Encyclopedia

Pierre de Beauvais

Nothing is known about the life of Pierre. He is called "de Beauvais" or "le Picard" by modern scholars because the oldest manuscript of his writing is in the Picard dialect of French.

Pierre composed a French prose bestiary some time before 1218. In it he calls himself a "translator"; presumably he was working from a Latin bestiary or a version of the Physiologus. He also says he produced the Bestiaire at the request of "Philipon"; this person has been identified as Philippe de Dreux, who was bishop of Beauvais and died in 1217. Other references to people in the text strongly suggest that it was in existence by 1218.

Pierre's Bestiaire exists in two versions: a long one of 71 chapters, and a short one of 38 chapters. Both are by Pierre, and the matter of which came first has been controversial. Some scholars say that the short form is an abbreviation of the long form; others say the long for is a later expansion of the short form. Because three of the four manuscript copies of the short form are very similar to some Latin bestiaries, McCulloch is of the opinion that the short form was the original; she links this form to the version of the Latin bestiary. Mermier is of the opinion, based on "internal evidence", that the long version appeared first, with the short version being an abbreviation.

It is not clear where Pierre got the extensive material for his long-version Bestiaire. Certainly he must have known some version of the Physiologus, since he begins most chapters with the stock phrase "Phisiologes nos dist". Some of the material could have come from one of the large Latin bestiaries, and some similarities in beast descriptions have been noted in the works of Odo of Cheriton and Alexander Neckam. However, no single source is known that could account for all of the descriptions.

Pierre is also given credit for several other works: Lives of the saints Eustache, Germer, James and Josse; the Mapemonde, a compilation on geography and cosmology; Les Trois Maries Les Trois Mansions de l'homme and others.

The Bestiaire includes two animals not usually found elsewhere: the Muscaliet, which is said to have a body like a hare (though smaller), legs and tail like a squirrel, ears like a weasel, a muzzle like a mole, hair like a pig and teeth like a boar; and the Orphan Bird, a composite bird that has attributes of the Peacock, Eagle, Swan and Crane.

The typical chapters in the short version are (from McCulloch, p. 63-65; Mermier):

The typical chapters in the long version are (from McCulloch, p. 63-65):