelfmark.

Two of the Beast lists also now have filtering, similar to the manuscript list, but with a few more features. See the Beast help page for more information and some usage tips.

There are some new and updated bibliography entries, with a growing number linked to online resources.

There are a few new and updated encyclopedia articles.

I have two people to thank for their assistance.

Dr. Christoph Mackert of the Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, who provided me with links to two of the elusive Bestiary Family manuscripts in the Dicta Chrysostomi group.

Carlo Calloni, who helped me with a couple of manuscript beasts I could not identify, either from the image or the Italian text, like the weird beasty below, which the manuscript catalog called “A horse resting in a field” but that Carlo identified as a mole crawling out of its burrow on the hill! That was based on the word “topinara”, which is mole in the manuscript’s Italian vernacular.

Houghton Library (Harvard) MS Typ 150, f. 28r

Medieval artists often had bizarre ideas of what animals they hadn’t seen looked like, but a mole?

And last, the usual “bug fixes and performance improvements”, without which an update would not be complete.

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An Italian Bestiary

I hadn’t paid much attention to Italian medieval animal manuscripts, and knew little about them, until Carlo Calloni, an Italian medieval scholar, pointed me to the manuscript Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana plut.40.52, a 14th century copy of L’Acerba Etas (which translates more or less to The Bitter Life) by Cecco d’Ascoli, the common name of Francesco degli Stabili (sometimes given as Francesco degli Stabili Cichus), an Italian encyclopaedist, physician and poet (1257 – September 26, 1327). The animal section is loosely based on the Physiologus (with some differences), and includes an Aviary (book of birds) and a Lapidary (book of stones) along with sections on other things of interest in the natural world. While the animal stories are moralized as in the Physiologus and the Bestiaries, Cecco d’Ascoli was also interested in the science of things, as understood in his time. His writing and free thinking got him in trouble with the church, and in 1327 got him burned at the stake.

Some of the animals in L’Acerba are not found in other medieval animal books, and Cecco’s allegories are sometimes different from the norm. He also is skeptical about some of the animal descriptions, though he includes them in his book all the same.

There are several editions of the L’Acerba available online, mostly in Italian, though there is one English translation. You can find links to some of the on the Medieval Bestiary site.

One bird I (and others) have failed to identify is the stellino, a bird that Cecco describes as the beauty of the sky and a star wanderer. It might be some kind of hawk.

It carries its one egg with it when it flies, and sometimes drops it and it cracks, but the chick emerges unharmed. I don’t know what to relate this to in the Bestiary tradition; do you?

The images in the manuscript are surprisingly realistic – surprising because the illustrations of animals in western Bestiary manuscripts are often wildly inaccurate, because the artist had never seen the beast (or was just a bad artist). This artist knew what he was doing.

Anyway, thanks to Carlo Calloni I spent a couple of days wandering through the Italian side of the medieval animal genre, and now I know more about than I did before. Which isn’t saying much, since I knew next to nothing before.

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More of everything, pretty much.

  • A few new manuscripts (not new as in fresh out of the scriptorium!)
  • A bunch of manuscript updates
  • Some beast updates
  • About 200 more images from manuscripts
  • A pile of new and updated bibliography items
  • Updates to the encyclopedia
  • Updates to the Bestiary Family pages to bring the ordering and manuscript names into line with the rest of the site, plus more of the items have links to the site manuscript description pages
  • Fixes for some problems introduced in the last update

Note: Because of changes to the style sheets, you may need to force your browser to refresh some pages before they will display properly, particularly the galleries. With most browsers you can do this by holding down the Shift key while clicking the refresh button, or holding down the Control/Command key while pressing the F5 key.

<rant>I have been trying to find information on manuscripts of interest, but while some libraries, museums and other institutes make finding manuscripts on their web sites easy, others most emphatically do not. The British Library is the best of the lot, with consistent shelfmarks, easy searching, full descriptions and a good manuscript image viewer. I shan’t mention the names of the not so good and utterly horrible ones. Anyway, it makes finding manuscripts that I know exist, even when I know exactly which institute has them, much more difficult than it needs to be. And don’t get me started on institutes that arbitrarily change their shelfmarks!</rant>

There are a lot of manuscripts of interest out there. The 250 or so I have on the site is barely a drop in the ocean. And many off the manuscripts now digital facsimiles online, with many fine beast images to plunder. I will not be running out of work anytime soon.

Speaking of numbers… statistics!

  • Beasts : 143
  • Manuscripts : 267
  • Images : 1200
  • Bibliography items : 1516
  • Encyclopedia articles : 23
  • Digital texts : 25

More to come!

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