Gossuin de Metz


Gossuin de Metz (or Gautier de Metz) lived in the Lorraine region of France in the thirteenth century. Almost nothing is known about his life. Even his name is uncertain; most manuscripts say Gossuin, but some say Gauthier. The dates of his birth and death are not known, but he wrote the Image du monde around 1245 CE.

Gossuin de Metz with an astrolabe; writing his encyclopedia

L'image du monde

The Image du monde (Image of the World or Mirror of the World) is an encyclopedia on multiple topics, including theology, philosophy, history, astronomy, astrology, physics, geography and zoology. It is in three parts, with multiple chapters in each part. The three parts can be broadly categorized:

  1. The power of God, the seven liberal arts, the nature of the world and its creation, etc.
  2. Geography (How the Earth was created and which parts are inhabited)
  3. Cosmology/Astronomy

The Geography section has all of the animal descriptions. It also has several examples of the monstrous human races said to live in India.

The original version of the text (1245 CE) was written in a Norman-French dialect as a rhymed poem of 6594 octosyllabic lines. In 1247 a second verse version was produced, with an additional 4000 lines; it was divided into two parts instead of three. A prose version also exists, probably written around the same time as the first verse version. The prose version closely follows the first verse version in content and structure.

Gossuin's encyclopedia is a compilation taken from earlier authors, such Jacobus de Vitriaco, Honorius Augustodunensis, Alexander Neckam, Claudius Ptolemy, and several others. Gossuin was obviously well read, both in Greek and Roman classics and in texts closer to his own time. He does not appeared to have added much to the text himself; even the structure is based (perhaps loosely) on the Imago mundi of Honorius Augustodunensis. This "borrowing" from earlier authors was common in medieval encyclopedias.


There are about 50 animals described in the original verse version and the prose version of the encyclopedia, all in the Geography section. They are scattered across several chapters. The descriptions are usually brief, and mostly follow the description for the animal as found in bestiaries, though there are no moralizations or allegories.

The animals listed in the table below are based on two sources. [Prior] and [Caxton] are used to refer to these sources in the table. Both are the prose version of the text, though the original verse version of 1245 CE has the same animals in the same order. The second verse redaction has almost the same list of beasts with a few in a different order.

The first column gives the title of the chapter where the animal is described, from both [Prior] and [Caxton]. The Name column shows the animal name as used on this website; the Name: Prior column is the name as found in [Prior]; the Name: Caxton is the name as found in [Caxton]; and the Notes column provides further information. The animals are listed in order of appearance in the text.

Chapter Title Name Name [Prior] Name [Caxton] Note
Things found in India
  • [Prior] D’Ynde et de ses choses. (p. 120)
  • [Caxton] Here speketh of Ynde & of thynges that be found therin (p. 69)
Griffin Gripon Gryffon Griffins guard gold; they have bodies like flying lions, and can carry away an armed man sitting on his horse.
The diversity of India
  • [Prior] Des diversitez d’Ynde (p. 122)
  • [Caxton] Here foloweth the dyuersitees beyng in the lande of Ynde (p. 70)
Crane Grue Crane Cranes are constantly fighting with small people of India called pygmies.
The serpents and beasts of India
  • [Prior] Des serpenz et des bestes d'Ynde (p. 124)
  • [Caxton] Of the serpentes and of the bestes of Ynde (p. 72)
Unknown Centicore Centycore Probably an error. Centicore is another name for the yale, but the description does not match (breast and thighs of a lion, ears like a horse, a round mouth, face like a bear, voice of a man).
Yale Not named Not named The description says the beast holds one horn pointed back in reserve while fighting with the one pointing forward.
Leucrota Not named Bullys The description says it has a mouth that stretches from ear to ear.
Manticore Manthicora Manticora The face of a man, three huge teeth, eyes like a goat, body like a lion, tail of a scorpion, voice of a serpent, draws people to it with a song.
Unknown Bues Oxen or buefs Said to have three horns on the front of its head, and round feet. This could be the Odontotyrannos from the Alexander the Great mythology.
Unicorn Monotheros Monotheros The description says a maiden can tame the beast, which is characteristic of the unicorn.
Tiger Tygres Tygris A fierce blue beast with white spots, it can be tricked with a mirror.
Beaver Castoire Castour When hunted they will bite off their testicles because they know that is all the hunter wants.
Muscaliet Musqualiet Musk or muskaliet A small animal, like a mouse, with a small mouth.
Salamander Salemandre Salemandre A beast that is nourished by fire.
Mouse Souriz Myse Mice as big as cats.
Lion Lyon Lion The bring their cubs to life, sleep with their eyes open, erase their tracks with their tails.
Leontophone Not named Not named A small animal that is deadly to lions.
Panther Panthere Panthere A multi-colored beast that attracts animals with the sweet odor of its breath.
Horse Jumanz Mare In the land of Capadoce there are mares that conceive from the wind.
Elephant Olyfant Olyphauns In India and Persia elephants carry a wooden tower on there backs; it is filled with soldiers.
Eel Anguile Eele Eels 300 feet long living in the Ganges River
Basilisk Basilique Basylicocks The king of the serpents, with the head of a cock and tail of a serpent; kills with its gaze.
Cerastes (?) Not named Not named A serpent with horns like a sheep
Asp Aspis Aspis Blocks it ear with its tail to avoid hearing a spell.
Unknown Tygris Tygris Men make an anti-venom potion from these serpents.
Snake Not named Not named This serpent has long arms that it uses to attack elephants. To shed its skin, it fasts then crawls through a hole in a rock.
The countries of India
  • Prior: Des contrees d'Ynde (p. 133)
  • Caxton: Here foloweth of the contrees and Royammes of Ynde (p. 81)
Phoenix Fenix Ffenyx It builds a fire with aromatic twigs and burns itself to ash, from which an identical bird rises.
Camel Chamuel Camel In the land of Antioch there are many kinds of camels.
Parrot Papegaut Popengayes A green bird that can learn to speak in two years.
Pelican Pellican Pellicane It cuts open its breast and feeds blood to its dead chicks to revive them.
The fish of India
  • [Prior] Des poissons d'Ynde (p. 139)
  • [Caxton] Hier speketh of the ffysshes that be founden in Ynde (p. 88)
Unknown Not named Not named Fish that have hairs on their skins that are long enough for people to make clothes from.
Echeneis Eschinuz Escimuz If it touches a ship, the ship will be unable to move forward or back.
Dolphin Daufin Dolphyn They warn ships of coming storms by showing themselves and playing in the water.
Whale Not named Not named A large fish that sailors mistake for an island.
Siren Seraine Serayne or mermayden They have the head and body of a woman but the tail of a fish, and sometimes bird wings; their song is marvelous to hear.
The Diversity of Europe and Africa
  • {Prior] Des diversitez qui sont en Europe et en Aufrique (p. 149)
  • [Caxton] Of dyuersytees that ben in Europe and in Affryke (p. 98)
Barnacle goose Not named Barnacle The description is of a bird of Ireland that grows on trees and falls in water when mature.
The beasts of Europe and Africa
  • [Prior] De la maniere des bestes (p. 151)
  • [Caxton] Of the maner and condicion of beestes of thise contrees (p. 100)
Fox Gourpix Foxe The fox pretends to be dead to lure and catch birds.
Stag Cers Herte When the stag wants to renew his youth he will eat a venomous beast (i.e. a snake).
Frog Bouteriaus Tode, Crapault If it bites a person he or she may die.
Spider Yraingne Spyncop The spit of a man will kill spiders if it touches them.
Wolf Leus Wulf When a wolf and a man see each other, whoever is seen first will become afraid.
Ape Singesse Sheape Caxton's sheape is an error. The text is about the ape and her two children.
Dog Chien Hounde Dogs protect their master's property and will not leave the master's body if he dies.
Weasel Mustele Moustele Weasels can kill the basilisk. They carry their young from place to place to protect them.
Hedgehog Heriçon Hyrchon They roll on fallen apples to stick them to their spines; if attacked they will roll themselves into a ball with the spines pointing out.
Lamb Aigniaus Lambe Lambs are afraid of wolves even if they have never seen one.
The birds of Europe and Africa
  • [Prior] De la maniere des oisiaus (p. 152)
  • [Caxton] Of the maner of birdes of thise forsaid contrees (p. 102)
Eagle Aigle Egle The eagle holds its chicks in its beak, and any that cling feebly it drops and rejects; it renews its sight by flying up to the sun and diving into water.
Turtledove Turterele Turtle If a turtledove loses its mate it will not take another and will not sit in a green tree.
Ostrich Ostruce Hostryche A bird the can eat iron.
Heron Hairon Heyron When it sees a storm coming, it flies above the clouds to avoid the rain.
Jackdaw Choè Chowe If it finds gold or silver its takes it away and hides it.
Crow Corbiaus Crowe While its chicks are white it will do nothing for them, only caring for them when their feathers turn black.
Peacock Paon Pecock A bird that is very proud of his tail and its colors, but ashamed of the appearance of his feet.
Hawk Ostour, Esprevier Goshawke, Spehawk Hawks take their prey by rivers; if they are tame they take the prey back to their master.
Dove Coulon Culuer, Dowue A simple bird that watches for the shadow of hawks on the water.
Hoopoe Hupe Huppe, Lapwynche If a person anoints himself with the bird's blood, he will dream that all the devils of hell are attacking him.
Nightingale Rousignol Nyghtyngal Sings so well and long that it dies singing.
Lark Aloete Larke Often dies while singing
Swan Cigne Swanne Sings before its death.


There are at least 68 manuscript copies of L'image du monde still existing. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has about 30 copies, the Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique about 7, and the British Library about 6. The rest are held in other European libraries, with one in the USA. Few of the manuscripts are illustrated, with Bibliothèque de la Faculté de Médecine, H. 437 being an exception. All three versions (two verse, one prose) are represented. The three manuscripts listed below serve as examples of each redaction.

Some of the 68 manuscripts are listed here (under the Manuscripts tab above); a more complete list can be found on the ARLIMA Gossouin de Metz page.

L'image du monde was also printed in various editions in the fifteenth and later centuries, most notably the Early English translation by William Caxton in 1480, based on British Library, Royal MS 19 A IX.