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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 […]

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The Ormesby Psalter

The Ormesby Psalter (Bodleian Library MS. Douce 366), is not a bestiary. It is a psalter, a collection of Psalms meant for contemplative reading. The wealthy would commission such manuscripts, and many of them are richly illustrated. Some of them used bestiary themes in their marginal illustrations (the Queen Mary Psalter has most of a […]

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Fun with Numbers

Google has a new toy, called Ngrams. Since they have digitized over a million books, and converted them (roughly) to searchable text, they have a huge database of word usage from before 1700 to 2008. Ngrams is a tool that charts the occurrence of words or sets of words in that database. Of course the […]

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Christopher de Hamel shows us a bestiary!

Dr. Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, shows us a bestiary (Parker Library, Corpus Christi College MS 22) and the Chronica Majora of Matthew Paris (Parker Library, Corpus Christi College MS 16) to illustrate the medieval view of the elephant.   Ah, to have Dr. de Hamel’s job…

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Master Richard’s Bestiary of love

In the middle of the thirteenth century, Richard de Fournival, a French cleric, scholar and surgeon, wrote the Bestiaire d’amour, the Bestiary of love. This fusion of courtly love literature and Bestiary allegorical “natural history” was supposedly written to win the favor of an unnamed woman who Richard was in love with, but who was […]

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Magical Beastie Bits (Part 2)

This is the second in a series of posts about magical beast parts. Today: the beaver, the hyena, and the lynx. Beavers losing valuable body parts. British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 9r Beaver: The beaver is hunted for one special body part, which, we are assured by the best authorities, is required for “medicine”. […]

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Live unicorn discovered in Italy!

A living unicorn has been discovered in the Tuscany region of Italy – that is, if you define “unicorn” as a beast with a single horn. Italian unicorn deer. ROME – A deer with a single horn in the center of its head — much like the fabled, mythical unicorn — has been spotted in […]

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Magical Beastie Bits! (Part 1)

A surprising number of medieval animals were thought to have a magical body part, or to have a magical object embedded in them, or to be able to produce a magical object. These magical beastie bits were, of course, much sought after, and often doomed the beastie that had them. In this ?-part series, we […]

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Why kill the unicorn?

British Library, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, Folio 10v. So, you want to catch a unicorn. As we all know, the unicorn is a swift and fierce beast, not to be caught by ordinary means. But there is a way: find a pure and virgin girl, sit her down in unicorn habitat, hide in the […]

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Jacob and the Mandrakes

A new text is available in the Digital Text Library: Jacob and the Mandrakes by James George Frazer, originally a paper read to and published by the British Academy in 1917. Frazer was a social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion, and is most famous for […]

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