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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A hasty update

I wasn’t planning a full update quite this soon, but I discovered a problem with the last update (some of the images on the beast pages failed to load). All fixed now.

One new feature, which forced me to do a full update: The “hamburger” menu has some extra options to allow you to jump directly to the Beast, Manuscript or Encyclopedia section of the site. I made this change because it annoyed me to have to go to the Contents page to get to those pages, and if it annoyed me, it probably annoyed you.

There are also about 150 new beast images, a few new and updated manuscripts, some more bibliography items, and a few other minor changes.

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A mostly manuscript update

This update is mostly about manuscripts. I have corrected a few errors, added some information, and added a lot of images for two manuscripts.

I have added content to the following sections:

Added images from manuscripts

Added manuscript details, some corrections

There are also minor changes to a few beasts.

More to come!

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Really big update!

More of a complete rebuild than a simple update. After years of shameful neglect, I have spent the last couple of months redesigning and rebuilding the Medieval Bestiary website. The old site was using outdated web technologies, which made it difficult to update and maintain. I had been putting off the needed work – and it was a lot of work – because I didn’t want to do all the programming. (I used to be a computer programmer. I retired. I didn’t do any programming at all for six years, and hadn’t planned on doing any more ever. Oh, well. It all came back to me pretty quickly; I guess doing it for 40 years embedded it in my brain.)

Anyway, it is finally done. The site now uses modern web technologies and has a sleeker, cleaner, better interface without a lot of the unnecessary frippery the old one had. There isn’t a lot of new content yet, but over the next few months there will be. Navigating the site is not radically different, so if you are a previous visitor you should not have much trouble figuring it out, but if you do there is a revamped help section to explain it all. Old links to the site pages should still work. There are links at the bottom of each page that should let you find your way if you get lost, and the improved search facility should let you find pages more easily. The new image galleries for the Beast, Manuscript and other pages display beast images in a way you are probably familiar with from other imaging web sites.

If you get garbled pages or sometimes get the old bestiary pages, your browser has probably cached an out-of-date copy of the page. You may need to force your browser to refresh/reload the page. In Firefox and Chrome you can do that by holding down the Ctrl/Cmd key and pressing the F5 key. For other browsers, check your browser help for instructions.

The old Medieval Bestiary is still available at, for those of you waxing nostalgic. It will, of course, never be updated again.

You can leave comments here about things you like and things you don’t. If you find a problem, you can use the new contact form to tell me all about it.

Stay tuned – lots of new content coming “soon”!

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