Encyclopedia

Gervaise

Biography

Little is known about Gervaise, other than that he is the author of a verse Bestiaire in a Norman dialect of French. He is thought to have lived around the end of the twelfth century to the beginning of the thirteenth, and was possibly a member of a Cistercian abbey at Barberie (or Barbery) in the diocese of Bayeux, established in 1176. Meyer notes that there were three men named Gervaise in the area at the time, and says that the most likely one was the priest Gervasius of Fontenai.

The Bestiaire

In the prologue to the Bestiaire, Gervaise names himself as author, and says he created the rhymed verses based on a manuscript in Latin that he found in a cupboard in "Barbarie". It is not known which Latin text Gervaise used (it may have been British Library, Sloane MS 278), though he ascribes it to John Chrysostom, who was one of the many early Greek writers said to be the author of the Physiologus.

Gervaise probably wrote his poem around the beginning of the thirteenth century. It does not seem to have been well known in his time; it appears in only a single manucript (British Library, Additional MS 28260), a late thirteenth century copy of Gervaise's original.

An edition of the Bestiaire of Gervaise was produced by Paul Meyer in 1872. A digital edition is available here.

The 29 chapters of the Bestiaire are (from McCulloch, p. 56 and Meyer, p. 5-6):

Line Folio
Lion (lion) 59 85r
Panthere (panther) 139 87r
Unicorne (unicorn) 239 88v
Idres et Cocadrile (hydrus and crocodile) 281 89r
Sereine (siren) 305 89v
Centaurus (onocentaur) 320 89v
Hyene (hyena) 345 90r
Singe (ape) 361 90r
Elephant (elephant) 381 90r
Antule (antelope) 449 91r
Serpent et Vuivre (snake and viper) 501 91v
Corbeau (raven) 621 93r
Vurpil (fox) 655 93v
Castor (beaver) 685 93v
Eri├žon (hedgehog) 729 94r
Formi (ant) 755 94v
Aille (eagle) 829 95v
Caradrius (caladrius) 863 96r
Pellicanus (pelican) 887 96r
Perdriz (partridge) 921 96v
Chamoi (ostrich) 951 97r
Huppe (hoopoe) 985 97r
Phenix (phoenix) 1009 97v
Cerf (stag) 1053 98r
Tortre (turtledove) 1087 98v
Sarce (sawfish) 1105 98v
Belete (weasel) 1137 99r
Aspis (asp) 1151 99r
Ibis (ibis) 1177 99v