Hugh of Fouilloy


Also known as Hugo de Folieto (as well as several variations: Hugues de Fouilloy, Hugo Folietanus, Hugo de Fouilloy, Hugues de Fouilloi), Hugh's date of birth is unknown; what limited evidence exists suggests it was sometime between 1096 and 1111. He was born at Fouilloy, near Amiens, and while still a young man joined the religious community of St.-Laurent-au-Bois. He appears to have received an extensive clerical education, possibly at the Benedictine abbey of Corbie, also near Amiens. In 1132 Hugh became the founding prior of St.-Nicholas-de-Regny, a dependency of St.-Laurent, and was elected prior of St.-Laurent in 1152. He died around 1172. Little else is known of his life.

The most well known of Hugh's writings are De claustro animae (The Cloister of the Soul) and De medicina animae (The Medicine of the Soul), allegorical texts on monastic spirituality. Several other works are attributed to him, including the De avibus.

The De avibus

The De avibus is a moralized treatise on birds, in much the same way that a bestiary is a moralized treatise on animals. The text is also known under several other names, generally based on the opening phrase: De columba deargentata (The Silvered Dove), De tribus columbis (The three Doves), De natura avibus (The Nature of Birds), Aviarium (The Aviary), and Libellus quidam ad Rainerum conversum cognomine Corder Benignum (The little Book for Rainier the Lay-Brother Called the Kindhearted). This last title indicates to whom Hugh dedicated the book; in his prologue he says that it was intended as a teaching text for the lay brothers. It is thought that Hugh wrote the De avibus while he was prior of St.-Nicholas-de-Regny, between 1132 and 1152. The De avibus was for some time mistakenly attributed to Hugh of Saint Victor, chiefly by virtue of being published under his name in the sixteenth century, as well as by Migne in the Patrologia Latina in the nineteenth century.

The De avibus has about 60 chapters in two sections. Part 1 (thirty-seven chapters) is mostly scriptural exegesis by Hugh, drawing on the Bible and the Physiologus. The first eleven chapters are on the dove, discussing a verse from Psalms (67: 14): "If you sleep among the midst of the lots, you shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and the hinderparts of her back with the paleness of gold." The next eleven chapters are on the winds and the hawk, followed by fifteen chapters on the turtledove and the sparrow and their nesting places in the palm and cedar. In Part 2, twenty-three chapters on 23 birds, Hugh uses more of the available medieval sources, including the Etymologiae of Isidore of Seville, the De natura rerum of Hrabanus Mauris, the Moralia in Job of Gregory the Great, the Hexaemeron of Ambrose, and others.

At least 125 manuscript copies of the De avibus still exist, though some include only part of the text. Most are illustrated, and copies of it are known from all across Europe. For the most part the text appears in manuscripts along with other theological works, often with some of Hugh''s other books. The De avibus was also incorporated into one version of the bestiary, producing the bestiary class known as "First Family, H version" .

A critical edition and translation of the De avibus was produced by Clark (1992). Additional manuscripts are described by van den Abeele (2003).

The following are the standard chapters in the De avibus (from McCulloch, p. 33; Clark, p.121-255):

  1. De columba (dove)
  2. De aquilone et austro ventis (north and south winds)
  3. De accipitre (hawk)
  4. De turture et passere (turtledove and sparrow)
  5. De palma (palm tree)
  6. De turture (turtledove)
  7. De cedro et passeribus (cedar tree and sparrow)
  8. De pelicano (pelican)
  9. De nycticorace (owl)
  10. De corvo (raven)
  11. De gallo (cock)
  12. De struthione (ostrich)
  13. De vulture (vulture)
  14. De grue (crane)
  15. De milvo (kite)
  16. De hirundine (swallow)
  17. De ciconiis (stork)
  18. De merula (blackbird)
  19. De bubone (owl)
  20. De graculo (jay)
  21. De ansere (goose)
  22. De ardea (heron)
  23. De caladrio (caladrius)
  24. De phoenice (phoenix)
  25. De perdice (partridge)
  26. De coturnice (quail)
  27. De upupa (hoopoe)
  28. De olore (swan)
  29. De pavone (peacock)
  30. De aquila (eagle)

Some also include Fulica (coot) and Ibis.