By Richard Barber
Bestiaries are a very attribute made of medieval England, and provides a special perception into the medieval brain. Richly illuminated and lavishly produced, they have been luxurious items for noble households. Their three-fold function used to be to supply a traditional background of birds, beasts and fishes, to attract ethical examples from animal behaviour (the industrious bee, the obdurate ass), and to bare a magical that means - the phoenix, for example, as an emblem ofChrist's resurrection. This Bestiary, MS. Bodley 764, used to be produced round the heart of the 13th century and is of singular attractiveness and curiosity. The full of life illustrations have the liberty and naturalistic qualityof the later Gothic sort, and make wonderful use of color. This publication reproduces the 136 illuminations to an analogous dimension and within the similar position because the unique manuscript, becoming the textual content round them. Richard Barber's translation from the unique Latin is a satisfaction to learn, taking pictures either the intense rationale of the manuscript and its attraction.
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Extra info for Bestiary: being an English version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford M.S. Bodley 764 with all the original miniatures reproduced in facsimile
H. White wrote of the text which he translated that the original 'sometimes gives the impression of having been written by a schoolboy who has suffered a course of Bible reading'. This is more than a little unfair: the author would have been more than a match for Macaulay's omniscient schoolboy, and in the case of our text the quotations from Rabanus Maurus can only be described as being an attempt at a kind of high style. I hope I have caught something of the voice of the original; I am sure that it is at any rate a serious voice.
Beyond the natural lore and moral meaning is a third aspect: the mystical significance of each creature, as reflected in Holy Scripture. While the relationship between nature and morality is often relatively straightforward, and the example is plain enough for even our obtuse twentieth-century minds to grasp, the mystical significance was much more of a problem for the compiler of Page 8 the bestiary, because the same creature might well represent both good and evil, Christ or the devil, in different texts from the Bible.
And she seduces him into eating it; after they have both eaten it, they mate and the female at once conceives. When the time comes for her to give birth, she goes to a pond, and the water comes up to her udder. The male elephant guards her while she gives birth, because Page 41 the dragon is the enemy of the elephant. If the elephant finds a snake he will kill it by trampling on it until it is dead. The elephant strikes terror into bulls, and yet is terrified by a mouse. His nature is such that, if he falls down, he cannot stand up again.
Bestiary: being an English version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford M.S. Bodley 764 with all the original miniatures reproduced in facsimile by Richard Barber