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CHAPTER I THE GREEK PHYS1OLOGUS: ITS CHARACTER AND ORIGIN From the early centuries of our era through the Middle Ages the Physiologus and its later, expanded form, the bestiary, were among the most popular and important of Christian didactic works. Its importance was perhaps more quantitative than qualitative for its style is impoverished and the mode of thought extremely simple; yet it succeeded in capturing the imagination and interest of men until its understandable disappearance at the time of the Renaissance.1 For an adequate understanding of the subject of this study — the Latin Physiologus and its French translations — the ultimate source of them all, the Greek Physiologus, must first be described and its background briefly presented. The Physiologus is a compilation of pseudo-science in which the fantastic descriptions of real and imaginary animals, birds, and even stones were used to illustrate points of Christian dogma and morals. The forty-eight or forty-nine chapters which comprise the Greek Physiologususually follow a set form.2 A short example will disclose the pattern of a rather typical Physiologus chapter. The section on the Pelican begins with a quotation from Psalm 102:6 1 This remark applies more to Latin manuscripts whose period of greatest diffusion was the twelfth and thirteenth centuries —to judge by available manuscripts— and which by the fifteenth century were comparatively rare. On the other hand, one of the most beautifully illuminated Greek manuscripts is Paris, B. N., gr. 834, which was copied in 1585, ascribed to Epiphanius of Cyprus, and edited by Ponce de Leon in Rome in 1587, It is reproduced in Migne, Pair. Gr., XLIII, Cols. 518-534. 2 All references to the Greek Physiologus will be based on the critical edition of Francesco Sbordone entitled Physiologus (Milan, 1936). It will hereafter be referred to as Sbordone. Note: An asterisk (*) indicates that the text is referred to in the Addenda and Corrigenda. 16 MEDIAEVAL BESTIARIES (Vulgate 101:7): "I am like a pelican of the wilderness", and continues with the customary expression, "Physiologus says" that pelicans are very fond of their young. When the children begin to grow, they strike their parents in the face; then they in turn are struck and killed. On the third day their mother (or their father, depending on the manuscript) pierces her side and spills her blood on the dead offspring, thus reviving them. Following this, Isaiah 1:2 is quoted: "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me", and the young pelicans' actions toward their parents are compared to mankind's striking Christ. The allegory continues with the statement that from the side of the crucified Christ came the blood and water of salvation and eternal life. After a further reference to the significance of water and blood, the chapter on the Pelican ends. It might be added at this time that many of the allegories have a far more tenuous relationship to the animal description than the one presented here, as when, for example, the Antelope's horns are equated with the Old and New Testament. The following list contains the subjects that are treated in the Greek Physiologus in the order in which they appear in Sbordone's first version. The English names are those under which each subject appears in Chapter V of the present study.3 1. Lion 14. Hedgehog the Aviarium 3.Caladrius16.Panther 4.Pelican17.Aspidochelone 5. Owl 18. Partridge 6. Eagle 19. Vulture 7. Phoenix 20. Ant-Lion4 8. Hoopoe 21. Weasel 9. Onager 22, Unicom 10. Viper 23. Beaver 11.Snake24.Hyaena 12.Ant25.Hydrus 13. Siren and Onocentaur 26. Ichneumon5 3 There exists a translation into English of the Physiologus based on the Greek and other versions, but the edition was limited to only 325 copies. Francis J, Carmody, trans. Physiologus. The very ancient book of beasts, plants and stones, translated from Greek and other languages (San Francisco : Book Club of California, 1953). A translation from Greek to German is that of Emil Peters, Der Physiologus (Munich, 1921). 4 In Chapter V the Ant-Lion is included in the discussion on the Ant. 5 In Chapter V the Ichneumon is included in the discussion on the Hydrus. 15. fox 16. pannther 17. aspidoch 24. Hyaena 25. Hydrus THE GREEK "PHYSIOLOGUS" 17 27. Crow 39. Sawfish 28. Turtle-Dove 40. Ibis 29. Frog 41. Goat 30. Stag 42. Diamond 31. Salamander 43. Elephant 32. Diamond 44. Pearl and Agate 33. Swallow 45. Onager and...


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