Bestiarum vocabulum

Written by probationideadlyi on September 18th, 2014. Posted in

Aberdeen Bestiary aberdeen bestiary


dragon genesis  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the faceface  2½°  10½°10½°  14°  16½°16°  16½° 19½° 20½° 21½°24°  30° of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day’ -Genesis, 1: 1-5

dragon genesis‘And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were over the firmament from those which were under the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And evening and morning were the second day’ – Genesis, 1:6-8

dragon genesis‘And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth under the firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the watersvortex spirall ball in the seas, and let controllerfowlcattlemerch  multiply in the earthearth break ball. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day’ -Genesis 1:20-23

‘And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattlecattlemerch, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind; and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind’ – Genesis, 24-25

dragon genesis‘And God said, Let us make man in our I-mageanimagus, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fishpiscis austrinis  piscis volans  of the sea, and over the fowl cattlemerchof the air o lal la tower, and over the beasts, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and earth were finished, and all the hostpyxisof them.

dragon genesisAnd on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made’ -Genesis, 1:26-28, 31; 2:1-2


Adam was the first to provide words for all living things, naming each one in conformity with the existing order according to its function in nature. The races of man later named each animal in their own languages; But Adam named them not in Latin or Greek, nor in the languages of any barbarian races, but in the language which before the Flood was universal, which is called Hebrew.

In Latin they are called animalia, animals, or animantia, living things, because they are animated by life and activated by the breath of life.

Quadrupedia, quadrupeds, are so called because they go on quatuor pedes, four feet. Although they are like cattle, quadrupeds – deer, fallow deer, wild asses and others – are not in man’s charge. They are not, however, wild beasts, like lions; nor beasts of burden, serving the needs of man.

We call pecus, cattle, anything which lacks human speech or appearance. Strictly speaking, the name is usually applied to those animals which are suitable for food, like sheep and pigs, or for use by men, like horses and oxen. Moreover, there is a difference betweenpecora, cattle, and pecudes, cattle raised for meat. For people long ago used pecora to mean all animals; but pecudes are animals which are eaten – pecu-ed-es, ‘cattle for eating’. Generally, all animals are called pecus from pascendum, ‘put to pasture’.

Iumenta have taken their name from the fact that they assist us with our work or burdens by their help in carrying or ploughing. For the ox draws the waggon and turns with the ploughshare the heaviest clods of earth. The horse and ass carry loads and ease man’s toil on foot. So they are called iumenta because they help people with their burdens, for they are animals of great strength.

In the same way armenta are so called because they are suitable for arms – that is, for war – or because we use them in arms. Others understand by armenta, oxen, from arandum, ‘ploughing’ – aramenta,as it were; or because they are armed with horns. But there is a distinction between armenta and greges . Armenta are herds of horses and oxen; greges, flocks of goats and sheep.

Here begins the book of the nature of beasts. Of Ants, lions, panthers and tigers, wolves and foxes, dogs and apes & etc.


The ant has three characteristics. The first is that they march in line, each one carrying a grain of corn in its mouth. Those who have none do not say to the others: ‘Give us some of your grain’, but follow the tracks of those who first went out to the place where they find the corn and carry it off to their nest. Let this description serve to signify sensible men, who, like the ants, act in unity, as a result of which they will be rewarded in the future.

The ant’s second characteristic is that when it stores grain in its nest, it divides its supply in two, lest by chance it should be soaked in the winter rains, the seed germinate and the ant die of hunger. In the same way, you, O man, should keep separate the words of the Old and the New Testament, that is, distinguish between the spiritual and the carnal, lest the law interpreted literally should kill you, for the law is a spiritual thing, as the Apostle says: ‘For the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life’ (2 Corinthians, 3:6). For the Jews, who paid attention only to the letter of the law and scorned its spiritual interpretation, have died of hunger.

The ant’s third characteristic is that at harvest time it walks through the crop and finds out by nibbling the ears whether it is barley or wheat. If the crop is barley, the ant goes to another ear and sniffs it, and if it smells wheat, it climbs to the top of the ear and carries off the grain to its nest. For barley is food for beasts. As Job says: ‘Barley grew for me instead of wheat’ (see Job, 31:40), meaning the doctrine of heretics. For heresy is like barley, and should be cast away, because it shatters and destroys men’s souls. Therefore, Christian, flee from all heretics; their teachings are false and hostile to the truth. For the Scriptures say: ‘Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise’ (Proverbs, 6:6). For the ant has no knowledge of cultivation; it has no-one to force it do anything; nor does it act under the direction of a master, telling it how to lay in a store of food. Yet it gathers in its harvest from your labours. And although you often go hungry, it lacks for nothing. It has no locked storehouses, no impenetrable security, no piles of supplies which cannot be touched. The watchman looks on at thefts which he dares not prevent, the owner is aware of his losses but takes no revenge. They carry their booty in a black column across the fields, the paths swarming with the convoy as it passes; the grains that cannot be held in their narrow mouths in narrow parts are consigned to their shoulders. The owner of the harvest looks on and blushes with shame at the thought of denying such frugal gains won by such conscientious industry.

The ant has also learned to watch out for periods of fine weather. For if it sees that its supplies of corn are becoming wet, soaked by the rain, it carefully tests the air for signs of a mild spell, then it opens up its stores, and carries its supplies on its shoulders from its vaults underground out into the open, so that the corn can dry in the unbroken sunshine. Finally, you will never on any of those days see rain spouted from the clouds, unless the ant has first returned its supplies of corn to its stores.


Apes are called simie in Latin because the similarity between their mentality and that of humans is felt to be great. Apes are keenly aware of the elements; they rejoice when the moon is new and are sad when it wanes. A characteristic of the ape is that when a mother bears twins, she loves one and despises the other. If it ever happens that she is pursued by hunters, she carries the one she loves before her in her arms and the one she detests on her shoulders. But when she is tired of going upright, she deliberately drops the one she loves and reluctantly carries the one she hates. The ape does not have a tail. The Devil has the form of an ape, with a head but no tail. Although every part of the ape is foul, its rear parts are disgusting and horrid enough. The Devil began as an angel in heaven. But inside he was a hypocrite and a deceiver, and he lost his tail, because he will perish totally at the end, just as the apostle says: ‘The Lord shall consume him with the spirit of his mouth.’ (2 Thessalonians, 2:8) The name symia is Greek, meaning, ‘flattened nostrils’. Hence we call the ape symia because they have compressed nostrils and a hideous face, its creases foully expanding and contracting like a bellows; although she-goats also have a flattened nose. The apes called circopetici have tails. This alone distinguishes them from the apes mentioned earlier. Cenophali are numbered among the apes. They occur in great numbers in parts of Ethiopia. They leap wildly and bite fiercely. They are never so tame, that their ferocity does not increase. Sphynxes are also included among apes. They have shaggy hair on their arms and are easily taught to forget their wild nature.

Of satyrs

There are also apes that men call satyrs. They have quite attractive faces, and are restless, making pantomimed gestures. The apes called callitrices differ from the others in almost every aspect of their appearance. They have bearded faces and broad tails. It is not difficult to catch them but they rarely survive in captivity. They do not live elsewhere than under the Ethiopian sky, that is their native sky.


The asp, aspis, is so called because it injects poisons with its bite, spreading them throughout the body. For the Greek word for poison isios, and from this comes the word aspis, because it kills with a poisonous bite. It moves quickly with its mouth always open and emitting vapour.

There are various kinds and species of asps which inflict harm with different effects.

It is said that when the asp begins to endure a snake-charmer summoning it with music designed for that purpose, to bring it out of its cave, and it does not want to come out, it presses one ear to the ground, and blocks and covers the other with its tail, and deaf to those magic sounds, does not go out to the man who is charming him.

Of a similar nature are the men of this world, who close one ear with earthly desires. The other they block with their deeds, lest they hear the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whosoever he be of you that foresaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple or servant’ (see Luke, 14:33). Asps do no more than merely close their ears. Men of this world blind their eyes lest they see heaven and are reminded of the works of the Lord.

The dissa is a kind of asp, called situla in Latin, because those it bites die of thirst, sitis.

There is a kind of asp called ypnalis, because it kills you by sending you to sleep. It was this snake that Cleopatra applied to herself, and was released by death as if by sleep.

The emorrosis is an asp, so called because it kills by making you sweat blood. If you are bitten by it, you grow weak, so that your veins open and your life is drawn forth in your blood. For the Greek word for ‘blood’ is emath.

The prester is an asp that moves quickly with its mouth always open and emitting vapour, as the poet recalled like this: ‘The greedy prester that opens wide its foaming mouth’ (Lucan, Pharsalia, 9, 722). If it strikes you, you swell up and die of gross distention, for the swollen body putrefies immediately after.

The spectaficus is an asp which, when it bites a man, destroys him, so that he turns entirely into fluid in the snake’s mouth.

The cerastis, is so called because it has horns on its head like a ram’s. For the Greek word for ‘horns’ is ceraste. It has a set of four small horns and, displaying them, it persuades animals that they are good to eat, then kills its prey; for it covers its entire body with sand, so that no trace of it shows, except the part with which it catches the birds or animals it has attracted. It bends more than other snakes, so that it seems to have no spine.


The bat, a lowly animal, gets its name from vesper, the evening, when it emerges.
It is a winged creature but also a four-footed one, and it has teeth,which you would not usually find in birds. It gives birth like a quadruped, not to eggs but to live young.

It flies, but not on wings; it supports itself by making a rowing motion with its skin, and, suspended just as on wings, it darts around.

There is one thing which these mean creatures do, however: they cling to each other and hang together from one place looking like a cluster of grapes, and if the last lets go, the whole group disintegrate; it a kind of act of love of a sort which is difficult to find among men.


Of the bear

The bear is said to get its name because the female shapes her new-born cub with her mouth, ore,giving it, so to speak, its beginning, orsus. For it is said that they produce a shapeless fetus and that a piece of flesh is born. The mother forms the parts of the body by licking it. The shapelessness of the cub is the result of its premature birth. It is born only thirty days after conception, and as a result of this rapid fertility it is born unformed. The bear’s head is not strong; its greatest strength lies in its arms and loins; for this reason bears sometimes stand upright. Bears do not neglect the business of healing themselves. If they are afflicted by a mortal blow and injured by wounds, they know how to heal themselves. They expose their sores to the herb called mullein – flomus, the Greeks call it – and are healed by its touch alone. When sick, the bear eats ants. The bears of Numidia stand out from other bears  by virtue of the shagginess of their hair. Bears are bred in the same way, wherever they come from. They do not mate like other quadrupeds but embrace each other when they copulate, just like the couplings of humans. Winter arouses their desire.

The males respect the pregant females, and honour them by leaving them alone; although they may share the same lair at the time of birth, they lie separated by a trench. Among bears the time of gestation is accelerated. Indeed, the thirtieth day sees the womb free of the cub. As a result of this rapid fertility, the cubs are created without form. The females produce tiny lumps of flesh, white in colour, with no eyes. These they shape gradually, holding them meanwhile to their breasts so that the cubs are warmed by the constant embrace and draw out the spirit of life. During this time bears eat no food at all in the first fortnight; the males fall so deeply asleep that they cannot be aroused even if they are wounded, and the females, after they have given birth, hide for three months. Soon after, when they emerge into the open, they are so unused to the light that you would think they had been blinded. They attack beehives and try hard to get honeycombs. There is nothing they seize more eagerly than honey. If they eat the fruit of the mandrake they die. But they prevent the misfortune from turning into disaster and eat ants to regain their health. If they attack bulls, they know the parts to threaten the most, and will not go for any part except the horns or nose: the nose, because the the pain is sharper in the more tender place.


Of bees

Bees, apes, are so called either because they hold on to things with their feet, or because they are born without feet (the Latin word for ‘foot’ is pes). For afterwards they acquire both feet and wings.

Expert in the task of making honey, they occupy the places assigned to them; they construct their dwelling-places with indescribable skill, and store away honey from a variety of flowers. They fill their fortress, made from a network of wax, with countless offspring.

Bees have an army and kings; they fight battles. They flee from smoke; they are irritated by noise; many are found to have been born from the corpses of oxen. To produce them, you beat the flesh of dead calves, so that worms come forth from the putrefying blood; these later become bees.

Properly speaking, however, only the creatures that come from oxen are called bees; those that come from horses, are hornets; those from mules, drones;wasps, from asses. The Greeks call the larger bees which are produced on the outer parts of the honeycomb castros; some think they should be called ‘kings’ because they they are leaders in the fortress.

Bees, alone among all the kinds of living things, raise their offspring communally, live in a single dwelling, are enclosed within a single homeland, and share their toil, their food, their tasks, the produce of their labour and their flight.

What else? Procreation is common to all, as is the purity of their virginal body in the common process of birth, since this is achieved without intercourse or lust; they are not wracked by labour pains, yet they produce at once a great swarm of offspring, collecting them with their mouths from leaves and grass.

They choose their own king, they appoint themselves his people; but although they are subject to the king, they are nevertheless free. For they have the right of selecting him and of offering him their loyalty, because they love him as one whom they have chosen and honour him with such a responsibility. Moreover, the king is not chosen by lot, because in such cases the outcome is a matter of chance not judgement. And often, by the unpredictable chance of fate, the least suitable candidate is chosen over better ones.

Among bees, the king has outstanding natural characteristics, standing forth by virtue of the size and appearance of his body. And, what is essential in a king – a merciful nature. For even if he has a sting, he does not use it for revenge, for there are laws of nature, unwritten but embedded in custom, that those who are endowed with the greatest power should be the more lenient in administering punishment.

The bees who do not comply with the laws of the king, repent and punish themselves and die by their own sting. It is custom that the Persians are said to preserve today: that those who have committed a crime pay the price by carrying out their own sentence of death.

Thus no peoples serve their king with the devotion shown by the bees: not the Indians, nor the Persians, who are subject to exceedingly harsh laws, nor the Sarmatians. Their devotion is such that no bees dare leave their living areas in search of food, unless the king has gone first and has claimed his place at the head of the flight.

Their flight takes them over a scented landscape, where there are gardens of flowers, where a stream flows through meadows, where there are pleasant places on its banks. There young people play lively games, there men exercise in the fields, there you find release from care.

The bees’ pleasant labours amid the flowers and sweet grasses provide the foundations of their fort. For what else is a honey-comb in the bee-hive but a kind of fortress? After all, from the hives drones are kept out. What four-cornered fort, however, could possibly have the skilled workmanship and elegance that there is in the honey-combs, in which tiny, round compartments are connected one to another for support? What master of construction taught the bees to construct six-sided compartments, each side of the same, unvarying length; to hang between the walls of each living area fine beds of wax; to compress the honey-dew; and to fill their storehouses, woven from flowers, with a kind of nectar?

You can see how the bees all compete with each other in carrying out their duties: some keeping watch over those who are seeking food; some keeping a careful guard on the fort, that is, the hive; some keeping a look-out for rain, their eye on the massing clouds; some making wax from the flowers; some collecting in their mouth the dew poured from the flowers. You can see too, however, that no bees lie in wait for other creatures, to take advantage of their toil; and none take a life by force. If only they themselves did not need to fear the ambushes of thieves!

Nevertheless, they have their own weapon, the sting, and pour poison into the honey-dew if they are provoked; and when they inflict a wound in the heat of revenge, they lay down their lives in the act.

In recesses deep in its fortress, the hive, the bee pours out the dewy moisture, and gradually with the passage of time it is compressed into honey, although it was liquid to begin wit; and by contact with the wax and the scent of flowers, it begins to glow with sweetness of honey.

The Scripture might justifiably extol the bee as a good workman, as it does the ant, saying: ‘Go to the bee and see how it works and imitate its way of working’ (see Proverbs, 6:6). For the bee is engaged in a highly respected branch of industry; kings and commoners alike consume its product for the sake of their health; it is much sought-after and loved by all. Hear what the prophet would say. It is a fact that God instructs you to follow the example of that little bee and imitate its way of working. See how industrious it is, how much it is loved; everyone longs for and seeks out its fruit of its labour; this is not kept for certain kinds of people only, but grows sweet in the mouths of kings and commoners, to the enjoyment of all without distinction.

Honey is not only a source of pleasure but of health; it soothes the throat and heals wounds; and it acts as a remedy for internal ulcers.

Thus although the bee may be weak in terms of physical strength, it is strong in terms of its vigorous good sense and love of virtue.

Lastly, bees defend their king, giving him the utmost amount of protection, and think it a noble act to die for him. When their king is safe, they cannot change their judgement or alter their opinion. When they have lost their king, they abandon the faithful discharge of their duty and plunder his store of honey, because he who commanded their loyalty is slain.

Although other birds barely produce a single brood in any one year, bees produce two, and being thus twice as fertile, they outnumber the rest.


The basilisk’s name in Greek, translated into Latin, regulus, means ‘little king’. It is so called because it is the king of crawling things, who flee when they see it, because it kills them with its scent. It will even kill a man just by looking at him. Indeed, no bird can fly past unharmed by its gaze but, however far away, will be burnt up and devoured in its mouth.

The basilisk can be conquered by weasels. Men put them into the caves where the basilisks lie hidden. The basilisk, seeing the weasel, flees; the weasel pursues and kills it. For the Creator has made nothing without a remedy. The basilisk is half-a-foot in length, with white stripes.

Of the basilisk, or Regulus basilisk-cocatriche nightmare catcher
Basilisks, like scorpions, seek out dry places; after they have come to water and bite anyone there, they make that person hydrophobic and send them mad. The creature called sibilus is the same as the regulus, or basilisk; for it kills with its hiss before it bites or burns.

bæzɪlɪsk, from the Greek βασιλίσκοςbasilískos, “little king;” Latin regulus is a legendary reptile reputed to be king of serpentsand said to have the power to cause death with a single glance. According to the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder, the basilisk of Cyrene is a small snake, “being not more than twelve fingers in length,” that is so venomous, it leaves a wide trail of deadly venom in its wake, and its gaze is likewise lethal; its weakness is in the odor of the weasel, which, according to Pliny, was thrown into the basilisk’s hole, recognizable because all the surrounding shrubs and grass had been scorched by its presence. It is possible that the legend of the basilisk and its association with the weasel in Europe was inspired by accounts of certain species of Asiatic snakes (such as the king cobra) and their natural predator, the mongoose.

The basilisk is called “king” because it is reputed to have on its head a mitre– or crown-shaped crest. Stories of the basilisk show that it is not completely distinguished from the cockatrice. The basilisk is alleged to be hatched by a cockerel from the egg of a serpent ortoad (the reverse of the cockatrice, which was hatched from a cockerel’s “egg” incubated by a serpent or toad). In Medieval Europe, the description of the creature began taking on features from cockerels.

Isidore of Seville defined the basilisk as the king of snakes, due to its killing glare and its poisonous breath. The Venerable Bede was the first to attest to the legend of the birth of a basilisk from an egg by an old cockerel, and then other authors added the condition of Sirius being ascendant. Alexander Neckam (died 1217) was the first to say that not the glare but the “air corruption” was the killing tool of the basilisk, a theory developed one century later by Pietro d’Abano.

Theophilus Presbyter gives a long recipe in his book for creating a basilisk to convert copper into “Spanish gold” (De auro hyspanico). The compound was formed by combining powdered basilisk blood, powdered human blood, red copper, and a special kind of vinegar.

Albertus Magnus in the De animalibus wrote about the killing gaze of the basilisk, but he denied other legends, such as the rooster hatching the egg. He gave as source of those legends Hermes Trismegistus, who is credited also as the creator of the story about the basilisk’s ashes being able to convert silver into gold: the attribution is absolutely incorrect, but it shows how the legends of the basilisk were already linked to alchemy in the 13th century.

Geoffrey Chaucer featured a basilicok (as he called it) in his Canterbury Tales. According to some legends, basilisks can be killed by hearing the crow of a rooster or gazing at itself through a mirror. The latter method of killing the beast is featured in the legend of the basilisk ofWarsaw, killed by a man carrying a set of mirrors.

Stories gradually added to the basilisk’s deadly capabilities, such as describing it as a larger beast, capable of breathing fire and killing with the sound of its voice. Some writers even claimed it could kill not only by touch, but also by touching something that is touching the victim, like a sword held in the hand. Also, some stories claim its breath is highly toxic and will cause death, usually immediately. The basilisk is also the guardian creature and traditional symbol of the Swiss city Basel.

The basilisk was, however, believed to be vulnerable to cockerels; therefore travelers in the Middle Ages allegedly sometimes carried cockerels with them as protection.

Leonardo da Vinci included a basilisk in his Bestiary, saying it is so utterly cruel that when it cannot kill animals by its baleful gaze, it turns upon herbs and plants, and fixing its gaze on them withers them up.

According to the tradition of the Cantabrian mythology, the ancient Basiliscu (as they called it) has disappeared in most of the Earth but still lives in Cantabria, although it is rare to see it. This animal is born from an egg laid by an old cock just before his death a clear night and full moon exactly at midnight. Within a few days, the egg shell, which is not hard, but rather soft and leathery, is opened by the strange creature that already has all the features of an adult: legs, beak, cockscomb, and reptilian body. Apparently, this strange creature has an intense and penetrating fire in its eyes that at the animal that or person who gazes directly upon it would die. The weasel is the only animal that can face and even attack it. It can only be killed with the crowing of a rooster, so, until very recent times, travelers were carrying a rooster when they ventured into areas where it was said that the basilisks lived

The basilisk appears in the English Revised Version of the Bible in Isaiah 14:29 in the prophet’s exhortation to the Philistines reading, “Rejoice not,  Philistia, all of thee, because the rod that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a basilisk, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.” The King James version of the Bible states, “out of the serpent’s root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent.”

In Psalm 91:13:”super aspidem et basiliscum calcabis conculcabis leonem et draconem” in the Latin Vulgate, literally “You will tread on the lion and the dragon,/the asp and the basilisk you will trample under foot,” translated in the King James Version as: Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet,”the basilisk appears in the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, though not most English translations.


Birds have a single name, avis, but a variety of species. For just as they differ in appearance, so they differ in nature. Some are guileless, like doves; others are cunning, like the partridge; some come obediently to man’s hand, like hawks; others shun it, like the wild birds called garamantes. Some take pleasure in man’s company, like the swallow; others love the solitary life of the wilderness, like turtle-doves. Some feed only on the grain they find, like the goose; others eat flesh and think only of their prey, like the kite. Some live communally, that is, they fly together in flocks, like starlings and quail; others roam the skies alone, that is, they keep to themselves because they take their prey by surprise, like the eagle or the hawk and others of that sort. Some have twittering voices, like the swallow; others sing the sweetest of songs,like the swan and the blackbird. Some imitate the words and voices of men, like the parrot and magpie.

There are countless others, however, differing alike in kind and habits. For it is impossible to find out how many kinds of birds there are. And anyone who could penetrate the desert places of Scythia and India or Ethiopia still could not get to know all the species of birds there or the differences between them.

Birds are called aves because they do not go in a straight line but fly at random, off-course, per avia. They are called alites, winged creatures, because it is on their wings, ale, that they reach for the skies and it is by beating them that they ascend to the heights. They are called volucres, flying creatures, from volandum, flying, For what we call ‘walking’ and ‘flying’ stem from the same mechanism. For what we call vola, the hollow, or middle part of the foot or the hand, is in birds the middle part of the wings – at the junction with the shoulders – by whose motion the flight feathers are activated; hence their name, volucres.

The young of all birds are called pulli. But the young of quadrupeds are also called pulli. So, too, is a human child. The newly-born, then, are called pulli, because they are polluti, unclean; for the same reason, dark clothes are also called pulla.

Birds have wings, ale, in which feathers, fixed in a particular order, demonstrate the act of flight. Wings are called ale because birds nourish,alere, and cherish their young, folding their wings around them. The flight feather, penna, is so called from pendeo, to hover, that is, fly, from which comes also ‘suspend’. For birds move by means of their flight feathers when they entrust themselves to the air. The down feather, pluma, is so to speak, piluma, derived from pilus, hair. For just as there are hairs on the body of a quadruped, so there is down on birds.

It is known that many bird-names are formed from the sound of their call, like:

  • Grus- the crane
  • Corvus- the raven
  • Cignus- the swan
  • Bubo- the owl
  • Milvus- the kite
  • Ulula- the screech-owl
  • Cuculus- the cuckoo
  • [garrulus] Graculus-the jackdaw

and others. For the particular call they give has taught man what name they should be given.

Black bird

Isidore says of the blackbird: ‘The blackbird in ancient times was called medula, because it sang rhythmically.’ Others say that it was called merula, because it flew on its own, mera volans, so to speak.

Although it is black wherever it is found, there is a white species in Achaia. The blackbird is small but black. It represents those tainted by the blackness of sin.

The blackbird both moves and charms itself by the sweetness of its own voice. It represents those who are tempted by the suggestion of carnal pleasures. In fact, the blessed Gregory refers to this in his book of Dialogues, when he recounts how the blackbird came on the wing to the blessed Benedict and how after the departure of the bird, he was tempted with the fire of lust.

Gregory says: One day when the blessed Benedict was alone, the tempter appeared. For a small, black bird, commonly called a blackbird, began to fly around his head and to come up close to his face in a cheeky fashion, so that Benedict could have taken it in his hand if the saint had wanted to hold it. But he made the sign of the cross and the bird flew away. Such a temptation of the flesh as followed the departure of the bird, the saint had never experienced. For the evil spirit now brought before his inner eye the image of a woman whom Benedict had once seen. And the mind of the servant of God burned with such fire at the sight of her, that the flame of his love could scarcely contain itself in his breast and, overcome by desire, he now almost resolved to quit the wilderness. When suddenly, touched by the grace of heaven, he recovered himself, and seeing thick bushes of nettles and thorns growing nearby, he stripped off the garment he was wearing and threw himself naked amid the pricking thorns and stinging nettles. And having rolled in them, he emerged with his body covered in wounds, and through these wounds to his skin he discharged from his body the wound to his soul, because he transformed his desire into pain.

The blackbird in flight, therefore, represents enticement, tempting you to desire. If you want, therefore, to reject the desire symbolised by the blackbird, you must follow the example of the blessed Benedict and turn instead to the correction of discipline and thus rid yourself of pleasures of the mind by inflicting pain on your flesh.

In the regions of Achaia, according to Isidore, there are white blackbirds. A white blackbird represents purity of will. But by Achaia we understand the industrious sister. There are two sisters, Rachel and Leah, namely the active and the contemplative life. Leah we take to be the industrious one. The active life teaches us to devote ourselves to works of charity, to teach men who lack discernment, to have the purity of chastity, to work with our own hands. This is Achaia, the active life. In Achaia, therefore, like the white blackbirds, live those who live chastely the active life.


Of the silver-sheathed wings of the dove

It is my intention to paint a picture of the dove, whose wings are sheathed in silver and whose tail has the pale colour of gold (see Psalms, 68:13). In painting this picture I intend to improve the minds of ordinary people, in such a way that their soul will at least perceive physically things which it has difficulty in grasping mentally; that what they have difficulty comprehending with their ears, they will perceive with their eyes.

I want not only to depict the dove by creating its likeness,but also to describe it in words, to reveal the picture through the text, so that the reader who is unimpressed with the simplicity of the picture may at least take pleasure in the moral content of the text.

To you, therefore, who have received the wings of a dove; to you who have fled far away, to stay and be at rest in solitude (see Psalms, 55:6); to you who do not seek deferment, croaking like the raven ‘Cras, cras, Tomorrow tomorrow!’ but express penitence in the mournful cry of the dove (see Isaiah, 38:14); to you, I say, I shall at this time depict not just the dove but also the hawk.

See, on the same perch sit a hawk and a dove. For both of us – I from the clergy, you from the military – have been converted, so that we should share the monastic life together, as if we sat on the same perch, and that you,who were in the habit of stealing domestic birds, should now attract wild birds to conversion, luring them with the hand of virtuous conduct; by ‘wild birds’, I mean worldly people.

Therefore let the dove mourn, let it mourn (see Isaiah, 59:11) and let the hawk utter cries of grief. For the call of the dove is one of sorrow; the cry of the hawk, a complaint. For that reason, at the beginning of this work, I placed the dove first, because the grace of the holy spirit is always made ready for anyone who repents, and no-one will attain forgiveness except through this grace.

The account of the hawk comes after that of the dove; it signifies members of the nobility. For when anyone of the nobility is converted, he furnishes an example of virtuous conduct to the poor.

Of the dove and the hawk

As I have to write for people who have no education, the attentive reader should not be surprised if, for their improvement, I speak in a simple way of complex subjects. He should not ascribe to triviality the fact that I depict the hawk or the dove, since the blessed Job and the prophet David left us examples of birds of that kind to illustrate their teaching. For what the written word means to teachers, a picture means to the uneducated; just as the wise take pleasure in the complexity of a text, so the mind of ordinary people is captivated by the simplicity of a picture. Personally, I try harder to please the uneducated than to speak to the learned – as if I were pouring liquid into a vessel. For to furnish the wise man with words is like pouring liquid into a vessel that is already full.

Here begins the account of the three doves

‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14;NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13).

In reading the Holy Scripture, brothers, I have found references to three doves which, if they are carefully studied, can bring the minds of the uneducated to perfection. They are the doves of Noah, David and Jesus Christ. Noah represents peace; David, the mighty hand; Jesus, salvation. Now the sinner is told: ‘Hast thou sinned? do so no more’ (Ecclesiasticus, 21:1). If, therefore, you wish to be Noah, desist from sin; in order to be David, you must do brave deeds; if you long to be saved, ask for salvation from your Saviour. ‘Depart from evil and do good; seek peace’ (Psalms, 34:14). Turn towards the ark of Noah. Fight with David the battles of the Lord. Seek peace with Jesus in Jerusalem. Turn towards peace of mind. Resist temptation. Await patiently the favour of salvation.

Of Noah’s dove, it is said: ‘The dove came in to him in the evening; and in her mouth was an olive branch’ (see Genesis, 8:11). The dove returns to Noah’s ark as the soul is recalled from external things to the inner peace of the mind. The dove returns at evening as the light of wordly pleasure starts to fade, and the soul flees from the pomp of empty glory, fearing to encounter the darkness of the night – that is, the depths of eternal damnation. The dove carries an olive branch signifying the soul seeking mercy. It carries the olive branch in its mouth, signifying the soul begging with prayers for its sins to be forgiven.

Of the dove of David it is said: ‘and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold.’ Its tail feathers are of gold because anyone who conducts himself virtuously in time to come is promised forgiveness.

Likewise we read of our Saviour, that when the dove descended upon him, a voice was heard, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew, 3:17). The dove is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which was seen to decend upon Jesus in Jordan, because grace is made ready for anyone who is humble and cleansed of sin. To the penitent, mercy is granted; to those who are virtuous in conduct, a pardon is promised; to the loving, grace is given.

The mystic aspects of the dove

‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14; NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13).

The silver-covered dove is the Church, instructed by the teaching of the holy word.

It is said that the Church has a rostrum, pulpit, for preaching, divided for the purposes of receiving the ideas of the Old and New Testament, by analogy with the beak, rostrum, of the dove, which is divided to gather grains of barley and corn. The dove has a right and a left eye, signifying moral and mystic perception. With the left eye the dove regards itself, but with the right, it contemplates God.

It has two wings, signifying the active and the contemplative life. At rest, it is covered by them; in flight, it is raised by them to heavenly things. We are in flight, when we are in a state of ecstasy. We are at rest when we are among our brothers in a sober state of mind.

Feathers are set in these wings. They are teachers, fixed in the wings of righteous behaviour and the contemplation of God. The wordcleros in Greek we translate into Latin as sortes, shares assigned by lot. There are two such shares, the two Testaments. Between them rest those who agree with and trust in the authors of the Old and New Testaments.

‘Its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’. The back of the dove is said to be the part of the body to which the base of each wing is joined naturally. The heart, too, is seated there; lying just beneath the golden plumage of the dove’s back, it will be covered in time to come with the gold of eternal bliss. As gold is more precious than silver, the bliss of the world to come is more precious than the joy of the moment. Therefore the tail feathers of the dove’s back will be in the pale colour of gold, because the righteous will shine with surpassing brilliance in eternal bliss.

Also of the dove

‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14; NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13).

The dove, with its silver-covered feathers, signifies every faithful and pure soul, renowned for the high esteem accorded to its virtues. The dove gathers as many grains of seed for food as the soul does examples of righteous men as models of virtuous conduct.

The dove has two eyes, right and left, signifying, that is, memory and intelligence. With one it foresees things to come; with the other it weeps over what has been. Our ancestors in Egypt closed their eyes since they did not understand the works of God, nor remembered the multitude of his mercies.

The dove has two wings, signifying love of one’s neighbour and love of God. One is spread out in compassion to its neighbour, the other is raised in contemplation to God. From these wings spring feathers, that is, spiritual virtues. These feathers gleam with the brilliance of silver, since word of their renown has the sweet ring of silver to those who hear it.

The Greek word cleros is what we call in Latin sortes, shares allocated by lot. In life, there are four such ‘shares’: fear and hope, love and desire. They are ‘shares’, because they allot to us a place in our Father’s heritage. Fear and desire are extremes, hope and love intervene. Fear throws the soul into confusion, desire tortures the mind, and unless something intervenes between them, the soul has no peace. We must, therefore, place hope and love between desire and fear. For hope transforms fear, love moderates desire. Anyone who is between hope and love, therefore, between the two inner shares, sleeps soundly; anyone who is between the two outer ones, namely, fear and desire, lies awake and loses his wits. If, therefore, you are a dove, or the feather of a dove, when you fear and desire, you lie sleepless between the outer shares; when you hope and love, you sleep soundly between the inner.

‘And its tail feathers are in the pale colour of gold.’ Burdens are usually carried on the back, which can be said to signify toil; but by the tail feathers, which lie behind the back, is meant the expectation of reward. We believe that after enduring the labours of the present, the righteous will be rewarded for their merit in the future.

For God will reward his saints for their labours and lead them on a wondrous road; this, we believe, is represented by ‘the pale colour of gold’, because ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints’ (Psalms, 116:15). On the flight feathers, therefore, there is silver, as there is eloquence on tongues; but on the tail feathers there is gold – the reward that follows toil.

Also of the dove

‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14;NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13).

The silver-coloured dove means any prelate, or dignitary of the Church hierarchy still living, without the bile of malice.

‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…’ What the Greeks call cleros, we call sortes, shares allocated by lot; therefore, the proper meaning ofclerimonia is an inheritance bequeathed by will. As a result, the sons of Levi, among the children of Israel, were to have no allotted portion, that is, no part of an inheritance, but were to support themselves from tithes.

There are two inheritances. The earthly inheritance of the Old Testament and the eternal inheritance of the New. You ‘sleep’ between them, therefore, when you come to the end of your life with contempt for earthly things and hope for the things of heaven; when you do not gaze longingly at things of the present but wait patiently for those that are to come.

‘And its tail feathers are in the pale colour of gold.’ For the eyes of the righteous will see the king in his glory. You will have gold on your tail feathers, when the glory of the divine majesty appears in time to come.

Kingly crowns are fashioned from the purest gold; and coins are minted from true silver, on which the royal portrait is stamped. On an ordinary coin of silver or bronze there is stamped a representation of the king’s appearance; on a gold crown, the symbol of his victory. The coinage of God’s word teaches us to imitate the life of Christ, but the crown of his victory teaches us that after our struggles in this world, there is an end of conflict. There is the gold, then, as if on the tail feathers of a dove. The silver, here on the flight feathers, is the silver of preaching; because when the dove comes to receive those gifts, it will no longer need the eloquence of the pulpit, but in recompense will live in the purity of perfection without end.

Of the feet of the dove

The dove, the subject of this account, is said to have red feet. This dove signifies the Church, which had feet on which it covered the extent of the whole world. The feet of the Church are its martyrs, who traverse the earth with as many steps as there are examples of righteous conduct whereby they demonstrate to their followers the way of righteousness. They touch the ground when they reprimand with fitting reproaches earthly deeds and desires. But when they tread on the earth, their feet are injured by its harshness. Thus the feet of the Church are turned red, because the martyrs shed their blood in the name of Christ. The red of the dove’s feet, therefore, is the blood of martyrs.

Of its feathers, sheathed in silver

The dove, which is said to have red feet, is shown in the words of the prophet to have had silver-covered feathers. ‘The wings of the dove,’ says David, ‘sheathed in silver.’

The flight feathers of the dove, covered with silver, are the preachers of the Church. Silver signifies the word of God. The ringing sound of silver signifies the sweetness of the word. Its colour is shining white. Truly, silver contains the shining whiteness of purity, as when a teacher preaches purity in his words and is pure within, loving the doctrine he teaches and revealing what he loves inwardly through his outward deeds. The holy words of the Lord are like silver, tested by fire. The words of the Lord are holy because they have not been corrupted by falsehood. Silver tested by fire remains strong against onslaught. The brilliance of silver on the feathers, therefore, is what is found on the tongues of those who preach – the soft allure of the word of God.

Of the colour of the dove’s wings

I have found no written reference to the colour of the dove’s wings, but it can be attributed by analogy with the real dove; so that if you were to see a painting of a dove, you would not deny that it should have the colour of the real dove.

The surface of the wings is suffused with the colour of sapphire, because the soul of a contemplative man takes on the appearance of heaven. But the sapphire colour of the wings is marked by traces of shining white, as the white of snow is tinged with sapphire. The mixture of snow-white and sapphire in the wings signifies purity of the flesh and the love of contemplation.

Of the tail feathers of the dove

The prophet refers to the tail feathers of the silver-covered dove and thereafter shows, in moral terms, that they refer to the end of a man’s life on earth. He shows that the colour gold represents purity of mind; the pale colour of gold signifies mortification of the flesh. For paleness is the the natural colour of the suffering soul and of the mortified flesh. Therefore the tail feathers of the silver-coloured dove will have the paleness of gold as purity of mind and mortification of the flesh prevail when a dying man makes his end. But for this reason also the golden colour of the dove’s tail feathers is mixed with sapphire, because the glory of the bliss to come will closely follow the soul of the contemplative man. Therefore the golden colour of the tail feathers signifies the gift of his eternal reward.

Of the eyes of the dove

‘Thou hast doves’ eyes’ (Song of Solomon, 1:15). The dove spends much of its time sitting on water, so that if it sees the shadow of a hawk that is flying overhead, it can avoid it by fleeing. The Church protects itself with the scriptures, in order to escape the deceits of the Devil who plots against it.

The dove, therefore, has saffron-coloured eyes. The colour of saffron in the eyes, therefore, signifies the discernment that comes with mature reflection. For when anyone considers deliberately what he should do or think, it is as if he adorns the eyes of the spirit with saffron. Saffron has the colour of ripe fruit. Therefore a saffron-coloured eye signifies the perceptivity that comes with maturity.

Of the colour of the rest of the dove’s body

The rest of the dove’s body matches the colour of a wild sea. The sea, raging with the motion of the waves, boils; the flesh, boiling with the motion of the senses, rages. The sea, in its wildness, shifts and uplifts the sands; the flesh, with its carnal pleasures, beats upon the frail soul. The sea, flowing beyond its bounds, rushes to meet quiet waters; the flesh, lusting, pounds against quiet streams of tears. The sea, with stormy winds from different directions, hampers the passage of vessels; the tempests of the flesh send to the bottom the principles of righteous living.

When the sea is whipped up by storms of such force, earth is mixed with the water under the impact of the waves; and thus from the violent intermingling of sea and land, the sea acquires a mixed hue. Likewise, when the spirit will not condone the impulses of the flesh, this creates a certain colour in the body, like black mixed with white; formed from opposites, this colour is called neutral. The sea-like colour of the dove’s breast, therefore, signifies the distressed state of the human mind.

Of the different characteristics of the dove

I have found various references to its different characteristics, which I have included in this work, and on which I have made it my business to Commentary.

  • The first characteristic of the dove is that instead of song it brings forth a lament
  • The second, is that it lacks bile; the third, it likes to kiss
  • The fourth, it flies in flocks
  • The fifth, it does not live by theft
  • The sixth, it gathers better-quality grain
  • The seventh, it does not feed on corpses
  • The eighth, it nests in holes in rocks
  • The ninth, it rests on flowing water so that if it catches sight of the shadow of a hawk, it can more swiftly avoid its approach
  • The tenth, it rears twin chicks

The dove produces a lament instead of a song, because anything it does with pleasure, it then bewails aloud. It lacks bile, that is, the bitterness born of anger. It likes to kiss because it delights in widespread peace. It flies in flocks because it likes communal life. It does not live by theft, because it takes nothing from its neighbour. It gathers better-quality grain, that is, better precepts. It does not feed on corpses, that is, on carnal desires. It nests in holes in rocks because it places its hope in Christ’s passion. It rests on flowing waters, so that by sighting the hawk’s shadow it can avoid more swiftly the hawk’s approach, as one studies the scriptures to avoid the plotting of the Devil, who comes without warning. It rears twin chicks, that is the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour. Let anyone who has these qualities assume the wings of contemplation and with them fly to heaven.

Of the north wind and the south wind

The north wind is a very cold wind. ‘Out of the north an evil shall break forth’ (Jeremiah, 1:14). There Satan dwells; and thence is the source of ruin.

The north wind represents the weight of temptation; the breath of the wind is the first intimation of temptation; its coldness, the numbing effect of moral negligence. The north wind comes, therefore, when serious temptation possesses the mind. It rises when temptation withdraws from the soul.

‘From the north,’ says Isaiah, ‘and from the sea…’ (see 49:12). The north wind represents temptation; the sea, the world. Therefore Christ gathers his followers away from north wind and from the sea, since he keeps not only the righteous but also sinners away from the moral torment of temptation.

‘I will set my throne in the north,’ says Satan, ‘and I will be like the Most High’ (see Isaiah, 14: 13, 14). Uplifted on the wings of pride, he wishes to set his throne in the north; he longs to be like the Most High, presumptuously making himself the equal of one to whom he should be subject. And more than that, I say, he not only compares himself with his master but also thinks himself better. The Devil fell because he sought to exalt himself; man is humbled when he desires to rise in the world.

The south wind is a very hot wind. God, it is said, will come from the south (see BSV, NEB, Habakkuk,3:3). There is the seat of the Most High. There is the flame of love. From there comes the purity of truth.

The south wind blows from a tranquil quarter, because God reposes in tranquility of character. There he finds nourishment; there he finds rest. There is to be found peace of mind; there, too, the refreshment of contemplation.

The south wind signifies the grace of the Holy Spirit. The breath of the wind represents the beneficence of the Holy Spirit; its heat represents love. It comes therefore, whenever the grace of the Holy Spirit grows within in a man’s mind. It rises whenever that grace withdraws from the mind.

God, it is said, will come from the south. The Devil from the north; God from the south. The Devil lives in the darkness of ignorance; God delights in the tranquility born of love of one’s fellow-man.

The cold of the north wind causes the pores of the flesh to close tightly; the heat of the south wind opens them up again. For what cold avarice holds back in a tight fist, bountiful charity offers as alms in open hands.

If old wings carry the soul down to hell, new wings carry it up to the heavenly things it longs for. For the sins of the soul weigh it down; its virtues raise it up.


Next, of the hawk

The hawk is a bird armed rather with spirit than with claws, having great courage in its small body.

It gets its name, accipiter, from accipiendo, accepting – that is, a capiendo, taking to itself. For it greedily seizes other birds. For that reason it is called accipite, meaning one who seizes by force. Therefore Paul says: ‘You suffer if a man take of you’ (Corinthians 2, 11:20); but while he means to say ‘siquis rapit, if any man seizes something from you by force’, he says ‘siquis accipit, if any man take’.

It is said that the hawk is lacking in parental care towards its young, for when it sees that they are able and trying to fly, it does not feed them but beats them with its wings, throws them from the nest and forces them from a tender age to catch prey for themselves lest, when they are fully grown, they should become lazy. It takes care lest in their childhood they grow idle, or are given up to pleasure, or grow weak from inactivity, or learn to expect food rather than to seek it for themselves, or abandon their natural vigour. Hawks stop bothering to feed their young in order to make them bold enough to seize food for themselves.

The blessed Gregory on the hawk and how it moults

‘Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom and stretch her wings toward the south?’ (Job 39:26).

On which the blessed Gregory Commentarys: It is the custom of hawks in the wild to spread their wings when the south wind blows, so that their limbs are warmed by the wind to release their old feathers. When there is no wind, they create a breeze by spreading their wings to face the rays of the sun and beating them; and thus, as the pores of their body open, either their old plumage falls out, or new feathers grow in.

What does it signify, therefore, that the hawk moults in the south wind, if not that every saint is warmed by the touch of the breath of the Holy Spirit and, casting aside his old way of life, takes on the form of a new man? As the Apostle admonishes us, saying: ‘Ye have put off the old man with his needs; and have put on the new man’ (Colossians, 3:9). And again: ‘But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day’ (Corinthians 2, 4:16).

To throw off the old plumage is to abandon a long-standing attachment to a deceitful way of life. To assume new plumage is to hold to a way of life that is gentle and simple. For the plumage of the old way of life weighs you down, while that of the new growth raises you up, so that the newer the plumage, the lighter it is for flight.

The phrase ‘stretching its wings to the south’ is well chosen. ‘To stretch’ here means to reveal our thoughts by confessing them through the influence of the Holy Spirit, so that we no longer choose to conceal our sins by defending them but choose to reveal them openly by accusing ourselves of them. So, therefore, the hawk moults when it spreads its wings to the south wind, as we each clothe ourselves in the plumage of virtue when we lay our thoughts open to the Holy Spirit by confessing them.

For if you do not reveal your old sins by confessing them, you will by no means accomplish the works of the new life. If you cannot bewail the sins that weigh you down, you will not have the strength to accomplish the works that can raise you up. For the power of remorse alone opens the pores of the heart and causes the plumage of virtue to grow. When the mind zealously convinces itself that it has been neglectful in the past, it becomes renewed, eager and refreshed.

Therefore let the blessed Job be told: ‘Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom and stretch her wings toward the south?’ that is, you, O God, have conferred on all the elect the insight so that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they may spread the wings of their thoughts in order to cast off the weight of their old way of life, and take on the plumage of virtue to fly anew. From this, evidently, Job is to infer that the man has no alertness of perception within himself, who can by no means transfer it from himself to others.

e are two kinds of hawk, domestic and wild. It is the same bird, however, but at different times it can be wild or domestic. The wild hawk is accustomed to prey on tame birds; the domestic hawk on wild. The wild hawk eats the prey it catches immediately; the domestic hawk keeps what it catches to leave for its master. Furthermore, its master opens the stomachs of the captured birds and takes their hearts to give them as food to his hawk. He throws away the intestines with the ordure, which produces putrefaction of the flesh with a stench if it remains inside.

In a moral sense, the wild hawk seizes and devours the birds it catches as an evil man ceaselessly frustrates the actions and thoughts of ordinary people. The domestic hawk, in contrast, is like a spiritual father. As the hawk seizes wild birds, so the spiritual father leads worldly men to conversion by his preaching. As the hawk kills what it captures, so the spiritual father forces worldly men die to the world, through mortification of the flesh.

The master of the domestic hawk, that is, the Lord Almighty, opens the stomachs of its prey when he cleanses weakness of the flesh by rebuking it through the Scriptures. He takes out the hearts when he exposes the thoughts of worldly men through confession. He throws out the intestines and ordure of the stomach when he makes the memory of sin offensive to us. As birds taken by the hawk come in this way to its master’s table, so sinners, ground by the teeth of teachers, turn into the body of the Church.

How the hawk should moult

To allow domestic hawks to moult more easily, you need a mew that is secure and warm. Secure mews are like cloisters. When a wild hawk is placed there, in order to be tamed, it must be locked up. There it lets fall its old feathers and  acquires new ones, as anyone entering the cloister is deprived of his former vices and adorned with the virtues of a new man.

The hawk is not released from the mew until its old feathers have been cast off and the new ones are firmly in place. But when it is strong enough to fly and is released outside, it comes to settle on the hand. Likewise, if a convert leaves the cloister, he must settle on a virtuous way of life, and when he is flown from that perch he should soar with all his will to heavenly things, the object of his desires.

Why the hawk is carried on the left hand

The hawk is customarily carried on the left hand, so that when it has been let off the leash to catch something, it should fly back onto the right. ‘His left hand’, it is written, ‘is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me’ (Song of Solomon, 2:6).

The left hand represents temporal possessions; the right, eternal life. Those who manage temporal possessions sit on the left. Those who desire eternal life with all their heart fly on the right. It is there that the hawk will catch the dove – that is, anyone who has changed for the better will receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.

The end of the account of the dove and the hawk.

Turtule Dove- Sparrow

The beginning of the account of the turtle dove and the sparrow

After the mournful note of the dove and the plaintive call of the hawk, lest I linger too long, I shall write more speedily of the lament of the turtle-dove and the cry of the sparrow – and not only write of them, but also portray them. My purpose is to show how the turtle-dove cherishes the solitude of the wilderness, and the sparrow cries ceaselessly, alone on the roof; so that, following the example of the turtle dove, you may cleave to the purity that comes of chastity, and following that of the sparrow, you may take pleasure in acting shrewdly and prudently; living chastely and going your way with caution.

Of the turtle dove

The turtle dove, so called from the sound it makes, turtur, is a shy bird, and stays all the time on mountain summits and in deserted, lonely places. It shuns the houses and society of men and keeps to the woods [in woods, repeated]. Even in the winter time, when it has lost its plumage, it is said to to live in the hollow trunks of trees.

The turtle dove also overlays its nest with squill leaves, in case a wolf should attack its young. For it knows that wolves usually run from leaves of this kind.

It is said that when the she-bird is widowed by the loss of her mate, she holds the name and rite of marriage in such esteem, that because her first experience of love has deceived her, cheating her with the death of her beloved, since he has become permanently unfaithful and a bitter memory, causing her more grief by his death than he gave her pleasure from his affection, for this reason she refuses to marry again, and will not relax the oaths of propriety or the contract made with the man who pleased her. She reserves her love for her dead mate alone and keeps the name of wife for him. Learn, you women, how great is the grace of widowhood, when it is proclaimed even among the birds.

Who, therefore, gave these laws to the turtle dove? If I look for a man as law-giver, I cannot find him. For there is no man who would dare – not even Paul dared – to prescribe laws for observing widowhood. He said only:’I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully'(1 Timothy, 5:14). And elsewhere: ‘It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn’ (1 Corinthians, 7:8,9). Paul desires in women what in turtle doves is an enduring characteristic. And elsewhere he urges the young to marry, because it is only with difficulty that our women achieve the virtue of turtle doves. Therefore it was God who infused the turtle doves with this grace or capacity for affection, giving them the virtue of continence; God, who alone can set forth the law which all should follow.

The turtle dove is not inflamed by the flower of youth  and is not affected by chance temptation. It cannot go back on its first pledge of love because it knows how to preserve the chastity which it plighted as the first duty of marriage.

Of the palm-tree and the turtle dove

‘I shall multiply my days as the palm’ (see Job 29:18).

The palm-tree ‘multiplies its days’, because it grows slowly before it reaches its full height. In the same way, a righteous man proceeds slowly before he attains what he strives for. For he longs to attain the kingdom of heaven. But worldly desire prevents him from attaining his chosen goal other than at a slow pace.

The palm-tree multiplies its days. Neither the cold of winter nor the extreme heat of summer, however, prevent it from flourishing at all times. In the same way, a righteous man grows ever stronger and nothing hinders him in his pursuit of virtuous conduct. The cold of winter represents the sluggishness or heedlessness of a mind that lacks religious zeal. The extreme heat of summer represents the ardour of lust, or the flame of wrath or the smouldering fire of covetouness. As the palm-tree, therefore, does not wither in the cold nor burn in the great heat of summer, so a righteous man does not feel the pressure of any sort of temptation.

The palm-tree multiplies its days in another sense, as when a righteous man recalls to his memory the days past and contemplates in his mind the years of eternity. He tells himself how few his past days have been and, looking at it from the other side, trusts in a long line of days to come. If you take this teaching to heart, you will grow to a great height, multiplying your days and triumphing over adversity, like the palm-tree.

Again of the palm-tree

‘Thy stature is like to a palm-tree’ (Song of Solomon, 7:7).

The palm adorns the victor’s hand, and the righteous man carries the palm of victory in the hand of victory, won by his virtuous conduct. There are said to be three things over which the righteous man must win victory. The world, the flesh and the Devil. He triumphs over the world when he scorns it with its delights. He overcomes the flesh when he subdues it by his abstinence. He conquers the Devil and forces him to submit when he banishes him from his life. He who triumphs over these three things by virtuous conduct, therefore, bears the palm of victory in his hand.

Of the cedar and the sparrows that nest in its branches

When the words ‘cedar’ and ‘Lebanon’ are placed together, it is in a good sense. As Solomon says in the Song of Songs: ‘his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars’ (5:15).

Lebanon is a mountain of Phoenicia at the northern limit of Judaea. Its trees surpass the timber of other trees in height, appearance and strength. By Mount Lebanon we can doubtless understand excellence in virtues. It stands at the northern limit of Judaea, to prevent the Devil from entering by means of temptation the minds of those who are sincerely praising the Lord. Its trees surpass others in height, appearance and strength, as every faithful soul surpasses others in the exalted nature of its desire, the splendour of its chastity and the strength of its constancy.

By the cedar we understand Christ. He is the tall cedar of Lebanon, similar in form to the hyssop which, although it grew tall, was made humble. Sparrows are preachers. Their fledglings are those born of the word as it is preached. Their nest is a place where there is peace of mind. Build your nest in the cedar, therefore, if you are one of those who, by living at peace, have not given up hope of eternal bliss.

There are those cedars of Lebanon which the Lord planted. They represent the rich of the world. Sparrows represent the heads of monasteries; fledglings are their disciples. The nest represents convent buildings.

Sparrows nest in these cedars, because spiritual rulers place their convents on the estates of the rich. There the sparrows call ceaselessly, seeking food from God. Let all those who wish to be filled with the word of God as with food, seek their nourishment from him. Day and night the sparrows call out, like those who pray with all their heart to God on behalf of their benefactors.

Their minds at peace in the midst of the world, they care for their wings, the wings of contemplation, on which they seek to fly to the cedar as swiftly as they can. They fly around the trees of Lebanon, because they wish to know of the life and behaviour of spiritually eminent men. From this timber of Lebanon we read that Solomon made himself a chariot (see Song of Songs, 3:9), as the Church was made from illustrious and untiring men.

Again of the cedar

There are those cedars which the Lord did not plant. He did not plant them of his own will, he did not extend their number out of desire. ‘Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up’ (Matthew, 15:13)

These cedars of Lebanon are the rich and proud. Gyrfalcons and hawks nest in them that is, birds of prey. They make nests there as robbers build strongholds on the estates of the rich. Their fledglings are their accomplices or henchmen. These birds hide in the the cedars in order to catch their prey, as robbers are empowered to commit crimes by evil rulers.


The bird called caladrius, as Physiologus tells us, is white all over; it has no black parts. Its excrement cures cataract in the eyes. It is to be found in royal residences.

If anyone is sick, he will learn from the caladrius if he is to live or die. If, therefore, a man’s illness is fatal, the caladrius will turn its head away from the sick man as soon as it sees him, and everyone knows that the man is going to die. But if the man’s sickness is one from which he will recover, the bird looks him in the face and takes the entire illness upon itself; it flies up into the air, towards the sun, burns off the sickness and scatters it, and the sick man is cured.

The caladrius represents our Saviour. Our Lord is pure white without a trace of black, ‘who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth’ (1 Peter, 2:22). The Lord, moreover, coming from on high, turned his face from the Jews, because they did not believe, and turned to us, Gentiles, taking away our weakness and carrying our sins; raised up on the wood of the cross and ascending on high, ‘he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men, (Ephesians, 4:8).

Each day Christ, like the caladrius, attends us in our sickness, examines our mind when we confess, and heals those to whom he shows the grace of repentance. But he turns his face away from those whose heart he knows to be unrepentant. These he casts off; but those to whom he turns his face, he makes whole again.

But, you say, because the caladrius is unclean accoording to the law, it ought not to be likened to Christ. Yet John says of God: ‘And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up’ (4:14); and according to the law, ‘the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field’ (Genesis, 3:1). The lion and the eagle are unclean, yet they are likened to Christ, because of their royal rank because the lion is king of the beasts; the eagle, king of the birds

A completely white bird found in the courts of kings which, if it turns away from the one who is sick, meant that person would die; looking upon the person, however, it drew the infirmity upon itself and flew towards the sun, burning up the sickness and dissipating it.

It is said to also be able to take the sickness into itself and then fly away, dispersing the sickness and healing both itself and the sick person.

This is said to be analogous to Jesus Christ, whose crucifixion is said to have drawn out “the sickness” (sin, see Biblical sin-sickness analogy) and, through his “flight” from the grave, saved the sinner.

There are numerous theories as to where the myth of the Caladrius was started. One of them would be that it is merely the product of some overactive imaginations or that it was created purely as an analogy.

Another is that the Caladrius is based on a real bird. According to the descriptions of its being completely white with no black on it, it is possible that it was based on the dove, or possibly some sort of water bird such as the heron. Louis Reau believes it was most likely a white plover


It is a winged creature, fairly clever and very wise; it does not feed on corpses and it does not fly or wander aimlessly but stays in one place until it dies, finding both food and rest there.

Let every one of the faithful, therefore, maintain himself and live like that; let them not scurry around, straying this way and that, down different paths, as heretics do; let them not be enticed by the desires and pleasures of this world; but let them stay in one place, finding peace in in the catholic Church, where the Lord provides a dwelling-place for those who are spiritually in harmony, and there let them subsist daily on the bread of immortality, drinking the precious blood of Christ, refreshing themselves on the most sweet words of the Lord, ‘sweeter than honey and the honeycomb’ (Psalms, 19:10)


Of cranes

Cranes take their name, grues, from the sound of their own particular call. or such is the low, muttering sound they make.

It is interesting to recall how cranes organise their journeys. They go to some extent in military formation, and in case the wind should be against them on their way to their chosen land, they eat sand and ballast themselves to a reasonable weight by picking up small stones. Then they fly as high as they can, so that a from higher vantage point they can look out for the lands they seek.

As they fly swiftly on their way, they follow one of their number in a V-shaped formation. Confident in its navigation, it leads the flocks. It scolds the laggards and keeps the formation together with its calls. When it grows hoarse, another takes over.

Cranes are united in their concern for those who tire, to such an extent that if any drop out, they all surround the exhausted birds and support them until their strength is restored by this period of rest.

At night cranes keep careful watch. You can see the sentinels at their posts; while the other members of the flock sleep,filling itself with ballast to avoid being blown off course when migrating, it held a large pebble in its claw in the event that, if it fell asleep while guarding the flock, others would be alerted by the fallen stone others do the rounds and check lest they should be ambushed from any quarter; with their tireless energy, they ensure total vigilance.

When the crane’s turn on watch is over and its duty is done, it settles down to sleep, first giving a cry to wake one of those already asleep, whose turn it is to be on duty. The new guard take up its allotted task willingly, not refusing, as we do, gracelessly, because we want to go on sleeping; instead, rousing itself readily from its resting-place, it takes its turn and repays the service it has received with equal attention to duty.

Cranes do not desert the flock, because they are devoted by nature. They keep a safe watch, because they do it of their own free will. They divide the watches at night and take them in turns, according to a roster, holding small stones in their claws to ward off sleep. They give a cry when there is cause for alarm.

Their colouring shows their age, for as they grow older, it grows darker.

We can take the sentinel cranes to mean those discerning brothers who provide temporal goods for their brethren in common and have a special concern for each one of the community. They watch over the obedience of their brothers, as far as they can, protecting them prudently from the assaults of devils and the incursions of this world.

The cranes who are chosen to watch over the others hold a small stone in their claw, which is raised off the ground, fearing lest any of them fall asleep, in which case the stone will slip from their claw and fall; if it falls, the crane wakes up and cries out.

The stone is Christ; the claw, the disposition of the mind. For as anyone goes on foot, so the mind strives with its dispositions for its desires, as if on foot. If, therefore, anyone stands guard over himself or his brethren, let him carry a stone in his claw, that is, keep Christ in his mind; or let him be very careful lest, if he sleeps in sin, the stone should fall from his claw, that is, Christ depart from his mind. If, however, the stone has fallen, let him cry out by means of confession, that he may awake those who sleep, that is, let him urge his brethren to watch out attentively as much for him as for their own faults.

The colouring of the cranes reveals their age, for it grows darker as they grow older. This colour in old age refers to the elderly when they weep for their sins. For when the elderly remember their faults, they change colour in their latter years. For the old change their love of former pleasures into the sadness of repentance.

Behold how, through the nature of birds, we can teach the nature of the religious life.


The crow is a long-lived bird, called cornix in Latin and Greek.

Soothsayers assert that the crow can represent by signs the concerns of men, show where an ambush is laid and foretell the future. It is a great crime to believe this – that God confides his intentions to crows. Among the many omens attributed to crows is that of presaging by their caws the coming of rain. Hence the line: ‘Then the crow loudly cries for rain’ (Virgil,Georgics, 1, 388).

Let men learn from the crow’s example and its sense of duty, to love their children. Crows follow their young in flight, escorting them attentively; they feed them anxiously in case they weaken. A very long time passes before they give up their responsibility for feeding their offspring.

In contrast, women of our human race wean their babies as soon as they can, even the ones they love. Rich women are altogether averse to breastfeeding. If the women are poor, they cast out their infants, expose them and, when the babies are found, deny all knowledge of them. The rich themselves also kill their children in the womb, to avoid dividing their estate among many heirs; and with murderous concoctions of another species, through whom they guard against this early danger. There are two kinds of men, the good and the bad. The ‘other species’ is that of wicked men. The righteous, therefore, place the wicked before them, and watch closely what happens to them. By watching carefully, they see the early danger of sin, and avoid it.

This bird, like man, suffers from the falling sickness, in the same way that the spiritually-minded man, just like the carnally-minded man, is said to sin at times. No matter how often he sins, he does not die, because the grace of penitence is not denied him. On this subject it is written: ‘The righteous man falls seven times in a day’ yet he does not cease to be righteous (see Proverbs, 24:16). For as often as the righteous man sins, so often does he go on to rise again.

Of the crow

The crow is a long-lived bird, called cornix in Latin and Greek.

Soothsayers assert that the crow can represent by signs the concerns of men, show where an ambush is laid and foretell the future. It is a great crime to believe this – that God confides his intentions to crows. Among the many omens attributed to crows is that of presaging by their caws the coming of rain. Hence the line: ‘Then the crow loudly cries for rain’ (Virgil,Georgics, 1, 388).

Let men learn from the crow’s example and its sense of duty, to love their children. Crows follow their young in flight, escorting them attentively; they feed them anxiously in case they weaken. A very long time passes before they give up their responsibility for feeding their offspring.

In contrast, women of our human race wean their babies as soon as they can, even the ones they love. Rich women are altogether averse to breastfeeding. If the women are poor, they cast out their infants, expose them and, when the babies are found, deny all knowledge of them. The rich themselves also kill their children in the womb, to avoid dividing their estate among many heirs; and with murderous concoctions they destroy in the uterus the children of their own womb; they would rather take away life than transmit it.

What creature but man has taken the view that children can be renounced? What creature but man has endowed parents with such barbarous rights? What creature but man, in the brotherhood created by nature, has made brothers unequal? Different fates befall the sons of a single rich man. One enjoys in abundance the rights and titles of his father’s entire heritage; the other complains bitterly at receiving an exhausted and impoverished share of his rich patrimony. Did nature distinguish between what each son should receive? Nature has shared things equally among everyone, giving them what they need to be born and survive.

Let nature teach you to make no distinction, when dividing your patrimony, between those whom you have made equal by the title bestowed by brotherhood; for truly as you have bestowed on them the equal possession of the fact of their birth, so you should not grudge them the equal enjoyment of their status of brotherhood.


The duck, anas, has been aptly named because it is constantly swimming, natare. Some of its species are called Germanie, ‘from Germany’, because they eat more than the rest.

The goose, anser, derives its name from the duck, either because they are similar or because the goose too is constantly swimming.

The goose marks the watches of the night by its constant cry. No other creature picks up the scent of man as it does. It was because of its noise, that the Gauls were detected when they ascended the Capitol.

Each species of bird is born twice; for first the eggs are produced, then they are given form and life by the warmth of the mother’s body. They are called eggs, ova, because inside they are full of fluid. Anything that has fluid on the outside is umidum, ‘wet’; anything with fluid on the inside is called vividum, ‘life containing’.

Some people think that the word ovum is of Greek origin. For the Greeks call eggs oa, losing the v.

Some eggs are conceived by useless wind; nothing can be hatched from them, however, unless they have been conceived through intercourse with a male bird and penetrated by the spirit carried in his seed.

Such is the quality of eggs, they say, that wood soaked in them will not burn, nor clothing, in turn, catch fire. In addition, eggs mixed with chalk, it is said, will glue pieces of glass together.


The eagle is so called because of the sharpness of its eyes, for it is said to be of such keen vision that it glides above the sea on unmoving wings, out of human sight, yet from such a height sees small fish swimmming below and, swooping down like a missile thrown from a siege engine, it seizes its prey on the wing and carries it to land.

When the eagle grows old, however, its wings grow heavy, and its eyes grow dim. Then it seeks out a spring and, turning away from it, flies up into the atmosphere of the sun; there it sets its wings alight and, likewise, burns off the dimness in its eyes in the sun’s rays. Descending at length, it immerses itself in the spring three times; immediately it is restored to the full strength of its wings, the former brightness of its eyes.

In the same way, you, O man, with your old clothes and dim eyes, should seek the spiritual spring of the Lord and raise the eyes of your mind to God, the fount of righteousness, and your youth will be renewed like that of the eagle.

It is also said of the eagle that that it exposes its young to the sun’s rays, holding them in its claws in mid-air. If any of them, struck by the light beating down from the sun, maintains a fearless gaze without damaging its sight, this is taken as proof that it has shown itself true to its nature. But if the young bird turns its eyes away from the rays it is rejected as unworthy of its kind and of such a father and, being unworthy of being begotten, it is considered unworthy of being reared. The eagle condemns it not in a harsh manner but with the honesty of a judge.

He does it, not as a father denying his own child, but as one rejecting another’s.

seems to some, however, that the kindness of the common variety of the bird excuses the unkindness of its regal counterpart. The ordinary bird is called fulica, coot; in Greek, fene. Taking up the eaglet, abandoned or unacknowledged, the coot adds it to its brood, making it one of the family, with the same maternal devotion as it shows to its own chicks, and feeds and nourishes the eaglet and its own brood with equal attention.

The coot, therefore, feeds another’s young, while we cast off our own with the cruelty of an enemy. For the eagle, even if it rejects its young, does not cast them off as if they were its own, but will not even acknowledge them, as if they were unworthy of its kind. We, which is worse, abandon those we have already acknowledged as our own.

Again of the eagle

The word ‘eagle’ in the Holy Scriptures signifies sometimes evil spirits, ravishers of souls; sometimes the rulers of this world. Sometimes, in contrast, it signifies either the acute understanding of the saints, or the Lord incarnate flying swiftly over the depths then seeking once more the heights.

The word ‘eagle’ represents those who lie in ambush for the spirit. This is confirmed by Jeremiah, who says: ‘Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven’ (Lamentations, 4:19). For our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of heaven when wicked men do such things against us that they seem to exceed the very rulers of the air in their evil machinations

The word ‘eagle’ also symbolises earthly power. Ezekiel says with reference to this: ‘A great eagle with broad wings and long limbs, in full plumage, richly patterned, came to Lebanon. It took away the marrow of a cedar-tree, it plucked the highest foliage’ (see Ezekiel, 17:3-4).

This eagle – whom else does it signify but Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon? By the vastness of the eagle’s great wings is represented the vastness of Nebuchadnezzar’s army; by the length of its limbs, the length of his days; by its full plumage, his great wealth; by its rich patterning, his immeasurable earthly glory. ‘The eagle came to Lebanon and took away the marrow of a cedar tree, it plucked the highest foliage’,as Nebuchadnezzar, seeking dominion over Judea, carried off the nobility of that kingdom as if they were the marrow of the cedar. And when he carried the weakest offspring of the kings from the throne of the kingdom by taking him captive, it was as if he had plucked the highest foliage of the cedar.

The word ‘eagle’ represents the acute understanding of the saints. The same prophet, Ezekiel, when he described how he had seen the four evangelists in the form of animals, saw the fourth among them, that is, the one signifying John, as an eagle, which left the earth in flight; as John, on earth, penetrated the mysteries with his acute understanding by reflecting on the word. Likewise, those who still leave behind their earthly mind, seek heavenly things, as the eagle with John, through contemplation.

Again, the blessed Gregory on the subject of the eagle: ‘Like the eagle that hasteth to the prey’ (Job, 9:26). It is the custom of the eagle to look at the sun’s rays with unwavering gaze. But when it is driven by lack of food, it turns the gaze, formerly fixed on the sun’s rays, to a search for a corpse. And although it flies high in the sky, it heads towards the earth for meat to seize.

Clearly, the ancient fathers acted in the same way, contemplating the light of the Creator with an upward-reaching mind, insofar as their human frailty allowed. But when, foreseeing that he would become flesh at the end of the world, they turn their eyes as if from the sun’s rays to the earth, and come down from the heights to the depths, they acknowledge God above all things and man amid all things. They see that God will suffer and die for mankind, knowing that by his death they will be restored and refashioned in newness of life, just as, in the manner of the eagle, after staring at the sun’s rays, they seek food in a corpse.

There is an another interpretation. ‘Like the eagle that hasteth to the prey’. The eagle flies suspended at a great height and by the swift beating of its wings hangs poised in the air, but because of the longings of its stomach, it seeks the earth, hurling itself suddenly down from the heights.

Thus, in the same way, the human race in the person of its first ancestor Adam, fell from the heights to the depths, because without doubt the dignity of his state set him him at the height of reason, as if in the freedom of the air. But because, against God’s order, he took food, he came down to earth, driven by the longing in his stomach, and now feeds on meat, like the eagle after its flight, because he lost those free air-currents of contemplation, and now takes pleasure, on the ground, in carnal desires.

Again of the eagle. ‘Thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s’ (Psalms, 103: 5). It is usually said of the eagle that, when it suffers from old age, its beak grows hooked so that it cannot eat food but grows weak from under-nourishment. When it comes upon a rock, it sharpens its beak, and taking food once more, regains its youth.

The rock is Christ; the eagle, a righteous man, who sharpens his beak on the rock when he renders himself like Christ through virtuous conduct.


The hedgehog is covered in prickles. From this it gets its name, because it bristles, when it is enclosed in its prickles and is protected by them on all sides against attack. For as soon as it senses anything, it first bristles then, rolling itself into a ball, regains its courage behind its armour. The hedgehog has a certain kind of foresight: as it tears off a grape, it rolls backwards on it and so delivers it to its young. It is also called echinus, urchin. This ‘urchin’ thinking ahead, protects itself with twin ventilation ducts, son that when it thinks that the north wind is about to blow, it blocks the northern one, and when it knows that the south wind is giving warning of mist in the air, it goes to the northern passage to avoid the vapours blown from the opposite direction, which will do it harm..The Hedgehog, which at harvest time rolled on the ground, gathering grapes on its spins and taking them back to its young


There is a bird called the ibis; it purges its stomach with its beak. It feeds on the eggs of snakes and on carrion, and from them carries back food to its young, which they eat with great pleasure. Yet it fears to go into water, because it does not know how to swim, but walks about near the shore day and night, looking for dead fish of a small size or corpses which have been washed up.

The ibis signifies carnal men who feed, as it were, on deadly deeds, on which they nourish themselves to the condemnation of their wretched souls.

But you, a Christian, reborn by water and the holy spirit, enter the spiritual waters of the mysteries of God and thereafter eat the purest of food of which the apostle spoke, saying: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace longsuffering etc’ (see Galatians, 5:22).

If the sun and moon did not send forth their rays, they would give no light. If birds did not spread their wings, they could not fly. Thus, you, O man, if you do not protect yourself with the sign of the cross, and spread the wings of twofold love, you will not be able to pass through the tempests of this world to that most peaceful haven of the heavenly land. ‘And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed’ (Exodus, 17:11).


Here begins the account of fish

Fish, pisces, get their name, like cattle, pecus, from the word for grazing, namely, pascere. They are called reptiles because, when they swim, they have the appearance and manner of crawling. Although they can dive deep, nevertheless they crawl as they swim. On this subject David says: ‘So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable’ (Psalms, 104: 25)

Its wolf-like greed for fish gives the pike its name, lupus. It is a tricky fish to catch. It is said that when it is finally surrounded by the folds of the net, it ploughs up the sand with its tail and, hidden, swims through the net.

The mullet, mullus, is so called because it is delicate, mollis, and very tender; they say that eating it curbs lust; eating mullet can also impair your vision; men who often eat it give off a fishy smell. If you soak a dead mullet in wine, those who drink the liquor afterwards develop a loathing for wine.

Another kind of mullet, mugilis, gets its name because it is extremely agile, multum agilis. For when it is aware of the way in which fishermen have set their nets for it, it does not delay, but pulls back, then leaps over the net, so that you can actually see the fish fly.

The ways of fish are countless, as are their species. Some lay eggs, like the speckled, large fish called trout, and leave them in the water to hatch. Water, therefore, gives the life and form and, a gentle mother to living things, fulfils this obligation as if she were obeying an immutable law.

Other fish produce living offspring from their bodies, like the great whales, dolphins, seals and others of this sort; when they have produced their young and have, perhaps, a premonition that these are ever threatened by some kind of trap or in danger, in order to protect them or to calm with a mother’s love the fear of those of tender years, they are said to open their mouths and hold their young, without harming them, in their teeth, and also to take them back into their body, concealed in their womb.

What human affection can equal the sense of duty that we find in fish? For us, kisses suffice. For them, it is not enough to open the innermost parts of their body, to swallow their young then bring them back whole, to give their offspring life once again with their own warmth, to breathe into their young their own breath, and to live as two in one body until either they have carried them off to safety or by interposing their own bodies, have protected their young from the threatened danger.

Which fisherman seeing this, even if he were still able to catch the fish, would not give in to such a display of duty? Who would not marvel and stand amazed that nature has preserved in fish a quality that is not found in men?

Many men, acting out of mistrust, driven by malevolence and hatred, have killed their children; we have read of others, women, who have eaten their own children in times of famine. The mother thus becomes a tomb for her infants. To the spawn of the fish, however, the mother’s womb is like a wall; she preserves her harmless brood by turning her innermost parts into a sort of fortress.

The different species of fish, therefore, have different habits. Some lay eggs, others produce living, full-formed offspring. Those who lay eggs do not weave nests like birds; they do not go through the bother of a long process of hatching their young; and they do not have the trouble of feeding them. The egg has been laid, and the water has reared it on what is, in effect, her own natural bosom, like a gentle nurse, incubating the egg quickly so that it becomes a living thing. For, given life by the constant touch of its mother, the water, the egg disintegrates and the fish emerges. How pure and unspoiled this process of generation is, involving, as it does, no creature outside that particular species. For male fish know nothing about adulterous contacts with fish of other species, like the females with whom they copulate.

It is a fact that fish cannot escape violence from their own kind, and wherever there are smaller fish, they become the subject of the greed of more powerful fish, so that a weaker species is the prey of a stronger. There are many, indeed, which feed on vegetation. But among fish the smaller species is the food of the larger;in turn, the larger fish is seized by an even stronger one, and thus the predator becomes the prey.

Thus it is the way among fish that when one devours another, it is devoured by a third, and they each end up in the same belly, since each has been consumed by its appropriate consumer, and together in the same entrails is a twosome, one of them preyed upon, the other avenged. Among fish this aggression grew deliberately, just as it did in us, for it did not start in nature but in greed. Or because fish are given for man’s use, but are also given as a guide, that we might see in them the vices inherent in our own ways, and heed their example; lest the stronger should swallow up the weaker, he should be shown what harm he might suffer at the hand of one even stronger.

So, he who harms another, ties a noose for himself. And you, you are the fish that attacks the entrails of the other, you overpower the weak, you pursue the believer down to the depths. Take care lest, while you are in pursuit, you meet one who is stronger than you, that he who can defeat your snare does not lead you into another and that your prey is preoccupied with his own danger, before he witnesses yours.

The escarius is so called because, they claim, it alone ruminates its food,esca; other fish do not. They say it is a clever fish. For, caught in a pot, it does not try to break out with its forehead or try to stick its head through the wicker sides, but with rapid blows of its tail loosens the rear entrance of the pot and thus swims out through the back. If by chance another escarius sees it struggling, it seizes the captive’s tail between its teeth and helps it to break out.

The echenais is a very small fish, six inches long, which gets its name from the fact that it holds a ship fast by sticking to it; although the winds roar and the storms rage, the ship stays still, rooted, it seems, in the sea, immobile. The fish does this, not by holding the ship back, but simply by sticking on to it. Latin-speakers call this fish mora, because it forces vessels to stay in one place, thereby causing a delay, mora.

Eels, anguille, get their name from their similarity to serpents, angues. They are born from mud; for this reason, if you catch an eel, it is so smooth that the harder you grip it, the quicker it slithers away. They say that in the River Ganges, in the east, there are eels thirty feet long. If dead eels are soaked in wine, anyone drinking the liquor develops a loathing of wine.

The lamprey, murena, is called by the Greeks mirinna, because it twists itself into circles. Lampreys, it is said, are of the female sex only and conceive from intercourse with snakes; as a result, fishermen catch it by calling it with a snake’s hiss. It is difficult to kill a lamprey with a single blow from a cudgel; you need to beat it repeatedly with a stick. It is a fact that the life-spirit of the lamprey is its tail, for when it is beaten on the head, it is difficult to kill; but when it is beaten on the tail, it dies at once.

The name of the poilippus means ‘many-footed’, because it has a large number of coiling legs. It is a clever fish; it makes for the fisherman’s baited hook, catches hold of it by entwining it in its limbs, and does not let go until it has nibbled round the bait.

The torpedo is so called because it numbs the body of anyone who touches it when it is alive. According to Pliny the second, if a torpedo from the Indian sea is touched by a spear or rod, even from a considerable distance, the muscles of the fisherman’s arms, even if they are very strong, grow numb, and his feet, however fast they run, cannot move. So great is the power of the torpedo, that even its breath has this effect on the limbs of the body.

The crab also plans a series of tricks to acquire food. For it has a taste for oysters and sets out to feast on their flesh. But because seeking food means looking out for danger, the more difficult the chase, the greater the danger.

The crab’s quest is difficult because the food is enclosed within two very strong shells, for nature, acting in accordance with the will of the Creator, has furnished the softness of the flesh with walls, so to speak, nourishing and warming it within the shells in a bosom-like cleft, and the oyster spreads its flesh out as if in a valley. As a result, all the efforts of the crab come to nothing, because it has not the strength to open the closed oyster.

The crab’s quest becomes dangerous if the oyster shuts its shell on one of the the crab’s claws. The crab resorts to strategy and works on the idea of setting a trap, using a new kind of trick. Because all kinds of animals yield to pleasure, the crab watches out for the time when the oyster, safely out of the wind and lying in the rays of the sun, opens its double-shelled prison in order to satisfy its inner longing for some fresh air. Then the crab, stealthily inserting a pebble, stops the oyster from closing its shell and, finding what was shut now open, it inserts its claws in safety and feeds on the flesh inside.

In the same way, therefore, there are evil men who, in the manner of the crab, deceive others by stealth, and bolster their own incapacity by a degree of cunning; they enmesh their brothers in deceit and feed off another’s troubles. Be content with what is yours, and do not grow fat on the misfortunes of others. The right food is the sincerity of innocence.

The man who has his own sense of worthiness cannot waylay others; he does not burn with the flames of avarice; profit he regards as loss of virtue and an incentive to greed. Therefore, blessed is poverty if it teaches a man to know truly the worth of his possessions; it is preferable to any treasure, for ‘Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better a dinner of herbs where there is love, than a dinner of fatted calf where there is hatred’ (see Proverbs, 15:16-17).

Let us use our intelligence, therefore, to seek grace and attain salvation, not to deceive another in his innocence; and let us use the examples of sea-creatures to the advancement of our salvation, not to endanger others.

The urchin is small, worthless and contemptible – I am talking about the maritime kind – and is customarily taken by seafarers as a sign of a storm ahead or as a herald of calm weather. When it senses that a stormy blast is on the way, it seizes a good-sized pebble and carries it as a kind of ballast, and drags it like an anchor lest it is thrown up by the swell. Thus it saves itself not by its own strength but by using weight from another source to steer a stable course.

Sailors seize on this behaviour as a sign of bad weather to come and take precautions lest an unexpected hurricane should catch them unprepared.

What mathematician, what astrologer, what Chaldean can make sense in this way of the course of the stars, or of the motions and signs of the heavens. By what instinct has the urchin acquired this skill?

From what teacher has it learned this art? Who interpreted such omens for it? Men often observe turbulence in the air and are often deceived, because frequently it disperses without a storm. The urchin is not mistaken; the significance of the signs it sees does not escape it. From where did this tiny creature get such knowledge that it can foretell the future, because it has no innate capacity to display such foresight.

You must believe that it is through the kindness of the Lord of all things that the echinus. too, has received the gift of foresight. For if ‘God so clothe the grass of the field’ that we marvel, if he feeds ‘the fowls of the air’ (see Matthew, 6:26, 30); if ‘he provideth for the raven his food, when his young ones cry unto God’ (Job, 38:41); if he gives women the skill of weaving; if he has not left the spider, which hangs its open network on doorways, without the gift of knowledge; if he has given strength to the horse and loosed terror from its mane, so that it exults on the battlefield and laughs in the face of kings and ‘smelleth the battle afar off’ and says Ha! at the sound of the trumpets (see Job, 39: 19-25) … if these many creatures, who lack the capacity of reason, together with the grass and the lilies of the field, are filled with the wisdom which the Lord has dispensed, why should we doubt that he has also conferred upon the echinus the grace of foresight?

For there is nothing that the Lord has not examined, nothing that has not been revealed to him. He sees all things, who nourishes all things; he fills all things with wisdom, who has made all things in wisdom, as it is written (see Psalms, 104:24). For this reason, if he has not neglected the echinus, if he has not left him out of his visitation; if he attends to it and instructs it in signs of things to come, does he not take care of you?

Indeed he does, as he proves in his divine wisdom, saying: ‘If your heavenly father sees the fowls of the air and feeds them, are ye not much better than they? If God so clothe the grasses of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? ‘ (Matthew, 6: 26, 30).

The conca and concle are so called because they are hollow, that is to say, they empty themselves, at the waning of the moon. For the limbs of all the enclosed sea-creatures and shellfish grow at the waxing of the moon

and empty when the moon is waning. For when the moon waxes, it increases a humour; when it wanes, it diminishes them. This is what physicians say. Conce is the name for those in the first state, that is, growing; but conclee are what they are called after they have shrunk –conculee, little conce, so to speak. There are many species of the conca, among them the pearl-bearing oysters called occeloe, in whose flesh a precious stone is formed.

The authors of the book of the natures of living things relate that at night these creatures go ashore and are fertilised by the dew from heaven, for which reason they are called occeole, ob celestem.

The murica is a sea snail, so called from its sharp point and rough surface; it is known by another name, concilium, because when you cut around it with an iron blade, it produces tears which are purple in colour, from which purple dye is made; from this comes the other name for purple,ostrum, because the dye is made from the fluid enclosed in the shell (in Greek, ostreon).

The crab, cancros or cancer, is so called because they are shellfish, conce, with legs, crura; they are the enemies of oysters. They live on the flesh of oysters by extraordinary cleverness. For because they cannot open the oyster’s strong shell, they watch out for a time when the oyster itself opens the closed leaves. Then the crab secretly inserts a small stone and, preventing the oyster from closing up again, gnaws away its flesh. They say that if ten crabs are bound together with a handful of basil, all the scorpions in the neighbourhood assemble at that point. There are two kinds of crab, river and sea.

The oyster gets its name from the shell which protects the softness of the flesh within. For the Greek word for ‘shell’ is ostreon.

Musculi are small shellfish; oysters conceive from their milk. They are called musculi, meaning, so to speak, masculi, ‘males’.

The tortoise, testudo, is so called because it is covered by the vault of its shell, in the manner of an arched roof. There are four species: land, sea, mud – that is, living in swamps or marshland; the fourth species belongs to rivers and lives in fresh water. Some relate the incredible fact that ships sail more slowly when they carry the right foot of a tortoise.

Frogs, rane, get their name from their constant chatter, because they make a croaking noise all around the marshes where they breed, calling out in an uncouth manner with their peculiar sound.

Of these, some are called water frogs, others marsh; some are called toads, rubete, because they live in brambles, rubus; they are larger than the others. Others are called calamites, since they live among reeds, calamus, and bushes; they are the smallest of all, they are green, they are dumb, and they have no croak. Egredula are very small frogs living on dry ground or in fields, ager, from which they get their name. Some say that dogs will not bark if you give them a live frog to eat.

According to Pliny, the names of the creatures living in water total one hundred and forty-four, divided, into the following species: monsters, amphibious serpents, crabs, shellfish, lobsters, mussels, polyps, flatfish, lizards, rockfish and those like it.

Of the monster called the flying-fish.

There is a sea monster called the flying-fish, which has huge wings. When it sees a ship under sail on the sea, it raises its wings over the water and tries to keep pace with the ship for three or four miles; when it fails to keep pace, it lowers its wings and folds them. The waves carry it, exhausted, back to its home in their depths.

The flying-fish represents this world. The ship symbolises the righteous, who sail through its storms and tempests without putting their faith in danger or at risk of shipwreck. But the flying-fish, which could not keep up with the ship, represents those who at the start apply themselves to good works, but do not afterwards persevere with them and yield to all sorts of vice, which carry them, like the restless waves of the sea, down to hell. For the prize goes not to those who begin the race, but to those who stay the course.


The goose marks the watches of the night by its constant cry. No other creature picks up the scent of man as it does. It was because of its noise, that the Gauls were detected when they ascended the Capitol. Rabanus says in this context: ‘The goose can signify men who are prudent and look out for their own safety.’

There are two kinds of geese, domestic and wild. Wild geese fly high, in a an orderly fashion, signifying those who, far away from earthly things, preserve a rule of virtuous conduct. Domestic geese live together in villages, they cackle together all the time and rend each other with their beaks; they signify those who, although they like conventual life, nevertheless find time to gossip and slander.

All wild geese are grey in colour; I have not seen any that were of mixed colour or white. But among domestic geese, there are not only grey but variegated and white ones. Wild geese are the colour of ashes, that is to say, those who keep apart from this world wear the modest garb of penitence. But those who live in towns or villages wear clothes that are more beautiful in colour.

The goose, more than any other animal, picks up the scent of a someone happening by, as the discerning man knows of other men by their good or bad reputation, even though they live far away. When, therefore, a goose picks up the scent of a man approaching, it cackles endlessly at night, as when a discerning brother sees in others the negligence that comes with ignorance, it is his duty to call attention to it. The cackling of geese on the Capitol once helped the Romans, and in our chapter-house daily, when the discerning brother sees evidence of negligence, his warning voice serves to repel the old enemy, the Devil. The cackling of the goose saved the city of Rome from enemy attack; the warning voice of the discerning brother guards the life of his community from disruption by the wicked.

Divine providence would not, perhaps, have revealed to us the characteristics of birds, if it had not wanted the knowledge to be of some benefit to us.


Rabanus says of the jay: ‘The jay gets is name from its talkativeness,garrulitas; not, as some would have it, because jays fly in flocks,gregatim; clearly, they are named for the cry they give.

It is a most talkative species of bird and makes an irritating noise, and can signify either the empty prattle of philosophers or the harmful wordiness of heretics.’

More can be said of the nature of the jay. For jays signify both gossips and gluttons. For those who devote themselves to gluttony take pleasure, after eating, in repeating gossip and in lending an ear to slander.

The jay lives in the woods and flies chattering from one tree to another, as a talkative man ceaselessly tells others about his neighbours, even the shameful things he knows about them.

When the jay sees someone pass, it chatters, and if it finds anyone hiding from the world, it does the same, just as a talkative man slanders not only worldly men but also those hidden whom a religious house conceals.

A jay, captured and finally secured, is shut away on its own to learn to speak words clearly. Likewise, when a man of this world comes to conversion, he learns to speak the words of religion as the bird speaks the words of men; so that he who used to speak in a confused fashion, may thereafter grow accustomed to speak articulately.

Sometimes it happens that a jay, held in confinement, escapes; then the bird, which was formerly talkative, makes even more noise after its escape. In the same way, a talkative man who takes up the religious life abandons with difficulty his power of speech; but should he quit his order and go back out into the world, he turns the good that comes of a religious life into something bad, by uttering slander, as if he were a jay chattering.

Let the nature of this bird, therefore, serve as a warning to those who wish to be received into a religious community. Let the discerning teacher, therefore, when he has to receive a candidate into his community, at least examine him before he takes up communal residence.

I have learned from a man both discerning and devout that there are certain kinds of men who cannot easily be maintained in a religious order. If you want to know who they are, to avoid them, they are painters, doctors, entertainers and certain others who are in the habit of wandering to different parts. Men of this sort find it hard to lead stable lives.

The art of the painter is highly agreeable. For when he has decorated a church, a chapter-house, a refectory or some domestic buildings of a convent, he goes on to another religious house, to paint that, if after being asked, he has been given leave to do so. He decorates a wall with the acts of Christ – but if only he would keep them in mind! He would deck them in colour, by his example and his conduct!

The art of medicine needs many things and is scarcely without the things it needs. Those who practise it need aromatic plants and drugs in quantity. When someone living in the neighbourhood of a church is suffering from an illness, the physician is asked to attend the sick man. If, however, the abbot will not allow him to go, he incurs the wrath of the patient and the doctor. The physician sometimes sees things which it is ordained that he should not see. He touches things which the religious are not allowed to touch. He speaks of uncertain things, drawing on his experience, but because experience is deceptive, he is as a result often mistaken. But it is of no advantage to this religious man to speak nothing but the truth. He promises that his church will benefit if he goes to the sick man, but he says nothing of the temptation to sin and the harm to his soul.

You know, perhaps, of the monk and physician, called Justus – if only he had acted justly! – who hid three gold pieces in a remedy. Perhaps you know, too, what the blessed Gregory says of him. Although Gregory cared for Justus in his sickness, he did not, however, forbear to punish him. He forbade his brothers to speak to Justus before his death and after it, ordered him to be buried in a cess-pit. Moreover, after his death, Justus was absolved with the words: ‘Thy money perish with thee’ (see Acts, 8:20).

Entertainers also, fickle of mind before conversion, when they come to conversion more often resort to fickleness and with fickleness leave the order.

As for those who are used to wandering off to different places, if they feel oppressed by the irksome routine of the cloister, they quit it more quickly, because they have experienced the variety of life in other lands.

toggle title=”Halcyon” state=”closed”]

The halcyon is a seabird which produces its young on the shore, depositing its eggs in the sand, around midwinter. It chooses as the time to hatch its young, the period when the sea is at its highest and the waves break more fiercely than usual on the shore; with the result that the grace with which this bird is endowed shines forth the more, with the dignity of an unexpected calm. For it is a fact that when the sea has been raging, once the halcyon’s eggs have been laid, it suddenly becomes gentle, all the stormy winds subside, the strong breezes lighten, and as the wind drops, the sea lies calm, until the halcyon hatches its eggs.

The eggs take seven days to hatch, at the end of which the halcyon brings forth its young and the hatching is at an end. The halcyon takes a further seven days to feed its chicks until they begin to grow into young birds. Such a short feeding-time is nothing to marvel at, since the completion when the hatching process takes so few days.

This little bird is endowed by God with such grace that sailors know with confidence that these fourteen days will be days of fine weather and call them ‘the halcyon days’, in which there will be no period of stormy weather.



It is called heron, ardea, as if from ardua, meaning ‘high’, because of its capacity to fly high in the sky; it fears rain and flies above the clouds to avoid experiencing the storms they bring. A heron taking wing shows a storm is coming.

Many people call the heron Tantalus, after the king who betrayed the secrets of the gods. Rabanus says on this subject: ‘This bird can signify the souls of the elect, who fear the disorder of this world, lest they be caught up by chance in the storms of persecution stirred up by the Devil, and raise their minds, reaching above all worldly things to the tranquility of their home in heaven, where the countenance of God is forever to be seen.

Although the heron seeks its food in water, nevertheless it builds its nest in woodland, in tall trees, as the righteous man, whose sustenance is uncertain and transitory, places his hope in splendid and exalted things.

The soul of man sustained by transitory things, rejoices in the eternal.

The heron tries with its beak to prevent its nestlings from being seized by other birds. So the righteous man lashes with his tongue those who, to his knowledge, are evilly inclined to deceive the gullible.

Some herons are white, some grey, but both colours can be taken in a good sense, if white signifies purity, grey, penitence.


When the bird called the hoopoe sees that its parents have grown old and that their eyes are dim, it plucks out their old plumage and licks their eyes and keeps them warm, and its parents’ life is renewed. It as if the hoopoe said to them: ‘Just as you took pains in feeding me, I will do likewise for you.’

If birds, who lack reason, do as much for each other, how much more should men, who have the power of reason, support their parents in return; because the law says: ‘And he that curses his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death’ (Exodus, 21:17); it is as if he were guilty of parricide or matricide.

See how the hoopoes pluck their parents’ plumage and lick their eyes, in order that they should regain their former health.

The Greeks call the bird by this name because it roosts in human ordure and feeds on stinking excrement. The filthiest of birds, it is capped with a prominent crest. It lives in burial places amid human ordure.

If you rub yourself with its blood on your way to bed, you will have nightmares about demons suffocating you.

On this subject, Rabanus says: ‘This bird signifies wicked sinners, men who continually delight in the squalor of sin.’

The hoopoe is said to take pleasure in grief, as the sorrow of this world brings about the death of the spirit; for this reason those who love God should ‘rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing and in every thing give thanks’ (see 1 Thessalonians, 5:16-18) ‘for the fruit of the Spirit is joy’ (see Galatians, 5:22).

In addition, Physiologus says of the hoopoe that when it grows old and cannot fly, its offspring come and pull out the oldest feathers from its body and constantly care for it, until it has recovered its strength as before and can fly. The young hoopoes provide, therefore, an example to those evil men who, when their parents grow old, throw them out of their home; who refuse to support, when they are weak, the parents who raised them when they were still in their infancy.

Let man, who is endowed with reason, learn his duty to his mother and father, from the way in which this creature, which lacks reason, provides (as we have already shown) for its parents’ needs when they are old.


It is weak in strength and in flight – a puny bird, mollis avis, from which it gets its name, milvus. It is, however, a bird of prey, always preying on domestic birds.

As we read in the book of Etymologies of Isidore: ‘The kite, milvus, derives its name from mollis volatu, weak in flight. For the kite is a weakly bird.’

The kite signifies those who are tempted by effete pleasures. It feeds on corpses, as pleasure-seekers take delight in carnal desires. It constantly hovers around kitchens and meat-markets so that if pieces of raw meat are thrown out from them, it can seize them quickly. In this the kite represents to us those who are motivated by concern for their stomach. Those who are of this world, therefore, seek pleasure, frequent meat-markets and gaze with longing at kitchens.

The kite is timid in big matters, bold in small. It dares not seize wild birds but customarily preys on domestic ones. It lies in wait to seize their young and when it encounters unwary youngsters, it kills them quickly. In the same way, the effete and pleasure-seeking seize infants of tender years, in the sense that they teach the more simple and undiscerning their own habits and lead them into perversion. As kites deceive the unwary by flying over them slowly, the pleasure-seekers lead the young astray by flattering them with sweet words.

See how birds who lack the capacity of rational thought instruct through examples of evil conduct men who are experienced and intelligent.


Magpies are like poets, because they utter words, with a distinct sound, like men; hanging in the branches of trees, they chatter rudely, and even if they cannot get their tongues round words, they nevertheless imitate human speech. On this subject someone aptly said: ‘The chattering magpie, firm of voice, greets you as lord. If you do not see me, you will deny that I am a bird’ (Martial, Epigrams, 14: 76).

The woodpecker, picus, gets its name from Picus son of Saturn, because he used it for taking auguries. For they say that this bird has something divine about it; the proof of this is, if a woodpecker nests in any tree, a nail or anything fixed in the trunk will not stay there for long, but will fall out as soon as the bird sits in its nest.


The nightingale is so called because it signals with its song the dawn of the new day; a light-bringer, lucenia, so to speak.

It is an ever-watchful sentinel, warming its eggs in a hollow of its body, relieving the sleepless effort of the long night with the sweetness of its song. It seems to me that the main aim of the bird is to hatch its eggs and give life to its young with sweet music no less than with the warmth of its body. The poor but modest mother, her arm dragging the millstone around, that her children may not lack bread, imitates the nightingale, easing the misery of her poverty with a night-time song, and although she cannot imitate the sweetness of the bird, she matches it in her devotion to duty.


There is an animal called assida which the Greeks call stratocamelon, but Latin-speakers strucio, the ostrich. It has wings but does not fly, and its feet are like those of the camel.

When the time comes for it to lay eggs, it raises its eyes to the sky and looks to see if the star called Vergiliae, the Pleiades, has appeared, for it will not lay its eggs until that star has risen. When the ostrich sees the star, around the month of June, it digs in the ground, deposits its eggs in the hole it has made and covers them with sand. When it gets up from the hole, it immediately forgets the eggs and never returns to them. The effect of the calm, mild air seems to be that the sand in the summer heat hatches the eggs, bringing forth the chicks.

If, therefore, the ostrich knows its time and forgets its young, and pursues heavenly things to the exclusion of earthly ones, how much more, O man, should you strive for the prize of the summons from on high, you for whom God was made man, to deliver you from the power of darkness and set you together with the princes of his people in his kingdom of glory.

Again of the ostrich

The wing of the ostrich resembles those of the gyrfalcon and the hawk. Who does not know how the speed of the gyrfalcon and hawk in flight exceeds that of other birds? The ostrich certainly has wings like theirs but not their speed of flight. Truly, it has not the capacity to be lifted from the ground and gives only the impression of spreading its wings as if to fly; however, it never supports itself above the earth in flight.

It is exactly the same with all those hypocrites who pretend to live a life of piety, giving the impression of holiness without the reality of holy behaviour. They certainly have wings, as far as appearance goes, but in terms of action, they creep along the ground, because they spread their wings only to give an illusion of holiness, but they cannot possibly raise themselves from earth, weighed down as they are by the weight of worldly preoccupations.

For the Lord rebuked the pretensions of the Pharisees as if he exposed the wing of the ostrich, which does one thing in deed and another in show, saying: ‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!’ (Matthew, 23:14). It is as if he were saying: ‘Your wings look as they they had the power to raise you up, but the weight of your life forces you down into the depths.’ Of this weight, the prophet says: ‘Sons of men, how long will you have a heavy heart?’ (see BSV, NEB, Psalms, 4:2).

The Lord promises that he will convert the hypocritical ostrich, saying through the prophet: ‘The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the ostriches’ (see BSV, NEB, Isaiah: 43:20). For what is meant by the word ‘dragons’, if not, clearly, malicious minds, which creep across the earth forever, revealing themselves in the basest thoughts? Who are signified by the word ‘ostrich’ if not those who pretend to be worthy? Those who lead a life of holiness, in appearance, like the wing that seems to have the power of flight, but do not put it into practice by their deeds. Thus the Lord declares that he will be glorified by the dragon or the ostrich, when he converts to his side, deep in their hearts, both those who are openly evil and those who pretend to be worthy.

In considering the ostrich, we should look more carefully at the hawk and the gyrfalcon. Their bodies are small but their feathers are more densely packed; as a result, they fly at great speed, because they have little to weigh them down, much to uplift them. In contrast the ostrich has few feathers and is weighed down with a huge body, so that even if it were to try to fly, its sparse feathers would not support the mass of such a large a body in the air.

The gyrfalcon and the hawk, therefore, well represent the elect who, in this life, are not without the contamination of sin, no matter how trivial. But when the very small amount of sin that is within them causes them to sink, the large amount of virtue amassed from their good works is at hand to lift them back up to the heights.

In contrast, the hypocrite, even if he does a few good things to raise him up, does many bad things to weigh him down. He does not fail entirely to do good but commits many perverse deeds by which he cancels out what good he has done.

The few feathers of the ostrich, therefore, do not lift up its body, in the sense that the large number of the hypocrite’s bad deeds, compared to his too few good deeds, weigh him down.

The wing of the ostrich is similar in colour to those of the gyrfalcon and the hawk, but does not resemble them in strength. For theirs are compressed and stronger and, in flight, can press down on the air because of their density. In contrast, the wings of the ostrich are loose, to the extent that they cannot sustain flight because the air, on which they are meant to press, passes over them.

What do we see in this, if not that the solid virtues of the elect fly up, pressing down on the currents of human favour? But the deeds of the hypocrites, although they seem correct, cannot support flight, because clearly the breath of human praise flows through the wing of slack virtue.

But when we discern the same outward aspect among the good and the bad, when we see the very same appearance of religious observance among the elect and the sinful, we perceive what should inform our understanding, that it may distinguish the elect from the sinful, as it separates true men from false. We will recognise the distinction more quickly, however, if we fix indelibly in our memory the words of our teacher, who said: ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Matthew, 7:16). For you should not judge them by the image they present of themselves but by the principles they observe in their actions.

As a result, the author of the book of Job, after introducing the image of the ostrich, thereupon adds examples of its behaviour, saying: ‘It abandons its eggs in the ground’ (BSV; see NEB, Job, 39:14).


The partridge gets its name from the sound it makes. It is a cunning and unclean bird. For one male mounts another and in their reckless lust they forget their sex.

The partridge is so deceitful that one will steal another’s eggs. But the trick does not work. For when the young hear the cry of their real mother, their natural instinct is to leave the bird that is brooding them and return to the mother who produced them.

The Devil imitates their example, trying to rob the eternal Creator of those he has created; if he succeeds somehow in bringing together men who are foolish and lack any sense of their own inner strength, he cossets them with seductive pleasures of the flesh. But when they have heard the voice of Christ, growing spiritual wings, they wisely fly away and entrust themselves to Christ.

The nests built by partridges are skilfully fortified. For they cover their hiding-place with thorny bushes so that animals attacking them are kept at bay by the prickly branches. The partridge uses dust to cover its eggs and returns secretly to the place, which it has marked.

Frequent intercourse tires it.

The females often carry their young in order to deceive the males, who frequently attack the chicks, all the more impatiently when the chicks fawn on them.

The males fight over their choice of mate, and believe they can use the losers for sex in place of the females. The latter are so affected by lust, that if the wind blows towards them from the males, they become pregnant by the males’ scent.

Then, if any man approaches the place where the patridge is brooding, the mothers come out and deliberately show themselves to them; pretending that their feet or wings are injured, they put on a show of moving slowly, as if they could be caught in no time; by this trick they act as decoys to the approaching men and fool them into moving far away from the nest.

The young are not slow, either, to watch out for themselves. When they sense that they have been seen, they lie on their backs holding up small clods of earth in their claws, camouflaging themselves so skilfully, that they lie hidden from detection.


India alone produces the bird called the parrot, green in colour, with a deep-red neck and a large tongue, broader than those of other birds, with which it utters distinct words; so that if you did not see it, you would think it was a man talking Characteristically, it greets you by saying in Latin or Greek: ‘Ave’ or ‘Kere!’ – ‘Hail!’ It will learn other words if you teach it. Which explains the lines: ‘Like a parrot, I will learn other people’s names from you, but this I have learned by myself to say: Hail, Caesar!’ (Martial, Epigrams, 14, 73).

The parrot’s beak is of such hardness that if it falls from a height on to a rock, it takes the impact on its mouth, using it as base of uncommon toughness.

Its skull is so thick, that if ever you have to admonish it with blows to learn – for it tries hard to speak like men – you should beat it with an iron rod. For when it is young, up to two years of age, it learns what it is told very quickly and keeps it firmly in mind; when it is a little older, it is forgetful and is difficult to teach.


The peacock gets its name, pavo, from the sound of its cry. Its flesh is so hard that it hardly decays and it cannot easily be cooked. A certain poet said of it: ‘You are lost in admiration, whenever it spreads its jewelled wings; can you consign it, hard-hearted woman, to the unfeeling cook?’ (Martial, Epigrams, xiii, 70)

‘Solomon’s fleet went to Tharsis once every three years and brought from there gold and silver, elephants’ teeth and apes, and peacocks’ (see 2 Chronicles, 10: 21).

Tharsis we take to mean the search for joy. There is the joy of this world and the joy of the world to come. The joy of this life is limited. But the joy of the life to come is wholly unlimited. Pain and sadness each follow the joy of this life. But neither pain nor sadness follows the life to come. Joy in this world consists of being elevated by honours, enjoying to the full and for the moment things which are transitory, enjoying a wide circle of relations and taking pleasure in their company. But when you are deprived of your honours or robbed of your possessions, when one of your friends dies, then grief follows. Joy in this world, therefore, is always mingled with sadness.

Once every three years the fleet of Solomon is sent across the sea to Tharsis. Solomon’s fleet is the virtue of confession. In this fleet we are transported across the sea of this world, that we might not be drowned in it.

The fleet is sent to Tharsis, therefore, from where it is said to bring back gold, silver, elephants’ tusks, apes and peacocks. There is said to be gold and silver in Tharsis, that is, men eminent in their wisdom, skilled in their oratory. When they earnestly desire the joy of this world, they gain knowledge of themselves; and when they come with Solomon’s fleet to Jerusalem, there in the peace of the Church they become purer through confession.

From this purest of gold, King Solomon made golden shields. The shields of gold are those who live chastely and defend others from the attacks of the Devil. In addition, from the silver mentioned above, silver trumpets were made, that is, the teachers of the Church.

The fleet also brought apes and peacocks, that is, the mockers and the effete, so that those who had been, in Tharsis, scoffers and pleasure-seekers might live with humility in the peace of conversion.

Solomon’s fleet also brought back elephants’ tusks, that is, the proud with their disparaging words. For when the proud speak disparagingly of the good works of ordinary people, it is as if they gnawed with their teeth on these people’s bones. Note that the tusks of elephants are of ivory. And from ivory the the throne of Solomon was made. For those who had been accustomed to live by preying on others, by submitting themselves to Solomon, thereafter furnished a seat for others to sit on.

Once every three years Solomon’s fleet used to go to Tharsis. In moral terms, the first year is meditation; the second, discourse; the third, action. When confession treats of all three stages together, it is as if a voyage is made by Solomon’s servants to Tharsis once every three years.

But, as history relates, ‘Jehosaphat, king of Judah, built sea-going fleets, that they might sail to Ophir for gold; and they could not, for they were wrecked at Asiongaber’ (see 1 Kings, 22:48).

Jehosaphat we take to mean ‘judging’; Judah, ‘confession’. Jehosaphat is called ‘king of Judah’ because judgement governs confession. For when a sinner judges himself in confession, then it is as if King Jehosaphat ruled in Judah. But Ophir is taken to mean ‘grassland’. We call ground which has not been cultivated ‘grassland’. It is deep in grass, producing a sense of pleasure. The effete sit on the grass, and the indolent lie on it. They sit endlessly, they lie wantonly. This stretch of grass is the world, barren and infertile.

Jehosaphat’s fleet, therefore, seeks to go to Ophir for gold, as we might seek purity of mind, waiting for the destruction of the world. But while they were at Asion Gaber, Jehosaphat’s fleet is said to have been wrecked. Gaber, as Jerome says, means ‘young’ or ‘strong’. It is not surprising, therefore, if the rashness of youth wrecks the fleet of confession.

Since we have said a great deal by way of introduction, it remains for us Next to discuss the peacock, the subject we intended to deal with.

The peacock, as Isidore says, gets its name from the sound of its cry. For when it starts, unexpectedly, to give its cry, it produces sudden fear in its hearers. The peacock is called pavo, therefore, from pavor, fear, since its cry produces fear in those who hear it.

When the peacock lives it Tharsis, it signifies the effete. But when it is brought by the fleet to Jerusalem, it represents learned teachers.

The peacock has hard flesh, resistant to decay, which can only with difficulty be cooked over a fire by a cook, or can scarcely be digested in the stomach, because of the heat of its liver.

Such are the minds of teachers; they neither burn with the flame of desire, nor are they set alight by the heat of lust.

The peacock has a fearful voice, an unaffected walk, a serpent’s head and a sapphire breast. It also has on its wings feathers tinged with red. In addition, it has a long tail, covered with what I might call ‘eyes’.

The peacock has a fearful voice, as does a preacher when he threatens sinners with the unquenchable fire of Gehenna. It walks in an unaffected way, in the sense that the preacher does not overstep the bounds of humility in his behaviour. It has a serpent’s head, as the preacher’s mind is held in check by wise circumspection. But the sapphire colour of its breast signifies that the preacher longs in his mind for heaven. The red colour in the the peacock’s feathers signifies his love of contemplation. The length of the tail indicates the length of the life to come. The fact the peacock seems to have eyes in its tail, is a reference to every teacher’s capacity to foresee the danger that threatens each of us at the end. The colour green, [on the peacock’s serpent-like head], is also present in the tail, that the end might match the beginning. The diversity of the peacock’s colouring, therefore, signifies the diversity of the virtues.

Note also that the peacock, when it is praised, raises its tail, in the same way that any churchman gets ideas above his station out of vainglory at the praise of flatterers. The peacock sets out its feathers in an orderly fashion; in the same way, a teacher believes that no matter he does, he has done it in an orderly way. But when the peacock lifts its tail, it exposes its rear, in the same way that whatever is praised in the conduct of the teacher is derided when he succumbs to pride. The peacock, therefore, should keep its tail down, just as what a teacher does, he should do with humility.


‘I am like pelican of the wilderness’ (Psalms, 102:6). The pelican is a bird of Egypt, living in the wilderness of the River Nile, from which it gets its name. For Egypt is known as Canopos.

It is devoted to its young. When it gives birth and the young begin to grow, they strike their parents in the face. But their parents, striking back, kill them. On the third day, however, the mother-bird, with a blow to her flank, opens up her side and lies .The Pelican, devoted to its children, pecking at its own breast to revive them with its blood. on her young and lets her blood pour over the bodies of the dead, and so raises them from the dead.

In a mystic sense, the pelican signifies Christ; Egypt, the world. The pelican lives in solitude, as Christ alone condescended to be born of a virgin without intercourse with a man. It is solitary, because it is free from sin, as also is the life of Christ. It kills its young with its beak as preaching the word of God converts the unbelievers. It weeps ceaselessly for its young, as Christ wept with pity when he raised Lazarus. Thus after three days, it revives its young with its blood, as Christ saves us, whom he has redeemed with his own blood.

In a moral sense, we can understand by the pelican not the righteous man, but anyone who distances himself far from carnal desire. By Egypt is meant our life, shrouded in the darkness of ignorance. ForEgiptus can be translated as ‘darkness’. In Egypt, therefore, we make a wilderness (see Joel, 3:19), when we are far from the preoccupations and desires of this world. Thus the righteous man creates solitude for himself in the city, when he keeps himself free from sin, as far as human frailty allows.

The pelican kills its young with its beak because the righteous man considers and rejects his sinful thoughts and deeds out of his own mouth, saying: ‘I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin’ (Psalms, 32:5). It weeps for its young for three days: this teaches us that whatever we have done wrong by thought, word or deed, is expunged by tears. It revives its young by sprinkling them with its blood, as when we concern ourselves less with matters of flesh and blood and concentrate on spiritual acts, by conducting ourselves virtuously.

It is also a characteristic of this bird, they say, that it always suffers from thinness, and that whatever it swallows, it digests immediately, because its stomach has no separate pocket in which to retain food. Food does not fatten its body, therefore, but only sustains it and gives it strength. Indeed, the life of a hermit is modelled on the pelican, in that he lives on bread but does not seek to fill his stomach; he does not live to eat but eats to live.


phoenix amuletThe phoenix is a bird of Arabia, so called either because its colouring is Phoenician purple, , or because there is only one of its kind in the whole world.

It lives for upwards of five hundred years, and when it observes that it has grown old, it erects a funeral pyre for itself from small branches of aromatic plants, and having turned to face the rays of the sun, beating its wings, it deliberately fans the flames for itself and is consumed in the fire. But on the ninth day after that, the bird rises from its own ashes.

Our Lord Jesus Christ displays the features of this bird, saying: ‘I have the power to lay down my life and to take it again’ (see John, 10:18). If, therefore, the phoenix has the power to destroy and revive itself, why do fools grow angry at the word of God, who is the true son of God, who says: ‘I have the power to lay down my life and to take it again’?

For it is a fact that our Saviour descended from heaven; he filled his wings with the fragrance of the Old and New Testaments; he offered himself to God his father for our sake on the altar of the cross; and on the third he day he rose again.

The phoenix can also signify the resurrection of the righteous who, gathering the aromatic plants of virtue, prepare for the renewal of their former energy after death.

The phoenix is a bird of Arabia. Arabia can be understood as a plain, flat land. The plain is this world; Arabia is worldly life; Arabs, those who are of this world. The Arabs call a solitary man phoenix. Any righteous man is solitary, wholly removed from the cares of this world.

The phoenix also is said to live in places in Arabia and to reach the great age of five hundred years. When it observes that the end of its life is at hand, it makes a container for itself out of frankincense and myrrh and other aromatic substances; when its time is come, it enters the covering and dies. From the fluid of its flesh a worm arises and gradually grows to maturity; when the appropriate time has come, it acquires wings to fly, and regains its Previous appearance and form.

Let this bird teach us, therefore, by its own example to believe in the resurrection of the body; lacking both an example to follow and any sense of reason, it reinvests itself with the very signs of resurrection, showing without doubt that birds exist as an example to man, not man as an example to the birds.

Let it be, therefore, an example to us that as the maker and creator of birds does not suffer his saints to to perish forever, he wishes the bird, rising again, to be restored with its own seed. Who, but he, tells the phoenix that the day of its death has come, in order that it might make its covering, fill it with perfumes, enter it and die there, where the stench of death can be banished by sweet aromas?

You too, O man, make a covering for yourself and, stripping off your old human nature with your former deeds, put on a new one. Christ is your covering and your sheath, shielding you and hiding you on the evil day.

Do you want to know why his covering is your protection? The Lord said: ‘In my quiver have I hid him’ (see Isaiah, 49:2). Your covering, therefore, is faith; fill it with the perfumes of your virtues – of chastity, mercy and justice, and enter in safety into its depths, filled with the fragrance of the faith betokened by your excellent conduct.

May the end of this life find you shrouded in that faith, that your bones may be fertile; let them be like a well-watered garden, where the seeds are swiftly raised. Know, therefore, the day of your death, as Paul knew his, saying: ‘I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’ (2 Timothy, 4: 7-8). And he entered, therefore, into his covering like the worthy phoenix, filling it with the sweet odour of martyrdom.

In this way, therefore, the phoenix is consumed by fire but from its ashes is born or brought forth again. When it dies, it is also born again from its ashes. The point of this example is that everyone should believe in the truth of the resurrection to come. Faith in the resurrection to come is no more of a miracle than the resurrection of the phoenix from its ashes.

See how the nature of birds offers to ordinary people proof of the resurrection; that what the scripture proclaims, the working of nature confirms.

hpotter The wand chooses the wizard. That much has always been clear to those of us who have studied wandlore… These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand.

Garrick Ollivander on wands

The phoenix is a large swan-sized scarlet bird with red and gold plumage, along with a golden beak and talons, black eyes, and a tail as long as a peacock’s. Its scarlet feathers glow faintly in darkness, while its golden tail feathers are hot to the touch.

Phoenixes will usually nest on mountain peaks and are gentle herbivores that are not known for fighting. As phoenixes approach their Burning Day they resemble a half-plucked turkey. Also, their eyes become dull, their feathers start to fall out, and it begins to make gagging noises. Then the bird suddenly bursts into flames only to rise from the ashes shortly after. In a number of days, they grow back to full size. Thanks to this ability, phoenixes live to an immense age.

Phoenixes are very difficult to domesticate, as Newton Scamander says in his book Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: “The phoenix gains a XXXX rating not because it is aggressive, but because very few wizards have ever succeeded in domesticating it.”There are two known domesticated phoenixes, one Albus Dumbledore‘s pet phoenix Fawkes, and the other Sparky the team mascot for the New Zealand Quidditch team the Moutohora Macaws.

Phoenixes that have been domesticated are extremely loyal to their owners, and would depart to find their own paths if their owners die, rather than finding a new master.

Camp-Fire-places=3½º6½°7½° 7½°8½°10½° 10½°13° 14½° 18½°19° 25½°26°


The raven gets its name, corvus or corax, from the sound it makes in its throat, because it utters a croak.

It is said that when its young have been hatched, this bird does not feed them fully until it sees that they have black feathers similar to its own. But after it has seen that they are of dark plumage, and has recognised them as of its own species, it feeds them more generously.

When this bird feeds off corpses, it goes for the eyes first.

In the Scriptures, the raven is perceived in a variety of ways; it is sometimes taken to mean a preacher, sometimes a sinner, sometimes the Devil.

In his book of Etymologies, Isidore says that the raven picks out the eyes in corpses first, as the Devil destroys the capacity for judgement in carnal men, and proceeds to extract the brain through the eye. The raven extracts the brain through the eye, as the Devil, when it has destroyed our capacity for judgement, destroys our mental faculties.

Again, the raven can be taken to mean a sinner, since it is clad, so to speak, with the dark plumage of sin. There are some sinners who despair of God’s mercy. Others pray that they may be helped to find it by the prayers of the pious.

Of the second sort, it is said: ‘The ravens fed Elijah’ (see 1 Kings, 17:6). By ‘ravens’ we are meant to understand the sinners who support the religious from their own resources. Elijah signifies those who live hidden in the habit and house of a religious order.

The former sinners who despair, long for worldly things and look outwards when they should look inwards. Of these the scripture says: ‘The raven did not return to the ark’ (see Genesis, 8:7); perhaps because it was caught up and perished in the flood, or perhaps because it found corpses and settled on them. In the same way, the sinner who gratifies himself outwardly with carnal desires, like the raven that did not return to the ark, is held back by external preoccupations.

But the raven can also be interpreted in a good sense, as a learned preacher. On this subject, it says in the book of the blessed Job: ‘Who provideth for the raven his food? when his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat’ (38:41).

The raven, as the blessed Gregory says, is the learned teacher who cries out in a loud voice, carrying the memory of his sins like blackness around him. He produces disciples in the faith, but perhaps they cannot yet address their own weakness, perhaps they shun the memory of their former sins. As a result they do not show the blackness of humility, which they ought to adopt against worldly glory. They open their mouth as if for food when they seek instruction in the mysteries of religion. But their teacher imparts the nourishment of sublime preaching only to the extent that he sees they have repented fittingly of their past sins. Indeed he expects and admonishes them first to change from the gaudiness of their present life into a sombre hue, through the sorrow of repentance, and only then to receive the nourishment they need, in the form of sermons on the the most complex subjects.

Although the raven sees that the mouths of its young are open, waiting to be fed, it first checks to see if their bodies are covered with black feathers. Equally, the discerning teacher will not dispense the inner mysteries to the minds of those of his disciples whom he considers have still not rejected this world. For as long as they do not rid themselves of temporal glory, they are starved of spiritual nourishment.

The raven brings back food in its beak to its open-mouthed offspring, as the teacher, drawing on the understanding which he has acquired, dispenses in words the food of life to his hungry pupils. The more sincerely, in his eyes, they abandon the glitter of the world to grow dark with the sorrow of repentance, the keener he is to give them refreshment in the form of instruction on higher matters.

When the raven’s young clothe themselves in black feathers, they also give promise of flying, as the more the teacher’s pupils despise themselves, the more their conscience is troubled because of their worthlessness, the greater is their promise of rising to a higher realm.

For this reason the teacher is careful to feed more quickly those who, as he can already tell from certain signs, have the ability to be of use to others. If he carefully preserves this judgement in his preaching, he will receive, by God’s will, a greater opportunity for preaching. For when he knows how to share, out of love, the troubles of his disciples, when he can discern that the time is right for teaching, he will receive greater gifts of understanding not only for himself but also for those to whom he devotes his attention and his efforts.

On which subject it is said, plainly: ‘Who provideth for the raven his food? When his young ones cry unto God, they wander for lack of meat’ (Job 38:41). For when the young cry out to be fed, food is prepared for them by the raven, in the same way that righteous listeners, hungering for the word of God, receive as food from their teachers the greater gifts of understanding.

The raven’s young, that is, the Next generation of preachers whom the preacher himself has raised up by his instruction, do not trust in themselves but in the strength of their Redeemer.

In this respect, it is well said: ‘When his young ones cry unto God …’ (Job, 38:41). For they know that they can do nothing through their own virtue alone, and however much they hunger with pious voices for the riches of their souls, they hunger with pious voices, they long for these things to be brought about by him, however, who brings about all things inwardly. For they understand with true faith that ‘neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth but God that giveth it increase’ (1 Corinthians, 3:7-8).

It is said: ‘They wander for lack of meat’ (Job, 38:41). ‘Wandering’ here signifies nothing else but the vows of preachers moved by passion. While they travel about to receive their young into the bosom of the Church, inflamed with great ardour, they apply their yearning zeal to gather in now some, now others. In fact, the very heat of their intention is itself a kind of wandering. It also represents the way in which they travel to a variety of places where life is different, when they hurry here and there, eager of mind, to help souls in innumerable ways in different places.

This statement in Job can be explained in another way: that the raven signifies certain prelates, or dignitaries of the Church, black from the soot of their sins. They not only get food for themselves but also get it dressed, with the result that they live more luxuriously than others.

The raven’s young, in this interpretation, represent the prelates’ disciples. ‘The young’, it is said, ‘cry unto God’. The disciples, however, grumble that their masters eat too well. They leave the cloister and wander off in search of an abundance of food.

There are other, bigger ravens; these are the prelates eminent in power and rank who, gathering their congregation in Church, urge it in their sermons to fast, while they themselves eat flesh on fast-days, thus scandalising and offending ordinary people. This puts doubts in the people’s mind and they wonder if the prelates who advocated fasting really believe that it is worthwhile.

This is enough about the raven for the moment, until someone else says something more significant about it.


Quails are so called from their call; the Greeks call them ortigiebecause they were first seen on the island of Ortigia.

Quails have fixed times of migration. For when summer gives way to winter, they cross the sea. The leader of the flock is calledortigometra, ‘the quail-mother’. The hawk, seeing the quail-mother approaching land, seizes it; because of this, the quails all take care to attract a leader from another species, through whom they guard against this early danger.

Their favorite food is the seed of poisonous plants. For this reason, the ancients forbade them to be eaten; for alone among living things, the quail suffers, like man, from the falling sickness.

Quails have fixed times of migration. For when summer gives way to winter, they cross the sea. The heat of summer is the warmth of love. The cold of winter is the temptation of the lethargic mind. From love of his neighbour, therefore, the righteous man crosses the sea of this world to love of God, that he mat stay forever in a warm land, burning continually with the heat of love within, in order to avoid the cold of winter, namely, the storms and winds of unexpected temptation.

The leader of the flock is called the quail-mother. The hawk, seeing it approaching land, seizes it. The land rey suggestion. Seeing the quail-mother approaching land, therefore, the hawk seizes it, as the Devil drags off with him those who seek earthly things.

Let the churchman, therefore, who heads his flock, take careful heed of his purpose in seeking earthly things, whether he acquires them for his own use or seeks them to meet the need of his brothers, lest the hawk, that is, the Devil, should seize him, if he has neglected the things of the spirit and has not ceased to long for the things of this earth. presents earthly longings; the sea, the dangers of the world. The hawk, lying in wait, is the Devil, who tempts us bBecause of this, the quails all take care to attract a leader of another species, through whom they guard against this early danger. There are two kinds of men, the good and the bad. The ‘other species’ is that of wicked men. The righteous, therefore, place the wicked before them, and watch closely what happens to them. By watching carefully, they see the early danger of sin, and avoid it.

This bird, like man, suffers from the falling sickness, in the same way that the spiritually-minded man, just like the carnally-minded man, is said to sin at times. No matter how often he sins, he does not die, because the grace of penitence is not denied him. On this subject it is written: ‘The righteous man falls seven times in a day’ yet he does not cease to be righteous (see Proverbs, 24:16). For as often as the righteous man sins, so often does he go on to rise again.



‘The turtle-dove and the stork and the swallow observe the time of their coming. But my people know not the judgment of the Lord’ (see Jeremiah, 8:7).

We have talked of the turtle-dove; that leaves the swallow and after it the stork to be discussed

Isidore says this about it: ‘The swallow is so called because it does not feed on the ground but catches its food and eats it in the air. It is a twittering bird that flies in twisting, turning loops and circuits, is highly skilled in building its nest and rearing its young, and has also a kind of foresight because it lets you know when buildings are about to fall by refusing to nest on their tops. In addition, it is not harrassed by birds of prey nor is it ever their victim. It flies across the sea and winters there.’

The swallow is a tiny bird but of an eminently pious nature; lacking in everything, it constructs nests which are more valuable than gold because it builds them wisely. For the nest of wisdom is more precious than gold. And what is wiser than to have, as the swallow does, the capacity to fly where it likes and to entrust its nest and its young to the houses of men, where none will attack them. For there is something attractive in the way that the swallow accustoms its young from their earliest days to the company of people and keeps them safe from the attacks of hostile bird.Then remarkably, the swallow creates a regularly-proportioned home for itself without any assistance, like a skilled craftsman. For it gathers bits of straw in its mouth and smears them with mud so that they stick together; but because it cannot carry the mud in its claws, it dips the tips of its wings in water, so that dust sticks to them easily and turns into slime, with which to gather to itself bits of straw or tiny twigs, a few at a time, and makes them stick. It makes the whole fabric of the nest in this fashion, in order that its young can live safely as if on a solid floor in houses on the ground, lest any of them insert a foot between the small gaps in the woven fabric or the cold should get to the very young.

This conscientiousness is fairly common among most birds, yet what is distinctive about the swallow is its special loving care, shrewd intelligence and the extraordinary quality of its understanding. Then there is its skill in the arts of healing: if its young are infected by blindness or pricked in the eye, it has some kind of healing power with which it can restore their vision.

The swallow, as this example proves, can be taken to represent, in some cases, pride of mind; in others, the repentance of the afflicted heart.

That the swallow signifies pride is illustrated by Tobit: When he lay down beside a wall, says Tobit, and fell asleep, it happened that warm excrement fell on his eyes from a swallows’ nest as he slept and he became blind (see Tobit, 2:10). Bede Commentarys on this: ‘The swallow, on account of its lightness in flight, represents pride and levity of heart; their impurity causes immediate blindness, and prevents one from seeing what he is.

That we should interpret the swallow as the contrite heart is demonstrated by the prophet, who says: ‘Like a crane or a swallow, so will I chatter’ (see Isaiah, 38:14). We understand by the swallow, therefore, a discerning teacher; by the swallow’s young, the teacher’s disciple, crying out; by the cry, a contrite heart. The fledgling cries out as the disciple asks his teacher to preach to him. The fledgling cries out as, by confession, the disciple shows his teacher the contrition in his heart. If you know the cry of the swallow, it signifies, unless I am mistaken, the lament of the penitent soul.

The swallow does not feed on the ground but eats what it catches in the air, as those who have no love for earthly things, seek, far away from them, the things of heaven.

It is said to twitter, like those who frequently take pleasure in plaintive pleas.

It flies in winding circles, as those who bend their minds in submission to the rules of obedience.

The swallow is expert in building nests and bringing up its young. In constructing a nest, it resembles those who fix their hope in the faith of Christ’s passion. It is skilled in bringing up its young, that is, like those who are skilled in teaching the brethren in their charge.

The swallow has a kind of foresight, because it tells us which buildings which are about to fall by refusing to nest on their tops. Those who are truly penitent have a kind of foresight, in that they flee from the fall of this world and seek life without end.

It is not harassed by other birds and is never their prey. Birds of prey never fall upon it, in the same way that the contrite of heart are never the prey of devils.

The swallow flies across the sea, as the truly penitent long to quit the sorrows and commotions of this world. There it stays during in winter. As, when winter assails us, and the cold comes, the righteous man migrates to the warm region of love. There he waits patiently until the coldness of temptation passes from his mind.

The pious bird knows how to proclaim, in witness of its coming, the beginning of spring. The swallow returns after the cold of winter to announce the beginning of spring. Likewise, the righteous man returns after the coldness of great temptation to the temperate climate of a well-regulated mind, in order that, having escaped the cold of temptation, he may ascend by means of good works to summer, that is, the warmth of the due measure of love.

This, then, is the nature of the swallow, that is to say, of the penitent soul: it longs all the time for the beginning of spring, as the soul holds to the way of good judgement and moderation in all things.

See how something simple, like the swallow, can teach those to whom divine providence from the beginning gave the capacity of discernment.


Of the stork

Storks get their name, ciconie, from the creaking sound they make, like crickets, cicanie. The sound comes from their mouth rather than their voice, because they make it by clashing their bills.

Storks are the heralds of spring; they share a sense of community; they are the enemies of snakes; they fly across the sea, making their way in flocks to Asia. Crows go in front of them as their guides, the storks following them as if in an army.

Storks possess a strong sense of duty towards their young. They are so keen to keep their nests warm that their feathers fall out as a result of the constant incubation. But their young spend as much time caring for them when they grow old, as they spend caring for their young.

Storks make a sound by clashing their bills. They represent those who ‘with weeping and gnashing of teeth’ (Matthew, 8:12) proclaim from their own mouths the evil they have done.

Storks herald the spring, like those who demonstrate to others the moderation of a mind that has undergone conversion.

They have a sense of community like those who live willingly in the community of their brothers.

It is said also that the stork is the enemy of snakes. Snakes are evil thoughts or evil brothers; the stork strikes snakes with its bill, as the righteous check evil thoughts or reprimand their wicked brothers with penetrating rebukes.

Storks fly across the sea and make their way in flocks to Asia. Asia signifies heavenly things. Those people also fly across the sea to Asia, therefore, who, scorning the commotions of the world, aim for higher things.

Storks are are notably devoted to their young, with the result that their feathers fall out from constant incubation. Storks lose their feathers from the constant incubation of their young in the same way that prelates, when they nourish those in their charge, pluck out from their own bodies the feathers of excess and weakness.

Young storks spend as much time caring for their parents as their parents spent on rearing them. Storks must nourish their young in proportion to their need, in the same way that prelates should feed their disciples with instruction according to their need. Likewise the prelates’ flock should support them with their efforts and provide them with the necessities they lack.

Thus the turtle-dove, the swallow and the stork are a living reproach to those who do not believe that Christ came in the flesh and do not go in fear of the judgement of the Lord to come.


The swan, olor, is the bird which the Greeks call cygnus. It is calledolor because its plumage is wholly white; no-one can recall seeing a black swan. In Greek olos means ‘entire’.

The swan is called cignus, from its singing; it pours forth the sweetness of song in a melodious voice. They say that the swan sings so sweetly because it has a long, curved neck; inevitably, a voice forcing its way through a long, flexible passage produces a variety of tones. They say, moreover, that in the far north, when bards are singing to their lyres, large numbers of swans are summoned by the sound and sing in harmony with them.

The Latin name for the swan, I repeat, is olor; the Greeks call it cignus.

Sailors say that seeing a swan is a good omen for them;
as Emilianus said: ‘When you are observing birds for omens, the swan is always the most favorable bird to see; sailors set great store by it because it does not plunge beneath the waves’.

The swan has snow-white plumage and dark flesh. In a moral sense, the white colour of its plumage signifies the effect of deception, whereby the dark flesh is hidden, in the same way that a sin of the flesh is concealed by pretence.

When the swan swims in a river, it holds its neck and head high, as a proud man is led astray by transitory things and even glories at the time in his temporary possessions.

They say that in the far north, when bards are singing to their lyres, large numbers of swans fly there and sing in harmony with them. In the same way those who long for sensuous pleasure with all their hearts, like the swans flying north, harmonise with other pleasure-seekers.

But when, at the very end, the swan dies, it is said to sing very sweetly as it is dying. Likewise, when the proud man departs this life, he still delights in the sweetness of this present world and, dying, remembers the evil he has done.

When the swan is plucked of its white plumage, it is set on the spit and roasted at the fire. Likewise, when a rich, proud man is stripped at death of his worldly glory, he will descend to the fires of hell where he will be tormented; he who used to seek food in the lowest places, descending into the abyss, is fed into the fire.


The vulture, it is thought, gets its name because it flies slowly. The fact is, it cannot fly swiftly because of the large size of its body.

Vultures, like eagles, perceive corpses even beyond the sea. Indeed, flying at a great height, they see from on high many things which are hidden by the shadows of the mountains.

It is said that vultures do not indulge in copulation and and are not united with the other sex in the conjugal act of marriage; that the females conceive without the male seed and give birth without union with the male; and that their offspring live to a great age, so that the course of their life extends to one hundred years, and that an early death does not readily overtake them.

What can they say, those people who are by nature accustomed to mock the mysteries of the Christian faith, when they hear that a virgin gave birth, yet maintain that childbirth is impossible for an unmarried woman, whose virginity is undefiled by intercourse with a man? What they do not deny is possible in vultures, they think is impossible in the mother of God. female bird gives birth without a male and no-one disputes it; but because Mary, betrothed as a virgin, gave birth, they question her chastity. Do we not make them aware that our Lord, from his very nature, affirms the truth?

Vultures regularly foretell from certain signs that men will die. This is one such sign, from which they learn and make ready: when opposing armies prepare for the lamentable event of war, the birds follow in a large flock, signifying by this that many will fall in battle – to be the vultures’ prey.

Again of vultures

‘There is a path which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen’ (Job, 28:7). Who is meant here by the word ‘bird’ if not he who by his ascension made a place in heaven for our fleshly body, which he assumed?

Christ is also fittingly represented by the word ‘vulture’. The fact is, if a vulture, in flight, sees a corpse, it sets itself down to feed on it, and is often overtaken by death when it descends to the dead animal from a great height.

It is right, therefore, that Christ, who was God’s mediator and our redeemer, should be signified by the name ‘vulture’. While remaining in the heights of his divinity, like the vulture flying on high, he saw the corpse of our mortality below and descended from heaven to the earth beneath; he deigned, indeed, to become man for our sake; and when he sought man, the living thing that had no life, he who in himself had eternal life, met his death at our hands.

But the aim of this vulture, Christ, was our resurrection, because when he had been dead for three days, he delivered us from eternal death. For the treacherous people of Judea saw Christ as a mortal man, but little thought that by his death he would destroy ours. They, indeed, saw the vulture, but paid no attention to its eyes. They would not consider the ways of Christ’s humility, by which he raised us to the heights, and so were like the bird that knows not the path. For they gave no serious thought to the fact that Christ’s humility raised us to heaven and the purpose of his death was to restore us to life.

Thus ‘the fowl does not know the way, the eye of the vulture has not seen it’, means that even if the Jews saw Christ, whom they put to death, they were unwilling to see how far the glory of our life would follow from his death. They were, in consequence, incensed to commit cruel acts of persecution, they refused to hear the words of life, they rejected the preachers of the kingdom of heaven by arresting them, treating them savagely, putting them to death. The preachers, rejected, left Judea where they had been sent and were dispersed among the Gentiles.

Such is the nature of the vulture, that the sinner can also be represented by it. The vulture follows the army to fill itself with corpses, as the sinner follows the evil men of the Devil’s army, modelling himself on their ways. The vulture feeds on the corpses of the dead as a sinner delights the in carnal desires which bring about death. The vulture willingly goes on foot, and for this reason is called by some gradipes, ‘footslogger’, in the same way that the sinner loves and longs for earthly things. Sometimes the vulture flies on high, as the sinner also raises his mind to heavenly things, but with what purpose no-one else knows. For who looks at the eyes of the vulture, that is, at what lies behind men’s thoughts? The Almighty reserves this to himself; he alone knows the thoughts of men.

Note also that Isidore says that the vulture gets its name from volatu tardus, slow in flight. For it leaves the ground slowly when it takes flight, as the sinner hardly ever or never abandons his earthly desires.


Of the beaver There is an animal called the beaver, which is extremely gentle; its testicles are are highly suitable for medicine. Physiologus says of it that, when it knows that a hunter is pursuing it, it bites off its testicles and throws them in the hunter’s face and, taking flight, escapes. But if, once again, another hunter is in pursuit, the beaver rears up and displays its sexual organs. When the hunter sees that it lacks testicles, he leaves it alone. Thus every man who heeds God’s commandment and wishes to live chastely should cut off all his vices and shameless acts, and cast them from him into the face of the devil. Then the devil, seeing that the man has nothing belonging to him, retires in disorder. That man, however, lives in God and is not taken by the devil, who says: ‘I will pursue, I will overtake them…'(Exodus, 15:9) The name castor comes from castrando, ‘castrate’.


The boar gets its name, aper, from its wildness, a feritate, the letter f being replaced by a p; for the same reason, it is called by the Greeks suagros, meaning wild. For everything which is untamed and savage we call, loosely,agreste, wild.


Of the bonnacon

In Asia an animal is found which men call bonnacon. It has the head of a bull, and thereafter its whole body is of the size of a bull’s with the maned neck of a horse. Its horns are convoluted, curling back on themselves in such a way that if anyone comes up against it, he is not harmed. But the protection which its forehead denies this monster is furnished by its bowels. For when it turns to flee, it discharges fumes from the excrement of its belly over a distance of three acres, the heat of which sets fire to anything it touches. In this way, it drives off its pursuers with its harmful excrement.


The bullock is called iuvencus because it undertakes to help man in his work of tilling the ground, or because among pagans it was always a bullock which was sacrificed to Jove – never a bull. For in selecting sacrificial victims, age also was a consideration. The word for bull, taurus, is Greek, as the word for ox, bos. The bulls of India are tawny in hue and so swift-footed that they seem to fly. Their hair grows against the nap of their coat, their mouth opens to the size of their head. They also move their horns in whatever direction they wish, and the toughness of their hides turns aside all weapons. So fierce and savage are they


The cat is called musio, mouse-catcher, because it is the enemy of mice. It is commonly called catus, cat, from captura, the act of catching. Others say it gets the name from capto, because it catches mice with its sharp eyes. For it has such piercing sight that it overcomes the dark of night with the gleam of light from its eyes. As a result, the Greek wordcatus means sharp, or cunning.


which built its nest of cinnamon, prized above all other commodities, which was knocked down and sold


The crocodile, cocodrillus, gets its name from its saffron colour,croceus; it comes from the River Nile, a four-legged creature, at home on land and in water, sometimes twenty cubits in length, armed with huge teeth and claws. So hard is its skin that even if you struck it on the back with blows from heavy stones, you would not harm it. It rests by night in the water, by day on the bank. It hatches its eggs on land, male and female taking turns to guard them. Certain fish with serrated crests kill it by cutting open the soft part of its belly.


Of the nature of dogs

The Latin name for the dog, canis, seems to have a Greek origin. For in Greek it is called cenos, although some think that it is called after the musical sound, canor, of its barking, because when it howls, it is also said to sing, canere. No creature is more intelligent than the dog, for dogs have more understanding than other animals; they alone recognise their names and love their masters. There are many kinds of dogs: some track down the wild beasts of the forests to catch them; others by their vigilance guard flocks of sheep from the attacks of wolves; others as watch-dogs in the home guard the property of their masters lest it be stolen by thieves at night and sacrifice their lives for their master; they willingly go after game with their master; they guard his body even when he is dead and do not leave it. Finally, their nature is that they cannot exist without man.

We read that dogs have such great love for their masters, as when King Garamentes was caught by his enemies and taken into captivity, two hundred dogs went in formation through enemy lines and led him back from exile, fighting off those who resisted them. When Jason [Licio] was killed, his dog rejected food and died of starvation. The dog of King Lysimachus threw itself in the flame when its master’s funeral pyre was lit and was consumed by fire along with him. When Apius and Junius Pictinius were consuls, a dog that could not be driven away from its master, who had been condemned, accompanied him to prison; when, soon afterwards, he was executed, it followed him, howling. When the people of Rome, out of pity, caused it to be fed, it carried the food to its dead master’s mouth. Finally, when its master’s corpse was thrown into the Tiber, the dog swam to it and tried to keep it from sinking.

When a dog picks up the track of a hare or a deer and comes to a place where the trail divides or to a junction splitting into several directions, it goes to the beginning of each path and silently reasons with itself, as if by syllogism, on the basis of its keen sense of smell. ‘Either the animal went off in this direction,’ it says, ‘or that, or certainly it took this turning.’

Again on the nature of dogs

Often, also, when a murder has been committed, dogs have produced clear evidence of the guilt of the accused, with the result that their unspoken testimony is for the most part believed. They say that at Antioch, in a distant quarter of the city at dusk, a man was murdered, who had his dog with him on a lead. A soldier had been the perpetrator of the deed, with robbery as his motive. Under cover of the growing darkness, he fled elsewhere. The corpse lay unburied; the crowd of onlookers was large; the dog stayed at its master’s side, howling over his sad fate. It happened that the man who had committed the crime, acting confidently in order to convince people of his innocence – such is the cunning way in which men think – joined the circle of onlookers and, feigning grief, approached the corpse. Then the dog, briefly abandoning its doleful lament, took up the arms of vengeance, seized the man and held him, and, softly singing a pitiful song, as in the epilogue of a tragedy, moved everyone to tears; and the fact that the dog held that man alone, of the many that were there, and did not let him go, lent weight to its case. In the end, the murderer was at a loss because the evidence in the case was so plain; he could not clear himself by objecting that he was the victim of anyone’s hate, enmity, envy or spite, and he could no longer rebut the charge. Because it was very difficult for him, he suffered punishment, because he could offer no defence.

A dog’s tongue, licking a wound, heals it. A dog’s way of life is said to be wholly temperate. A puppy’s tongue is generally a cure for internal injuries. It is characteristic of a dog that it returns to its vomit and eats it again. If a dog swims across a river carrying a piece of meat or anything of that sort in its mouth, and sees its shadow, it opens its mouth and in hastening to seize the other piece of meat, it loses the one it was carrying.

In some ways preachers are like dogs: by their admonitions and righteous ways they are always driving off the ambushes laid by the Devil, lest he seize and carry off God’s treasure – Christian souls. As the dog’s tongue, licking a wound, heals it, the wounds of sinners, laid bare in confession, are cleansed by the correction of the priest. As the dog’s tongue heals man’s internal wounds, the secrets of his heart are often purified by the deeds and discourse of the Church’s teachers. As the dog is said to be temperate in its ways, the man who is set over others diligently studies wisdom and must avoid drunkenness and gluttony in every way, for Sodom perished in a surfeit of food. Indeed, there is no quicker way for the Devil, his enemy, to take possession of man than through his greedy gullet. The dog returning to its vomit signifies those who, after making their confession, heedlessly return to wrongdoing. The dog leaving its meat behind in the river, out of desire for its shadow, signifies foolish men who often forsake what is theirs by right out of desire for some unknown object; with the result that, while they are unable to obtain the object of their desire, they needlessly lose what they have given up.

Some dogs are called licisici, wolf-hounds, because they are born of wolves and dogs, when by chance these mate. In India bitches are tethered at night in the forests to breed with wild tigers, by whom they are mounted, producing very fierce dogs, so strong that with their grip they can pull down lions.

Whenever a sinner wishes to please his maker, it is necessary and advantageous for him to seek out three spiritual masters, who will hire three spiritual servants with three spiritual gifts in order to reconcile the man with his maker. The masters and their servants with the three gifts are in this order: the first servant is a tearful heart; the second, true confession; the third, sincere repentance. Their masters are the love of God, righteous desire and good deeds. The spiritual gifts are cleanliness of body and mind, purity of speech, and perseverance in good works. The servants and their masters with their spiritual gifts appear before the Trinity in this way: before God the Father appears the tearful heart bearing cleanliness of body and mind; before God the Son appears true confession with righteous desire and purity of speech; before the Holy Spirit appears sincere repentance with good deeds, bearing perseverance in good works.

As potions are necessary for a sick body to heal its infirmities, a potion is needed to cure its spiritual corruption, a potion of four ingredients – a tearful heart, true confession, sincere repentance and good conduct. This potion is a fitting remedy for the spiritual ailments of the body because when the soul is anointed with it, it is at once cured of its frailties.

But if the soul, once healed, is left without a decent covering, how, in the heavenly court where it must be presented, will it be presented before its maker? The man who undertakes to order and array his soul, must clothe it decently and fittingly, therefore, so that he can present it in a praiseworthy fashion before the angels in heaven. The first garment in which the soul should be clad is purity. For no soul can be presented in the court of heaven, which now or in the future is not pure. Other garments are piety, charity and other virtues in which it should be attired.

Clad in such raiment, with the three guides, purity of thought, chasteness of speech and perfection in deeds, the soul can be presented honourably in the glory of heaven, where it will be rewarded by that blessed state which the angels enjoy, for which God created man, assigning him three counsellors, spiritual understanding, the capacity for doing good, and wisdom; if man accedes to them, he will not lose his heavenly kingdom; because man did not accede to them, he lost his inheritance.


Of dolphins

Dolphins are known by that particular name or word because they follow the sound of men’s voices, or gather in schools at the sound of music.

There is no swifter creature in the sea. For they often leap through the air over ships; but when they play beforehand in the swell and leap headlong through the mighty waves, they seem to foretell storms.They are correctly called simones.

There is a species of dolphin in the River Nile, with a serrated back, which kills crocodiles by cutting into the soft parts of their bellies.


Of deer

The word cervi (deer) comes from ceraton, ‘horns’, for horns are called cerata in Greek. Deer are the enemies of snakes; when they feel weighed down with weakness, they draw snakes from their holes with the breath of their noses and, overcoming the fatal nature of their venom, eat them and are restored. They have shown the value of the herb dittany, for after feeding on it, they shake out the arrows which have lodged in them. Deer marvel at the sound of the pipes; their hearing is keen when their ears are pricked but they hear nothing when their ears are lowered. Deer have this characteristic also, that they change their feeding-ground for love of another country, and in doing so, they support each other. When they cross great rivers or large long stretches of water, they place their head on the hindquarters of the deer in front and, following one on the other, do not feel impeded by their weight. When they find such places, they cross them quickly, to avoid sinking in the mire.

They have another characteristic, that after eating a snake they run to a spring and, drinking from it, shed their long coats and all signs of old age. The members of the holy Church seem to have a mentality corresponding to that of deer, because while they change their homeland, that is, the world, for love of the heavenly homeland, they carry each other, that is, the more perfect bring on and sustain the less perfect by their example and their good works. And if they find a place of sin, they leap over it at once, and after the incarnation of the Devil, that is, after committing a sin, they run, by their confession, to Christ, the true spring; drinking in his commandments, they are renewed, shedding their sin like old age. Stags, when it is time to rut, rage with the madness of lust. Does, although they may been inseminated earlier, do not conceive before the star Arcturus appears.

They do not rear their young just anywhere but hide them with tender care, concealed deep in bushes or grass, and they make them stay out of sight with a tap of the hoof. When the young grow strong enough to take flight, the deer train them to run and to leap great distances. When deer hear the dogs barking, they move upwind taking their scent with them. They are scared rigid by everything, which makes them an easier mark for archers. Of their horns, the right-hand one is better for medical purposes. If you want to frighten off snakes, you should burn either. If deer have few or no teeth, it shows that they are old. In order to tell their age, Alexander the Great ringed a number of deer; when they were recaptured a century later they showed no sign of old age. The offspring of the deer are called hinnuli, fawns, from innuere,‘to nod’, because at a nod from their mother, they vanish from sight.

The rennet of a fawn killed in its mother’s womb is a marvellous remedy against poisons. It is known that deer never grow feverish. For this reason ointments made from their marrow bring down sick men’s temperatures. We read that many men who have regularly eaten a small amount of venison since their early days have lived for a long time unaffected by fevers; but ultimately it fails them as a remedy if they are killed by a single blow.


Species of donkeys and mares are created by interbreeeding with the special intervention of man, or in the other way, when horses mount asses; in the context of nature, these are truly acts of adultery. For undoubtedly, what is done in a natural context by interbreeding is more significant than what happens in a personal context by injury.

O men, you bring these things about as an agent of adultery between animals and you consider a hybrid animal more valuable than one which is pure bred. You interbreed different species and mix the seed of one with another, and frequently you force animals unwillingly to take part in intercourse which is forbidden, and you call this ‘industry’; because you cannot interbreed among men, in such a way that the mixing of two species can exclude the creation of offspring, you take away from a man what he was born with, you take the virility from a man, you destroy his sex by cutting off part of his body and you create a eunuch, so that what nature denies in man, your presumption achieves.

As to how good a mother water is, think about this. You, O man, have taught the denial, separation, hatred, crimes, of fathers against sons; learn what is essential to that relationship. Fish cannot live without water; they cannot be separated from the company of their parent; they cannot be parted from the services of their wet-nurse. If this should happen, it is their nature, when separated, to die there and then.

What can I tell you about the quantity and density of their teeth? For creatures that live in water are not like sheep or cattle, whose teeth grow in one part of the mouth, but every part of their mouth is armed with teeth, and if they are slow to chew their food and swallow it, it can be washed down and dissolved by the flow of water from their teeth.

Their teeth are close-set and sharp, so that they can cut food quickly and consume food quickly, and swallow it without delay or hesitation. In short, they do not ruminate, that is, chew the cud. Only the scarus is reported to be a ruminant, chewing on everything that it takes in by chance, habit or purpose.


dracoaberdeen bestiary dracon

The dragon is bigger than all other snakes or all other living things on earth. For this reason, the Greeks call it dracon, from this is derived its Latin name draco.

The dragon, it is said, is often drawn11° 14½° forth from caves into the open air, causing the air to become turbulentaqua flow break

The dragon has a crest11½°, a small mouth12½°, and narrow blow-holes through which it breathes and puts forth its tongue. Its strength lies not in its teeth but in its tail, and it kills with a blow rather than a bite. It is free from poison. They say that it does not need poison to kill things, because it kills anything around which it wraps 25° 22½° its tail

From the dragon not even the elephant, with its huge size, is safe. For lurking on paths along which elephants are accustomed to pass->24°induction magentometer°30°27½°the dragon knotschinalucky knot its tail around their legs23½° and kills them by suffocation.

Dragons26½° 28½° are born in Ethiopia cassiopeia cepheusmayhmagicwandand India, where it is hot all year round.

The Devil is like the dragon; he is the most monstrous serpent of all; he is often aroused from his cave and causes the air to shine because, emerging from the depths, he transforms himself into the angel of light and deceives the foolish with hopes hope jarof vainglory and worldly pleasure.

The dragon is said to be crested11½°, as the Devil wears the crown4½°10½°12½°13½° 18½° 21½°  24½°25½° of the king of pride. The dragon’s strength lies not in its teeth   fish hook 1½° 20½°but its tail, as the Devil, deprived of his strength, deceives hope jarwith lies those whom he draws14½°27½° to him. The dragon lurks around paths6½°5½°2½°15°25½° along which elephantselephant pass24°induction magentometer°30°27½°, as the Devil entangles17½° with the knots of sin the way of those bound for heaven and, like the dragon, kills them by suffocation; because anyone who dies fettered in the chains7½° 28½° of his offences is condemned without doubt to hell.



… no larger animal is seen. The Persians and Indians, carried in wooden towers on their backs, fight with javelins as from a wall. Elephants have a lively intelligence and a long memory; they move around in herds; they flee from a mousemouse ; they mate back-to-back. The female is pregnant for two years, and gives birth no more than once, and not to several offspring but to one only. Elephants live for three hundred years. If an elephant wants to father sons, it goes to the East, near Paradise; there the tree called mandragora- the mandrake, grows. The elephant goes to it with his mate, who first takes fruit from the tree and gives it to her male. And she seduces him until he eats it; then she conceives at once in her womb. When the time comes for her to give birth, she goes out into a pool, until the water comes up to her udders. The male guards her while she is in labour, because elephants have an enemy – the dragon. If the elephant finds a snake, it kills it, trampling it until it is dead.

The elephant strikes fear into bulls, yet fears the mouse. The elephant has this characteristic: if it falls down, it cannot rise. But it falls when it leans on a tree in order to sleep, for it has no joints in its knees. A hunter cuts part of the way through the tree, so that when the elephant leans against it, elephant and tree will fall together. As the elephant falls, it trumpets loudly; at once a big elephant goes to it but cannot lift it. Then they both trumpet and twelve elephants come, but they cannot lift the one who has fallen. Then they all trumpet, and immediately a little elephant comes and puts its trunk under the big one and lifts it up. The little elephant has this characteristic, that when some of its hair and bones have been burnt, nothing evil approaches, not even a dragon. The big elephant and its mate represent Adam and Eve. For when they were in the flesh pleasing to God, before their sin, they did not know how to mate and had no understanding of sin.

But when the woman ate the fruit of the tree, that is to say, she gave her man the fruit of the mandrake, the tree of knowledge, then she became pregnant, and for that reason they left Paradise. For as long as they were in Paradise, Adam did not mate with Eve. For it is written: ‘Adam knew his wife and she conceived’, (Genesis, 4:1) and she gave birth on the waters of guilt. Of this, the prophet says: ‘Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul.'(Psalms, 69:1). And at once the dragon seduced them and caused them to be outcasts from their citadel, that is, because they displeased God. Then came the big elephant, meaning the law, and did not raise up mankind, any more than the priest raised the man who fell among thieves. Nor did the twelve elephants, that is, the company of prophets, raise mankind, just as the Levite did not raise the wounded man we spoke of. But the elephant capable of understanding, that is our Lord Jesus Christ, who, although greater than all, became the smallest of all, because he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death that he might raise up mankind.

He is the Good Samaritan who set upon his own beast the man who had fallen among thieves. For Jesus himself was wounded yet bore our weakness and carried our sins. The Samaritan also symbolises a guardian. On this subject, David says: ‘The Lord watching over the children…’ [SOURCE] Where the Lord is present, the devil cannot draw near. Whatever elephants wrap their trunks around, they break; whatever they trample underfoot is crushed to death as if by the fall of a great ruin. They never fight over female elephants, for they know nothing of adultery. They possess the quality of mercy. If by chance they see a man wandering in the desert, they offer to lead him to familiar paths. Or if they encounter herds of cattle huddled together, they make their way carefully and peacably lest their tusks kill any animal in their way. If by chance they fight in battle, they have no mean of the wounded. For they take the exhausted and the injured back into their midst.


Of the fox

The word vulpis, fox, is, so to say, volupis. For it is fleet-footed and never runs in a straight line but twists and turns. It is a clever, crafty animal. When it is hungry and can find nothing to eat, it rolls itself in red earth so that it seems to be stained with blood, lies on the ground and holds it breath, so that it seems scarcely alive. When birds see that it is not breathing, that it is flecked with blood and that its tongue is sticking out of its mouth, they think that it is dead and descend to perch on it. Thus it seizes them and devours them. The Devil is of a similar nature. For to all who live by the flesh he represents himself as dead until he has them in his gullet and punishes them. But to spiritual men, living in the faith, he is truly dead and reduced to nothing. Those who wish to do the Devil’s work will die, as the apostle says: ‘For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.’ (Romans, 8:13) And David says: ‘They shall go into the lower parts of the earth: they shall fall by the sword: they shall be a portion for foxes.’ (Psalms, 63:9-10)


The griffin, griffon, or gryphon (Greek: γρύφων, grýphōn, or γρύπων, grýpōn, early formγρύψ, grýps; Latin: gryphus) is a legendary creature with the body, tail, and back legs of a lion; the head and wings of an eagle; and an eagle’s talons as its front feet. Because the lion was traditionally considered the king of the beasts and the eagle the king of birds, the griffin was thought to be an especially powerful and majestic creature. The griffin was also thought of as king of all creatures. Griffins are known for guarding treasure and priceless possessions.

The derivation of this word remains uncertain. It could be related to the Greek word γρυπός (grypos), meaning ‘curved’, or ‘hooked’. Also, this could have been an Anatolian loan word, compare Akkadian karūbu (winged creature), and similar to Cherub. A related Hebrew word is כרוב (kerúv).

Cherub, also pl. cherubim, (Hebrew כְּרוּב, pl. כְּרוּבִים, English trans kərūv, pl. kərūvîm, dualkərūvāyim Latin cherub[us], pl. cherubi[m], Syriac ܟܪܘܒܐ) is a winged angelic being who is considered to attend on the Abrahamic God in biblical tradition.

Cherubim are mentioned throughout the Hebrew Bible and once in theNew Testament in reference to the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant (Hebrews 9:5).


Most statues have bird-like talons, although in some older illustrations griffins have a lion’s forelimbs; they generally have a lion’s hindquarters. Its eagle’s head is conventionally given prominent ears; these are sometimes described as the lion’s ears, but are often elongated (more like a horse‘s), and are sometimes feathered.

Infrequently, a griffin is portrayed without wings, or a wingless eagle-headed lion is identified as a griffin. In 15th-century and later heraldry such a beast may be called an alce or a keythong.

In heraldry, a griffin always has forelegs like an eagle’s hind-legs. A type of griffin with the four legs of a lion was distinguished by perhaps only one English herald of later heraldry as the Opinicus where it also had a camel-like neck and a short tail that almost resembles a camel’s tail.


Of the goat

There is an animal called in Latincaper, goat, because it chooses, capere, to live in rugged places; some call it capra from crepita, ‘a rustling noise’. These are the tame goats which the Greeks called dorcas, gazelle, because they have very sharp sight. They live in high mountains and can tell if men approaching a long way off are hunters or travellers. In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ loves high mountains, that is, the prophets and Apostles, as it says in the Song of Songs: ‘Behold, my beloved cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills (see Song of Solomon, 2:8). As a goat grazes in the valleys, our Lord grazes on the church; the good works of Christian people are the food of him who said: ‘For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.’ (Matthew, 25:35)

By the valleys of the mountains are understood the churches spread through different regions, as it says in the Song of Songs: ‘My beloved is like a roe or young hart.’ (Song of Solomon, 2:9) The fact that the goat has very sharp eyesight, sees everything and recognises things from a long way off, signifies our Lord, who is the lord of all knowing and God. And elsewhere it is written: ‘Though the Lord be high yet hath he respect unto the lowly but the proud he knoweth afar off.’ (Psalms, 138:6) He created and established all things, and rules and judges and sees; and before anything arises in our hearts he foresees and understands it. Lastly, just as the goat perceives from afar hunters approaching, so Christ knew in advance the plot of his betrayer, saying: ‘Behold, he is at hand that doth betray me.’ (Matthew, 26:46)

Of the wild goat

The goat has these characteristics: when grazing, it moves from high to even higher pastures. It picks out good grass from bad by the sharpness of its eyes. It feeds by chewing the grass. When wounded, it hurries to find the herb dittany and, by touching it, is healed. In the same way, good preachers graze on the law of the Lord and take delight in good works as in good pastures, rising from one virtue to another. They choose good writings from bad with the eyes of the heart and meditate upon those they have chosen, that is they examine the good in the views expressed and, having pondered them, commit them to memory. Wounded by sin, they hurry back to Christ by confessing and are quickly healed. For this reason, Christ is rightly said to be like ditanny. For as dittany drives out iron from a wound and heals it, so Christ through confession casts out the devil and pardons sin.

The he-goat is a wanton and frisky animal, always longing for sex; as a result of its lustfulness its eyes look sideways – from which it has has derived its name. For, according to Suetonius, hirci are the corners of the eyes. Its nature is so very heated that its blood alone will dissolve a diamond, against which the properties of neither fire nor iron can prevail. Kids, hedi, take their name from the word for eating, edendum, for the young ones are very fat and taste delicious. As a result their name means ‘eat’ and ‘eatable’.


The horse of Alexander the Great was called Bucefala, either from its savage appearance, or from its brand – it had a bull’s-head burnt into its shoulder – or because the points of little horns grew out of its forehead. Although it was ridden by its groom at times without resisting, once it carried the royal saddle, it would never deign to carry anyone but its master the king. There are many accounts of this horse in battles where, by its own efforts, it carried Alexander unharmed from the fiercest fights. The horse of Gaius Caesar allowed no-one on its back but Caesar. When the king of the Scythians was killed in single combat, his victorious opponent sought to plunder his corpse but was mauled by the king’s horse, which kicked and bit him. When King Nicomedes was killed, his horse starved itself to death. When Antiochus conquered the Galatians, he leapt on the horse of a general, Cintaretus by name, who had fallen in battle, in order to go on fighting. But the horse reacted against the bit to such an extent that it fell deliberately, injuring both itself and its rider in the fall.

Among this kind of animal, the males live longer. Indeed, we read of horses living for seventy years. We note also that a stallion called Opuntes was at stud up to the age of forty. In mares, sexual desire is quenched when their mane is cropped; when they give birth, a love charm appears, which the foals display on their foreheads, tawny in colour, like a tuft of sedge, called hipponenses. If it is taken away immediately, the mother will on no account give her udders to the foal to suckle it. The deeper a horse dips its nostrils when drinking, the better its prospects.

Horses weep for their slain or dying masters. It is said that the horse alone weeps for men and feels the emotion of grief on their account. Following on from this, the characteristics of horses and men are intermingled in the centaurs. Men riding into battle can infer from the low or high spirits of their mounts, what the outcome will be.

The general view is that in horses of good pedigree  and colour.

As to form, the body should be sound and firm; its height consistent with strength; long and narrow in the flank; haunches, large and rounded; broad chest; the entire body knotted with the thickness of its muscles; dry hooves, supported by a curved frog.

As to beauty: its head should be small and dry; the skin taut against its bones; the ears, short and neat; the eyes, large, the nostrils broad and the neck erect; the mane, and tail, thick; the hooves firmly curved.

As to temperament: it should be bold of spirit, light-footed, with quivering limbs – a sign of courage; it should be easy to rouse when it is at rest, and once it has been put to the gallop, it should not be difficult to control. You can judge the pace of a horse by the pricking of its ears, its mettle from the quivering of its limbs.

The main colours to be found are: bay, golden, rosy, chestnut, tawny-red, pale yellow, blue-grey, dappled, light grey, brilliant white, ordinary white, piebald, black. After these come variegated colours based on black or bay; other mixtures or those which are the colour of ashes are the lowest sort

According to the ancients, a bay, badius, was a powerful horse, because among other animals its pace was stronger. The same horse was calledspadix or fenicatus, date-brown, from the palm-tree which the Syrians call spadix. The blue-grey, glaucus, is like the colour of eyes, painted and suffused with brightness. The pale yellow, gilvus, is better described by the colour ‘off-white’. A piebald horse, guttatus, is white, mottled with black.

The brilliant and ordinary white, candidus and albus, differ one from the other. For the ordinary white has a sort of paleness, but the brilliant white is like snow, suffused with pure, shining light. Light grey,canus, is so called because it is composed of brilliant white and black. A dappled horse, scutulatus, gets its name from its circular, shield-like, patches of brilliant white and dark brown. A variegated horse, varius, is so called because it has stripes of different colours. Those which have white feet are called petili; ‘slenderfeet’; those with a white foreheadcallidi, ‘hotheads’. The tawny-red horse, cervinus, is commonly calledgaurans. The horse called vosinus is so called because its colour is that of an ass, whose coat is also the colour of ashes.

These are found in the country, bred from the species we call equiferi, wild horses, and cannot therefore make the transition to domesticated status. The horse called mauron, a moor or arab, is black, because the Greek word for a black man is mauron. A cob,mannus, is a smaller kind of horse, commonly called brunius ‘a brown’. The ancients called post-horses veredi, because they drew carriages, vehere redas, that is, because they pulled them or because they went on public highways, via, along which carriages, reda, customarily go.

There are three kinds of horse. One is the noble war-horse, capable of carrying heavy weights; the second is the everyday kind, used for drawing loads but unsuitable for riding. The third is born from a combination of different species, and is also called bigener, hybrid, because it is born of mixed stock, like a mule.

The word mulus, mule, comes from the Greek. It is called this in Greek because under the miller’s yoke it draws the lumbering millstones, mola, in a circle to grind the corn. The Jews say that Ana, the son of the great-grandchild of Esau, was the very first to have herds of mares covered by asses in the desert, so that as a result new animals were born of many sires – against nature. It is said that wild asses were also put to she-asses and the same kind of cross-breeding was obtained in order to produce from them asses which were very fleet of foot. Indeed human activity has brought together a variety of animals to mate. And from this adulterous interbreeding man has produced a new species, just as Jacob obtained animals of the same colour – also against nature. For his ewes conceived lambs of the same colour as the rams which mounted them, seeing them reflected in water. Finally it is said that the same thing happens with herds of mares, that men put noble stallions in view of those which are about to conceive, so that they can conceive and create offspring in the stallions’ image. Pigeon fanciers place images of the most beautiful pigeons in places where they flock, to catch the birds’ eye, so that they may produce babies which look like them. It is for this reason that people order pregnant women not to look at animals with very ugly countenances, such as dog-headed apes or apes, lest they should bear children who look like the things they have seen. For it is said to be the nature of women that they produce as offspring whatever they see or imagine at the height of their ardour as they conceive; animals, indeed, when they are mating, transmit inwardly the forms they see outwardly and, imbued with these images, take on their appearance as their own.

Among living things the name ‘hybrid’ is given to those born from the mating of two different species, such as the mule from a mare and an ass, the hinny from a stallion and a she-ass, the hybrid from the wild boar and the sow, the animal called tyrius from the sheep and the he-goat, and the moufflon rom the she-goat and the ram; the moufflon is the leader of the flock


Of the hyena

There is an animal called the hyena, which inhabits the tombs of the dead and feeds on their bodies. Its nature is that it is sometimes male, sometimes female, and it is therefore an unclean animal. Since its spine is rigid, all in one piece, it cannot turn round except by turning its body right around. Solinus recounts many marvellous things about the hyena. First, it stalks the sheepfolds of shepherds and circles their houses by night, and by listening carefully learns their speech, so that it can imitate the human voice, in order to fall on any man whom it has lured out at night. The hyena also [imitates] human vomit and devours the dogs it has enticed with faked sounds of retching. If dogs hunting the hyena accidentally touch its shadow behind, they lose their voices and cannot bark. In its search for buried bodies, the hyena digs up graves. The sons of Israel resemble the hyena. At the beginning they served the living God.

Later, addicted to wealth and luxury, they worshipped idols. For this reason the prophet compared the synagogue to an unclean animal: ‘My heritage is to me as the den of a hyena.’ (see Jeremiah, 12:8) Therefore those among us who are slaves to luxury and greed, are like this brute, since they are neither men nor women, that is, neither faithful nor faithless, but are without doubt those of whom Solomon says: ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways’; (James, 1:8) of whom the Lord says: ‘You cannot serve God and mammon.’ (Matthew, 6:24) This beast has a stone in its eyes, called hyenia; anyone who keeps it under his tongue is believed to foretell the future. It is true that if the hyena walks three times around any animal, the animal cannot move. For this reason men declare that the hyena has magical properties. In a part of Ethiopia the hyena mates with the lioness; their union produces a monster, named crocote. Like the hyena, it too produces men’s voices. It never tries to change the direction of its glance but strives to see without changing it. It has no gums in its mouth. Its single, continuous tooth is closed naturally like a casket so that it is never blunted.


Of the animal called the ibex

There is an animal called the ibex, which has two horns of such strength that, if it were to fall from a high mountain to the lowest depths, its whole body would be supported by those two horns. The ibex represents those learned men who are accustomed to manage whatever problems they encounter, with the harmony of the two Testaments as if with a sound constitution; and, supported as by two horns, they sustain the good they do with the testimony of readings from the Old and New Testament.


The lamb is called agnus possibly from the Greek word agnos, pious. Some think that it gets the Latin form of its name because, more than any other animal, it recognises, agnoscere, its mother, so much so that, even if it strays in the midst of a large flock, it recognises its mother’s voice by her bleat and hurries to her. It seeks out also the sources of mother’s milk which are familiar to it. The mother recognises her lamb alone among many thousands of others. Lambs in large numbers make the same baa-ing noise and look the same, yet she picks out her offspring among the others and by her great show of tenderness identifies it as hers alone.


The lion is the mightiest of the beasts; he will quail at the approach of none.

The name ‘beast’ applies, strictly speaking, to lions, panthers and tigers, wolves and foxes, dogs and apes, and to all other animals which vent their rage with tooth or claw – except snakes. They are called ‘beasts’ from the force with which they rage. They are called ‘wild’ because they enjoy their natural liberty and are borne along by their desires. They are free of will, and wander here and there, and where their instinct takes them, there they are borne.

The name lion, leo, of Greek origin, is altered in Latin. For in Greek it is leon; it is not a genuine word, because it is in part corrupted. For the Greek word for lion is translated ‘king’ in Latin, because the lion is the king of all the beasts.

There are said to be three kinds. Of these, the ones which are short in stature, with curly manes, are peaceable; the tall ones, with straight hair, are fierce. Their brow and tail show their mettle; their courage is in their breast, their resolution in their head. They fear the rumbling sound of wheels, but are even more frightened by fire. The lion takes pride in the strength of its nature; it does not know how to join in the ferocity of other kinds of wild beasts, but like a king disdains the company of large numbers.

Of the three main characteristics of the lion.

Those who study nature say that the lion has three main characteristics. The first is that it loves to roam amid mountain peaks. If it happens that the lion is pursued by hunters, it picks up their scent and obliterates the traces behind it with its tail. As a result, they cannot track it. Thus our Saviour, a spiritual lion, of the tribe of Judah, the root of Jesse, the son of David, concealed the traces of his love in heaven until, sent by his father, he descended into the womb of the Virgin Mary and redeemed mankind, which was lost.

Not knowing of his divine nature, the Devil, the enemy of mankind, dared to tempt him like an ordinary man. Even the angels on high did not know of his divinity and said to those who were with him when he ascended to his father: ‘Who is this king of glory?’

The second characteristic of the lion is that when it sleeps, it seems to have its eyes open. Thus our Lord, falling asleep in death, physically, on the cross, was buried, yet his divine nature remained awake; as it says in the Song of Songs: ‘I sleep but my heart waketh’ (5:2); and in the psalm: ‘Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’ (121: 4).

The third characteristic of the lion is that when a lioness gives birth to her cubs, she produces them dead and watches over them for three days, until their father comes on the third day and breathes into their faces and restores them to life. Thus the Almighty Father awakened our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead on the third day; as Jacob says: ‘He will fall asleep as a lion, and as a lion’s whelp he will be revived’ (see Genesis, 49:9).

Where men are concerned, it is the nature of lions not to grow angry unless they are harmed. An example which thoughtful men should heed; for men grow angry even when they have not been harmed, and they oppress the innocent, although Christian law bids them set even the guilty free. The compassion of lions is apparent from endless examples. They spare those whom they have brought down. They allow captives whom they encounter to return home. They vent their rage on men rather than women. They do not kill children except in time of great hunger.

Equally, lions refrain from over-feeding. First, because they drink and feed on alternate days; and often, if their food remains undigested, they postpone the Next feed. Then, because they feel uncomfortable when they have devoured more meat than they should, they insert their paws in their mouth and pull the food out, of their own accord. And when they have to take flight, they do exactly the same thing if they are full. Missing teeth show that a lion is old.

Lions mate face to face; and not only lions, but lynxes, and camels, and elephants, and rhinoceroses, and tigers. [Lionesses, when] they first give birth, bear five cubs.

In the years which follow, they reduce the number by one at a time. Afterwards, when they are down to one cub, the fertility of the mother is diminished; they become sterile for ever.

The lion disdains to eat the Previous day’s meat and turns away from the remains of its own meal.

Which beast dares to rouse the lion, whose voice, by its nature, inspires such terror, that many living things which could evade its attack by their speed, grow faint at the sound of its roar as if dazed and overcome by force.

A sick lion seeks out an ape to devour it, in order to be cured.

The lion fears the cock, especially the white one. King of the beasts, it is tormented by the tiny sting of the scorpion and is killed by the venom of the snake.

We learn of small beasts called leontophones, lion-killers. When captured, they are burnt; meat contaminated by a sprinkling of their ashes and thrown down at crossroads kills lions, even if they eat only a small an amount. For this reason, lions pursue leontophones with an instinctive hatred and, when they have the opportunity, they refrain from biting them but kill them by rending them to pieces under their paws.


Of the leucrota

The beast called leucrota comes from India. It is the swiftest of all wild animals. It is as big as an ass, with the hindquarters of a deer, the chest and legs of a lion, the head…


… thick coat. It is said that the parander changes its appearance when it is afraid and, when it hides itself, takes on the likeness of whatever is near – a white stone or a green bush or whatever other shape it prefers.


Of the pard

The pard is a species which has a mottled skin, is extremely swift and thirsts for blood; for it kills at a single bound.  The leopard is the product of the adultery of a lioness with a pard; their mating produces a third species. As Pliny says in his Natural History: the lion mates with the pard, or the pard with the lioness, and from both degenerate offspring are created, such as the mule and the burdon.


Of the panther

There is an animal called the panther, multi-coloured, very beautiful and extremely gentle. Physiologus says of it, that it has only the dragon as an enemy. When it has fed and is full, it hides in its den and sleeps. After three days it awakes from its sleep and gives a great roar, and from its mouth comes a very sweet odour, as if it were a mixture of every perfume. When other animals hear its voice, they follow wherever it goes, because of the sweetness of its scent. Only the dragon, hearing its voice, is seized by fear and flees into the caves beneath the earth. There, unable to bear the scent, it grows numbed within itself and remains motionless, as if dead.

Thus our Lord Jesus Christ, the true panther, descending from Heaven, snatched us from the power of the devil. And, through his incarnation, he united us to him as sons, taking everything, and ‘leading captivity captive, gave gifts to men’ (Ephesians, 4:8).

The fact that the panther is a multi-coloured animal, signifies Christ, who is as Solomon said the wisdom of God the Father, an understanding spirit, a unique spirit, manifold, true, agreeable, fitting, compassionate, strong, steadfast, serene, all-powerful, all-seeing.

The fact that the panther is a beautiful animal [signifies Christ as] David says of him:

‘Thou art fairer than the children of men.’ (Psalms, 45:2)

The fact that the panther is a gentle animal [signifies Christ], as Isaiah also says: ‘Rejoice and be glad, daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; because your king comes to you, meek …’ (see Isaiah, 62:11; Zechariah, 9:9; Matthew, 21:5)

When the panther is full, it hides [in its den and sleeps. When Christ] was sated with the mocking of the Jews, the scourgings, blows, insults, abuse, the crown of thorns, having been hung by his hands on the cross, transfixed with nails, forced to drink gall and vinegar, and pierced by a spear, falling asleep in death, he rested in the tomb and descended into hell, where he bound fast the great dragon.

On the third day the panther rises from its sleep and gives a great cry, emitting a sweet odour, just like our Lord Jesus Christ, rising again from the dead; as David says: ‘He awakened as one out of sleep and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.'(Psalms, 78:65) And Christ cried out in a loud voice, so that his sound was heard throughout the land and his words at the ends of the earth (see Romans, 10:18).

And just as the odour of sweetness comes out of the panther’s mouth, and all the beasts which are near and those which come from afar follow it, so the Jews, who had at some time the disposition of beasts, but were close to Christ through their observance of the law, and those from afar, that is, the races who were without the law, hearing the voice of Christ, follow him, saying with the prophet: ‘How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth.’ (Psalms, 119:103) And again of Christ: ‘Grace is poured into thy lips; therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.’ (Psalms, 45:2) And Solomon says: ‘How much better is … the smell of thine ointments than all spices!’ (Song of Solomon, 4:10) And again: ‘In the savour of thy good ointments … we will run after thee.’ (Song of Solomon, 1:3-4). And a little after that: ‘The king hath brought me into his chambers.’ (1:4)

We ought to hurry after the scented ointment of Christ’s commandments as quickly as we can, like young souls, that is, souls made new by baptism; to quit earthly for heavenly things, that the king may lead us into his palace in Jerusalem, the city of the Lord of righteousness, on the mountain of all the saints.

The panther is a beast dabbed all over with very small circular spots, so that it is distinquished by its black and white colouring with eye-shaped circles of yellow.

The female [gives birth] once only


Of the lizard

The lizard is called a kind of reptile, because it has arms. There are many kinds of lizards, such as the botrax, the salamander, the saura and the newt.

The botruca is so called because it has the face of a frog and the Greek word for ‘frog’ is botruca.

Of the lizard called the saura

The saura is a lizard which goes blind when it grows old; it enters a crack in a wall and, looking toward the east, it bends its gaze on the rising sun and regains its sight.


with the body of a lion, the tail of a scorpion, and the head of a man


The mouse is a puny animal; its name, mus, comes from the Greek, the Latin word deriving from it. Others say mures, mice, because they are produced ex humore, from the damp soil, of the earth; for humus means earth and from that comes mus, mouse. Their liver grows bigger at full moon, like the tides rise then fall with the waning of the moon.


The mole is called talpa because it is condemned to darkness by its permanent blindness. For it lacks eyes, eyeless, is always digging in the ground and throwing out the soil, and feeds on the the roots of the plants which the Greeks call aphala, vetch.


Of the monocerus

The monoceros is a monster with a horrible bellow, the body of a horse, the feet of an elephant and a tail very like that of a deer. A magnificent, marvellous horn projects from the middle of its forehead, four feet in length, so sharp that whatever it strikes is easily pierced with the blow. No living monoceros has ever come into man’s hands, and while it can be killed, it cannot be captured.


The newt, stellio, gets its name from its colouring. For it is adorned on its back with shining spots like stars, stella. Ovid says of it: ‘Its name fits its colour; it is starred on the body with spots of various colours’ (see Ovid, Metamorphoses, 5, 461). It is said to be so hostile to scorpions, that the sight of it paralyses them with fear.

There are other species of snakes, like the admodite, elephantia, camedracontes.

Finally, it can be said that snakes inflict as many kinds of death as they have names.

All snakes are cold by nature; they will only strike you when their body warms up. For as long as it is cold, they will touch no-one. As a result, their poison is more harmful by day than by night. For they become sluggish in the cold of the night; and rightly so, because they grow cold in the night-time dew. For the deathly cold and freezing weather draw off the warmth of the body. Thus in winter they lie inactive in their nests; in summer, they grow lively again. So, if you are struck by a snake’s poison, you are numbed at first; then, when the venom warms up and begins to burn, it kills you at once.

Their poison is called ‘venom’, venenum, because it spreads through your veins. For when its deathly effect is introduced, it courses in every direction through the veins, increased by the quickening of the body, and drives out life. As a result, poison cannot hurt unless it infects your blood. Lucan says: ‘The poison of snakes is only deadly when mixed with the blood’ (Pharsalia, 9, 614). All poison is cold; as a result, the soul, which is by nature hot, flees from the poison’s icy touch.

In terms of the natural qualities which we observe that we, reasoning beings, share with animals, who have no capacity for reason, the serpent stands out by virtue of its lively intelligence. On this subject, it says in Genesis: ‘Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field’ (3:1).


The salamander is so called because it is proof against fire. Of all poisonous creatures, it has the strongest poison. Other poisonous creatures kill one at a time; it can kill several things at the same time. For if it has crawled into a tree, it poisons all the apples and kills those who eat them. In addition, if it falls into a well, the strength of its poison kills those who drink the water. It resists fire and alone among creatures can put fires out. For it can exist in the midst of flames without pain and without being consumed by them, not only because it does not burn but because it puts the fire out.

The Salamander, which could extinguish fire and not be harmed by the flames, poison fruit, and contaminate water

Sea pig

Of sea-pigs

Sea-pigs are commonly called swine, because when they seek food, they dig under the water like swine digging into the ground. For they have what serves as a mouth around their throat, and unless they immerse their snout in the sand, they cannot gather food.

The sword-fish is so called because its snout is pointed; it sinks ships by piercing them with it.

Sawfish, serra, are so called because they have a serrated crest; they swim under ships and saw through their keels.

The sea-scorpion is so called because it wounds you if you pick it up in your hand; they say that if ten crabs are bound with a handful of basil, all the scorpions around will gather at that place.


Of the sheep

The sheep, a gentle animal, its body clad in wool, harmless, placid by nature, gets its name from oblatio, an offering, because men of old offered as a sacrifice not bulls but sheep. Some are called ‘bidents’, having two teeth among their eight which are more prominent than the others; the pagans dedicated these, in particular, as a sacrifice.

As winter approaches, the sheep is ravenous for food and devours grass insatiably, because it senses the coming severity of the season and seeks to stuff itself with fodder before the grass fails in the sharp frost.


The word anguis is applied to the entire species of snake, because the snake’s body can be folded and bent; as a result, it is called anguisbecause it forms a series of angles, angulosus, and is never straight.

The snake is also called coluber, either because it lives in the shadows,colere umbras, or because it wriggles along in a slippery way, in sinuous coils. For anything that slithers when you hold it, like a fish or a snake, is called lubricus, ‘slippery’.

The snake gets its name, serpens, because it creeps up under cover, not by visible steps, but crawling along by the tiniest movements of its scales. Creatures which go on four feet, like lizards and newts are called not snakes but reptiles. Snakes are reptiles too, because they crawl, reptare, on their chests and bellies.

Of the nature of snakes

The snake has three characteristics.

The first of these is that when it grows old, its eyes grow dim; if it wants to regain its youth, it fasts for many days until its skin grows loose; then it seeks out a narrow crack in a rock, enters it, and scrapes through, sloughing off its old skin.

Let us, too, through much affliction and abstinence in Christ’s name, slough off our former self and garb, and seek Christ, the spiritual rock, and the narrow crack, that is ‘the strait gate’ (Matthew, 7:13).

The snake’s second characteristic is this: when it comes to a river to drink water, it does not bring its venom with it, but discharges it into a pit.

When we come together in church, drinking in the living, eternal water, to hear God’s heavenly word, we too should get rid of our venom, that is, earthly and evil desires.

The snake’s third characteristic is this: if it sees a naked man, it fears him; if it sees him clothed, it attacks him.

In the same way, we are to understand in spiritual terms, that for as long as Adam, the first man, was naked in Paradise, the serpent was unable to attack him; but after he was clothed, that is, in mortal flesh, then the serpent assaulted him. If you are clad in mortal clothes, that is, in your former self, and if you have grown old in evil days, the serpent attacks you. If, however, you divest yourself of the robes of princes and of the power of the darkness of this world, then the serpent, that is, the Devil, cannot attack you.

The snake, at the onset of blindness, wards it off by eating fennel. Thus, when it feels its eyes growing dim, it has recourse to remedies it knows, knowing that it can rely on their effect.

The tortoise, when it feeds on the snake’s entrails and becomes aware of the venom spreading through its own body, cures itself with oregano.

If a snake tastes the spittle of a fasting man, it dies.

Pliny says:It is believed that if the head of a snake escapes, even if only two fingers’ length of the body is attached, it continues to live. For this reason it places its whole body in the way to protect its head against its assailants. All snakes suffer from poor sight; they can rarely see what is in front of them. This is not without reason, since their eyes are not at the front but in the temples of the head, so that they hear better than they see. No creature moves its tongue as swiftly as the snake, to such an extent that it seems to have a triple tongue, when in fact there is only one.

The bodies of snakes are moist, so that wherever they go, they mark their path with moisture. The tracks of snakes are such that, since they seem to lack feet, they crawl using their flanks and the pressure of their scales, which are laid out in the same pattern from the throat to the lowest part of the belly. For they support themselves on their scales as if on claws, and on their flanks as if on legs.

As a result, if a snake is struck on any part of the body, from the belly to the head, it is disabled and cannot get away quickly, because where the blow falls, it dislocates the spine, through which the foot-like movement of the flanks and the motion of the body are activated.

Snakes are said to live for a long time, to such an extent that it also claimed that when they shed their old skins, they shed their old age and regain their youth. The snake’s skin is called exuvie, because they shed it, exuere, when they grow old. We refer to clothing as bothexuvie and induvie because it is both taken off, exuere, and put on,induere.

Pythagoras says that the snake is created from the marrow of dead men, which is to be found in the spine. Ovid has the same point in mind in the Metamorphoses, when he says: ‘There are those who believe that when the spine has rotted in the grave, the human marrow changes into a snake’. This, if it can be believed, has a certain justice, for as the snake brings about the death of man, so it is created by the death of man.

There are as many poisonous snakes as there are species; as many which bring death or suffering, as there are colours among them.

Of the snake called scitalis

The snake called scitalis gets its name because it glitters with such a variety of colour on its back that it slows down those who look at it on account of its markings. And because it is not a keen crawler and cannot overtake the prey it pursues, it catches those who are stunned by the marvel of its appearance. It gets so hot that even in winter it casts off its burning skin, something to Lucan refers: The scitalis alone can shed its skin while the rime is still scattered over the ground’ (Pharsalia, 9, 717).

Of the anphivena

The anphivena is so called because it has two heads, one where its head should be, the other on its tail; it moves quickly in the direction of either of its head, with its body forming a circle. Alone among snakes it faces the cold and is the first to come out of hibernation. Lucan, again, says of it: ‘The fell amphisbaena, that moves towards each of its two heads’ (Pharsalia, 9, 719). Its eyes glow like lamps.

Of the snake called boas

The boas is a snake found in Italy; it is of a vast weight; it follows flocks of cattle and of gazelles, fastens on their udders when they are full of milk and sucking on these, kills the animals; from its ravaging of oxen,bos, it has got its name boas.

Of the iaculus

The iaculus is a snake which flies. Lucan says of it: ‘The iaculus that can fly’ (Pharsalia, 9, 720). For they spring into trees and when anything comes their way, throw themselves on it and kill it. As a result, they are called iaculi, ‘javelin-snakes’.

Of sirens

In Arabia there are white snakes, with wings, called sirens, which cover the ground faster than horses, but are also said to fly. Their is poison is so strong that if you are bitten by it you die before you feel the pain.

Of the seps

The seps is a small snake which consumes with its poison not just the body but the bones. The poet refers to it as: ‘The deadly seps, that destroys the bones with the body’ (Lucan, Pharsalia, 9, 723).

Of the dipsa

The dipsa is a snake which is said to be so small that you tread on it without seeing it. Its poison kills you before you feel it, with the result that the face of anyone dying in this way shows no sadness from the anticipation of death. The poet says of it: ‘So Aulus, a standard-bearer of Etruscan blood, trod on a dipsa, and it drew back its head and bit him. He had hardly any pain or feeling of the bite’ (Lucan, Pharsalia, 9, 737).


There is an animal called the yale. It is black, as big as a horse, with the tail of an elephant, the jaws of a boar and unusually long horns, adjustable to any movement the animal might make. For they are not fixed but move as the needs of fighting require; the yale advances one of them as it fights, folding the other back, so that if the tip of the first is damaged by a blow, it is replaced by the point of the second.

As big as a horse but with the tail of an elephant and the tusks of a boar, and able to move its horns at will, like ears, folding one back if damaged while fighting with the other


The tiger is named for its swiftness in flight; the Persians and Greeks call it ‘arrow‘. It is a beast distinguished by its varied markings, its courage and its extraordinary speed. The Tygris takes its name from the tiger, because it is the fastest-flowing of all rivers. Hircania is their main home.
The tigress, when she finds her lair empty by the theft of a cub, follows the tracks of the thief at once. When the thief sees that, even though he rides a swift horse, he is outrun by her speed, and that there is no means of escape at hand, he devises the following deception. When he sees the tigress drawing close, he throws down a glass sphere. The tigress is deceived by her own image in the glass and thinks it is her stolen cub. She abandons the chase, eager to gather up her young. Delayed by the illusion, she tries once again with all her might to overtake the rider and, urged on by her anger, quickly threatens the fleeing man. Again he holds up her pursuit by throwing down a sphere. The memory of the trick does not banish the mother’s devotion. She turns over the empty likeness and settles down as if she were about to suckle her cub. And thus, trapped by the intensity of her sense of duty, she loses both her revenge and her child.


Of the viper

The viper is so called because the female gives birth with force, vi pariat. For when her belly aches with labour pains, her young do not wait to be released at the right time according to nature, but gnawing through her sides burst forth, leaving their mother dead. They say that the male spits his seed into the female, with his head inserted in her mouth. Mad with lust she bites it off. Thus it comes about that both parents die; the male during intercourse; the female at birth.

Saint Ambrose says of the viper that it the vilest kind of creature and more cunning than the whole serpent species. When it feels the desire for intercourse, it goes in search of a lamprey already known to it or prepares to copulate with a new partner. It goes to the shore and makes its presence known with a hiss, inviting her to its conjugal embrace. The lamprey, once invited, does not demur and shares with the poisonous snake the union it seeks.

What should these words signify to us if not that we should put up with the behaviour of our partner, and even if his whereabouts cannot be discovered, we are to behave as if he were present?

Let him be harsh, deceitful, uncouth, unreliable, drunken: are any of these things worse than the poison from which the lamprey, in intercourse, does not shrink? When she is invited, she is not found wanting and embraces the slimy snake with sincere affection.

The man puts up with your mischief and your feminine tendency towards triviality. Can you, o woman, not stand by your man? Adam was deceived by Eve, not Eve by Adam. It is right that the woman should accept as her governor the man whom she urged to do wrong, lest she fall again through her feminine disposition.

But he is rough and uncouth! He pleased you once. Are you saying that a husband should be chosen on a frequent basis? The ox seeks his partner, the horse cherishes his. If a partner is changed, however, the one that is left cannot bear the other’s yoke and feels insecure. You reject your conjugal partner and often think of changing him. If one day he is absent, you bring in a rival and at once, having discovered no reason for doing so, you avenge the injury done to your honour as if you had discovered some reason.

The female viper searches for her absent male, enticing him with a seductive hiss, and when she senses that he is approaching, she spits out her poison, modestly showing reverence to her husband and the obligations of marriage.

You, o woman, repel your husband with reproaches when he returns from afar. The viper gazes out to sea, he searches for a sign that she is on her way. You put obstacles in your husband’s way. You stir up the poison of strife, you do not get rid of it. You emit a foul venom in the midst of your wifely embrace, you show no shame at the thought of your marriage vows, you show no regard for your husband.

But you too, O man, for we can also bring you into the discussion, set aside the passion in your heart and the roughness of your manner when your loving wife comes to meet you, Get rid of your ill-humour when your wife sweetly rouses you to express your love. You are not her master but her husband; you have gained not a maidservant but a wife. God wished you to govern the weaker sex, not rule it absolutely. Return her care with attention; return her love with grace. The viper pours out its poison; can you not get rid of your harsh attitude?

If you are severe by nature, you should moderate your manner in consideration of your married state and set aside your harshness out of regard for your relationship.

There is another issue. Do not, O men, seek out someone else’s bed, do not plot another liaison. Adultery is a serious sin; it does harm to nature. In the beginning God made two beings, Adam and Eve, that is, man and wife; and he made the woman from the man, that is, from Adam’s rib; and he ordered them both to exist in one body and to live in one spirit. Why separate the single body, why divide the single spirit?

Adultery happens in nature. The eager embrace of the lamprey and the viper makes the point: it takes place not according to the law of the species but from the heat of lust.

Learn, O men, that he who seeks to seduce another man’s wife is to be compared with that snake with whom he seeks a relationship. Let him hurry off to the viper, which slithers into his bosom, not by the honest way of truth but the slimy route of inconstant love. He hurries to a woman who recovers her poison as the viper does. For they say that after the task of mating is over, the viper sucks up the poison that it had spat out beforehand.


A creature lives in the River Nile which is called idrus, because it lives in water. For the Greek word for water is idros Thus it is called aquatilis serpens, ‘water-snake’. Those who are bitten by it swell up, a sickness called by some boa, because it can be cured by the dung of an ox, bos.

The idra is a dragon with many heads of the kind that lived on the island, or marsh, of Lerna in the province of Arcadia. It is called in Latinexcedra because when one of its heads is cut off, three grow in its place. This is a myth, however, for it is accepted that the hydra was a place where water gushed out, destroying the town nearby; where, as one outlet was closed up, many others burst open. Seeing this, Hercules drained the marsh and so closed the water-spouts. For the word idra is so called from the Greek word for water.

The idrus is a worthy enemy of the crocodile and has this characteristic and habit: when it sees a crocodile sleeping on the shore, it enters the crocodile through its open mouth, rolling itself in mud in order to slide more easily down its throat. The crocodile therefore, instantly swallows the idrus alive. But the idrus, tearing open the crocodile’s intestines, comes out whole and unharned.

For this reason death and hell are symbolised by the crocodile; their enemy is our Lord Jesus Christ. For taking human flesh, he descended into hell and, tearing open its inner parts, he led forth those who were unjustly held there. He destroyed death itself by rising from the dead, and through the prophet mocks death, saying:’O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction’ (Hosea, 13:14).

The Hydrus a water snake and deadly enemy of the crocodile, which it killed by coating itself with mud and sliding down the crocodile’s throat, splitting it apart


Of the whale

[They suffer in the same way, those who are unbelievers and know nothing of the Devil’s cunning, who place their hope in him,] bind themselves to do his work, together they will be plunged with him into the fires of Gehenna.

The nature of this animal is such that when it feeds, it opens its mouth and breathes out from it a kind of sweet-smelling odour, so that when smaller fish scent it, they gather in its mouth. When the whale feels that its mouth is full, it closes it suddenly and swallows the fish.

They suffer in the same way, those who are of limited faith, who succumb to the food of desires and enticements, they are suddenly devoured by the Devil as if they had been overwhelmed by certain scents

Again of the whale

Whales are beasts of huge size, so called because of their habit of drawing in and spouting out water; for they make waves higher than other sea creatures; the Greek word balenim [balein] means ‘to emit’.

The male is called musculus; for it is alleged that the females conceive by intercourse.


The weasel is called mustela, ‘a long mouse’, so to speak, for theon[telos] in Greek means ‘long’. It is cunning by nature; when it has produced its offspring in its nest, it carries them from place to place, settling them in a series of different locations.It hunts snakes and mice. There are two kinds of weasel. One, of very different size from the other, lives in the forest. The Greeks call theseictidas; the other roams around in houses. Some say that weasels conceive through the ear and give birth through the mouth; others say, on the contrary, that they conceive through the mouth and give birth through the ear; it is said, also, that they are skilled in healing, so that if by chance their young are killed, and their parents succeed in finding them, they can bring their offspring back to life.

Weasels signify the not inconsiderable number of people who listen willingly enough to the seed of the divine word but, caught up in their love of wordly things, ignore it and take no account of what they have heard.

Wether or Ram

The wether gets its name, vervex, either from its strength, vires, because it is stronger than other sheep, or because it is a man, vir, that is, male, or because it has worms, vermes, in its head; irritated by the itching which these cause, wethers strike each other, butting their heads together in combat with great force. It is also called a ram, aries, from the Greek, Ares, that is, the god of war; in Latin,Mars; that is why we call the males in a flock mares. Or because, once upon a time, this animal was offered as a sacrifice by pagans on their altars: thus, aries, because it is laid upon an altar, ara. From which we get: ‘the ram is sacrificed at the altar’ (see Exodus, 29:18)


Of the wolf

The word lupus, wolf, in our Latin tongue derives from the Greek. For the Greeks call it licos; this comes from the Greek word for ‘bites’, because maddened by greed, wolves kill whatever they find. Others say the word lupus is, as it were, leo-pos, because like the lion, leo, their strength is in their paws, pes. As a result, whatever they seize does not survive. Wolves get their name from their rapacity: for this reason we call whores lupae, she-wolves, because they strip their lovers of their wealth. The wolf is rapacious beast and craves blood. It strength lies in its chest or its jaws, least of all in its loins. It cannot turn its neck around. It is said to live sometimes on its prey, sometimes on earth and sometimes, even, on the wind. The she-wolf bears cubs only in the month of May, when it thunders. Such is the wolf’s cunning that it does not catch food for its cubs near its lair but far away. If it has to hunt its prey at night, it goes like a tame dog here and there to a sheepfold, and lest the sheepdogs catch its scent and wake the shepherds, it goes upwind. And if a twig or anything, under the pressure of its paw, makes a noise, it nips the the paw as a punishment. The wolf’s eyes shine in the night like lamps.

It has this characteristic, that if it sees a man first, it takes away his power of speech and looks at him with scorn, as victor over the voiceless. If it senses that the man has seen it first, it loses its fierceness and its power to run. Solinus, who has a lot to say about the nature of things, says that on the tail of this animal there is a tiny patch of hair which is a love-charm; if the wolf fears that it may be captured, it tears the hair out with its teeth; the charm has no power unless the the hair is taken from the wolf while it is still alive. The Devil has the nature of a wolf; he always looks with an evil eye upon mankind and continually circles the sheepfold of the faithful of the Church, to ruin and destroy their souls.

The fact that the she-wolf gives birth when the thunder first sounds in the month of May signifies the Devil, who fell from heaven at the first display of his pride. The fact that its strength lies in its forequarters and not in its hindquarters also signfies the Devil, who was formerly the angel of light in heaven, but has now been made an apostate below. The wolf’s eyes shine in the night like lamps because the works of the Devil seem beautiful and wholesome to blind and foolish men. When the she-wolf bears her young, she will only catch food for them far away from her lair, because the Devil cherishes with wordly goods those he is sure will suffer punishment with him in the confines of hell. But he constantly pursues those who distance themselves from him by good works; as we read of the blessed Job, whose name, substance, sons and daughters the devil carried off to make him desert the Lord in his heart. The fact that the wolf cannot turn his neck without turning the whole of his body signifies that the Devil never turns towards the correction of penitence.

Now what is to be done for a man when the wolf has taken away his power of shouting, when he has lost even the power of speech; he loses the help of those who are at a distance. But what is to be done? The man should take off his clothes and trample them underfoot, and taking two stones in his hands, he should beat one against the other. What happens then? The wolf, losing the boldness that comes with its courage will run away. The man, saved by his cleverness, will be free, as he was in the beginning. This is to be understood in spiritual terms and can be taken to a higher level as an allegory. For what do we mean by the wolf if not the Devil? What by the man, if not sin? What by the stones, if not the apostles, or other saints of our Lord? For they are all called by the prophet ‘stones of adamant’. (see Ezekiel, 3:9) For our Lord himself is called in the law ‘a stumbling stone and rock of offence’; (see Romans, 9:33, 1 Peter, 2:8) and the prophet says of him: ‘I saw a man standing on a mountain of adamant.’ [SOURCE] Before we were finally redeemed, we were under the power of the enemy and had lost the capacity to call for help, and much as our sins required it, we were not heard by God, nor could we call any of the saints to our aid. But after God in his mercy bestowed his grace upon us in his son, in the act of baptism we laid aside, like old clothes, the person we were before, with all his deeds, and put on, like new clothes, a new person made in the image of God.

Then we took stones in our hands and beat them one against the other, because we attract with our prayers the attention of the saints of God, who now reign with him in heaven, asking them to gain the ear of God, our judge, and procure a pardon for our sin, lest Cerberus, whom we do not know should swallow us up, rejoicing in our death. Wolves mate on no more than twelve days in the year. They can go hungry for a long time, and after long fasts, eat a large amount. Ethiopia produces wolves with manes, so diversely coloured, men say, that no hue is lacking. A characteristic of Ethiopian wolves never turns towards the correction of penitence. is that they leap so high that they seem to have wings, going further than they would by running. They never attack men, however. In winter, they grow long hair; in summer, they are hairless. The Ethiopians call them theas.


Here begins the account of worms

The worm is a creature which generally springs from flesh, or wood or some other earthly material, but not as the result of intercourse, although occasionally they are hatched from eggs, like the scorpion.

There are worms that live in earth or in water, in air, in flesh, in leaves or in wood, or in clothes.

The spider, aranea, is a worm of the air, and gets its name from the fact that it lives on air; it draws out long threads from its small body, and devotes itself continually to spinning its web, never ceasing to toil, constantly suffering loss in its art.

The land-based millipede, multipes, is so called from its large number of feet; rolled up in a ball, it swells in pitchers.

The leech, sanguissuga, a water worm, is so called because it sucks blood, sanguinem sugere, and takes by surprise anyone who is drinking water. When it slides down the throat or adheres to any other part of the body, it drains the blood and when it can hold no more, it vomits what it has already swallowed in order to start sucking fresh blood again.

The scorpion is a land worm, to be classed rather with worms than snakes; it is armed with a sting, aculeus, and from that it gets its Greek name, because it sticks its tail into its victim and spreads the poison through the bow-shaped wound. It is a characteristic of the scorpion, that it will not sting the palm of the hand.

The silk-worm is a leaf worm; from the threads it weaves, we make silk. It gets its name because it empties itself when it makes thread and only air is left inside its body.

The caterpillar is a leaf worm, often found enveloped in a cabbage or a vine; it gets its name from erodere, ‘to eat away’. Plautus recalls it in this way: ‘She imitates the wicked and worthless beast, wrapped in vine leaves’ (Cistellaria, 728-30). It folds itself up and does not fly about like the locust, which hurries from place to place, in all directions, leaving things half-eaten, but stays amid the fruit that is destined to be destroyed and, munching slowly, consumes everything.

The Greeks call the wood worm teredon because they eat by gnawing their way into wood. We call them termites, for in Latin that is the name given to wood worms, which are hatched from trees felled at the wrong season.

The worm found in clothes is called tinea because it gnaws at fabrics, and burrows into them until they are eaten away. For this reason, it is called pertinacious, pertinax, because it works away all the time at the same thing.

Worms of the body are the emigramus, the stomach-worm, the ascaride, the coste, the louse, the flea, the lendex, the tarmus, the tick, the usia, the bug.

The emigramus is a worm of the head.

The stomach-worm, lumbricus, creeps into or lives in the loins, lumbus.

Lice, pediculi, are worms of the body which get their name from their feet, pedes; people on whose bodies lice swarm are called lousy,pediculosi.

Fleas, pulices, however, are so called because they live mainly on dust,pulvis.

The tarmus is a worm found in pork fat.

The tick, ricinus, is a worm associated with dogs, so called because it sticks to their ears, aures; for cenos is the Greek for ‘dog’.

The usia is a worm found in pigs, so called because it burns, urere. For when it bites, the place burns so much that blisters form.

The bug, cimex, gets its name from its resemblance to a plant which has the same stench; properly speaking, this worm originates in putrid meat.

To repeat, you find the moth in clothes, the caterpillar in vegetables, the termite in wood and the tarmus in pork fat.

The worm does not crawl like a snake with visible steps or by the pressure of its scales, because it lacks the firm spine which you find in snakes; but, moving in a straight line, by expanding the contracted parts and contracting the expanded parts of its little body, it unfolds in motion and, impelled in this way, creeps forwards.


The Ziz (Hebrew: זיז) is a giant griffin-like bird in Jewish mythology, said to be large enough to be able to block out the sun with its wingspan. It is considered a giant animal/monster corresponding to archetypal creatures. Rabbis have said that the Ziz is comparable to the Persian Simurgh, while modern scholars compare the Ziz to the Sumerian Anzu and the Ancient Greek phoenixBehemoth, Leviathan and Ziz were traditionally a favorite decoration motif for rabbis living in Germany.

There is only passing mention of the Ziz in the Bible, found in Psalms 50:11 “I know all the birds of the mountains and Zīz śāday is mine” and Psalms 80:13-14 “The boar from the forest ravages it, and Zīz śāday feeds on it.” /Hebrew: וְזִ֥יז שָׂ֝דַ֗י/, and these are often lost in translation from the Hebrew.

The nature of man

Isidorus on the nature of man

Aberdeen Bestiary

Nature, natura, is so called because it brings a thing to birth, nasci, for it has the power to beget and to form. Some have said that nature is God, by whom all things are created and exist.

Race, genus, comes from gignere, to generate; this derives from the word for ‘earth’, from which all things spring. For the Greek word for ‘earth‘ is ge.

Life, vita, is so called from vigor, ‘active power‘, or because it has within it the force of birth and growth. As a result, trees are said to have life, because they spring from the earth and grow.

Man, homo, is so called because he is made from the soil, humus, as it says in the book of Genesis: ‘And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground’ (2:7).

It is said incorrectly that man in his entirety is formed from two substances, that is, from the union of a soul and a body. Strictly speaking, man, homo, comes from soil, humus.

The Greek word for man is antropos [anthropos], because he looks upwards, raised up from the ground to contemplate his creator. This is what the poet Ovid means, when he says: ‘And though other animals are prone and fix their gaze upon the earth, he gave to man an uplifted face and bade him look at heaven and raise his countenance to the stars.’ (Metamorphoses, 1, 84-6). Standing erect, he looks at the heavens in search of God; he does not turn towards the ground, like the beasts who have been fashioned by nature and obedience to their appetite to bend their heads.

But man is twofold: inner and outer. The inner man is the soul; the outer, the body.

The soul gets its name, anima, from the pagans, because they conceived of it as the wind; for this reason it is also called wind in Greek, animos, because we seem to live by taking air in through our mouths. This is clearly wrong, because the soul is created long before it can take air into its mouth and it is already alive in its mother’s womb. The soul, therefore, is not the same as air, as some believe, who cannot conceive of its nature as being without substance.

The spirit, spiritus, is the same as the soul, anima, of which the evangelist speaks, saying: ‘I have the power to lay down my life, anima, and I have the power to take it again’ (see John, 10:18). It is to this same thing that the evangelist, recalling the time of our Lord’s passion, refers, in this way: ‘He bowed his head and gave up the ghost,spiritus’ (John, 19:30). What does ‘to give up the ghost, spiritus,’ mean if not that he laid down his life, anima? But the soul, anima, is so called because it lives. The spirit, spiritus, is so called either because of its spiritual nature, or because it gives breath, inspirare, to the body.

Again, the mind, animus, is the same as the soul, anima; but the soul is to do with life, the mind with thought. For this reason, philosphers say that life can continue even without the mind, animus, and the soul can endure without the intellect; this is demonstrated by those who are ‘mindless’, amentes. They call the intellect, mens, the faculty of knowing; the soul, anima, the faculty of willing.

The intellect, mens, is so called because it stands out, eminere, in the soul, or because it has the capacity to remember, meminisse. Thus, those who are forgetful are also called ‘mindless’, amentes. For this reason, it is not the soul itself, but the most eminent part of it, the equivalent of its head or eye, that we call the intellect, mens.

Thus man himself, because of his intellect, is called ‘the image of God’ (see Genesis, 1:26, 27). For in this way these terms and the faculties they represent are united in the soul, so that it is a single thing.

For different names are allocated to the soul in respect of its faculties. The memory, memoria, is also the intellect, mens; for this reason the forgetful are called ‘mindless’, amentes. When it gives life to the body, it is the soul, anima. When it wills something, it is the mind, animus.When it knows something, it is the intellect, mens. When it remembers, it is memory, memoria. When it judges what is right, it is reason, ratio.When it breathes, it is the life-giving spirit, spiritus. When it perceives or feels anything, it is sense, sensus. For the mind, animus, is called sense, sensus, on account of the things which it senses, sentire. For this reason, it is also known as the opinion, sententia.

The body, corpus, is so called because it perishes in a state of corruption, corruptum. For it can be reduced and die and at some time will decompose.

But flesh, caro, gets its name from creare, to create. For the semen of the male has the power of growth; the bodies of men and animals are conceived from it. For this reason parents are also referred to as ‘creators’.

Flesh is composed of four elements. There is earth in the flesh itself, air in the breath, water in the blood, and fire in the living heat. For the elements each have their own part in us; if any part is withheld, the whole dissolves.

Flesh, caro, and the body, corpus, mean different things. There is always a body where there is flesh, but where there is a body there is not always flesh. For flesh is that which lives, the same as the body. But a body which is not alive is not the same as flesh. For we use the word ‘body’, corpus, to mean either something which, after life, is dead, or something which was created without life. Sometimes also a thing can have life yet be called a body, corpus, not flesh, caro, like grass or wood.

The body has five senses:

  • sight
  • hearing
  • taste
  • smell
  • touch

Of these, two are opened and closed to sensations, two are always open.

The senses, sensus, are so called because through them the soul very delicately activates the whole body with the force of sensation, sentire. As a result we say things are ‘present‘, presentia, because they are before, pre, the senses, as, for example, they are before the eyes.

  • Sight, visus, is what philosophers call humor vitreus. For some claim that sight comes either from the earth, or from an external air-born light or an internal light-bearing spirit, which travel from the brain through narrow passages, and, after penetrating the coating of the eye, emerge into the air and, mixed with similar matter, give vision.
  • Vision, visus, is so called because, compared to the other senses, it is more lively, vivatior, more important, or swifter, velocior, and more powerful, vigere, as memory is, compared to the other faculties of the mind. For it is located closer to the brain, the source of all the senses. For this reason we use the word ‘see’ when we refer to things which pertain to the other senses. As when we say ‘see how it tastes’ and so on.
  • Hearing, auditus, is so called because it receives, haurire, voices, that is, it takes up sounds from the air which has been struck by them.
  • The sense of smell, odoratus, comes, so to speak, from the phrase,aeris odorat tactus, ‘the touch of the air carrying a scent’. For smell is experienced through the touch of the air, just as the other word for ‘smelling’, olfactus, comes from odoribus efficiatur, ‘sensation acquired from odours’.
  • Taste, gustus, gets its name from guttur, the throat. Touch, tactus, is so called because it takes hold of and handles things, and diffuses the force of the sensation through every limb. For we explore by touch whatever we cannot judge with the other senses. There are two kinds of touch. For the sensation of touching comes either from outside the body by experience, or it arises within the body itself.

Each sense has been given its own peculiar nature. For what is visible is captured by the eyes; what is audible, by the ears. Softness and hardness are assessed by touch; flavour by taste; odour is brought by the nostrils.

  • The head= caput, is the principal part of the body and gets its name because all the senses and nerves take, capere, their beginning from there, and the entire source of energy springs from it. It is the seat of all the senses. In a certain way it takes the role of the soul itself, which takes thought for the body.
  • The crown= vertex, is the part of the head where the hair is gathered and on which the hair parts, vertere, which is how it gets its name.
  • The word for skull= calvaria, comes from ossa calva, bare bones, by ellipsis; it is used in the neuter form.
  • The occiput=occipicium, is the rear part of the head, as if the word came from contra capitium, ‘opposite the covering of the head‘ or because it is behind the head, capitis retrorsum.
  • The word for hair= capilli, comes as if from capitis pili, ‘hairs of the head’. Hair was created to embellish the head and to protect the brain from cold and to keep the sun off it. The word for hair, pilos, comes from pellis, the skin, from which the hair emerges, as pilum, the pestle, comes from pila, the mortar, in which it pounds colours. A hairstyle is called cesaries, fromcedere, to cut; for this reason it only applies to men. For cutting the hair is appropriate for men; it is unfitting for women.
  • The word coma /constellation Coma Berenice/is strictly speaking= ‘uncut hair‘, and comes from the Greek. For the Greeks call uncut hair kaimos from their word for ‘cutting off’; they have also the word kirin [keirein] ‘to clip or crop‘.From this comes the word for curls, cirri, which the Greeks call maaonem [mallos]=lock of hair.The word crinis properly speaking refers to women’s hair. The locks are so called because they are parted, discernere, by the bands of a filet.From this source also comes the word discriminalia=the hairpins by which the parted locks are fastened in place.
  • The temples= timpora [tempora], lie below the skull, on the left and right. They are so called because they are mobilewalk; with that mobility, they are changed at certain intervals like the seasons, tempora.
  • The word for face= facies, comes from effigies=likeness. For it portrays the whole nature of a man and reveals each person’s character  haarp mouthHarpsichord: º->Euclase

The countenance= vultus, is so called because it displays the desires,voluntas, of the soul. For it is changed, as the soul wills, into different movements of the features.

For this reason the face, facies, and the countenance, vultus, differ from each other. For we understand by the face, facies, simply a person’s natural appearance; the countenance, vultus, signifies their inner disposition.

The forehead, frons, gets its name from the openings, foramen, in which the eyes are set. It provides a certain representation of the mind and expresses in its own appearance the motion of the intellect, showing when it is either happy or sad.

The eyes, oculus, are so called either because the coverings of the eyelids hide them, occultare, lest they should be harmed by the impact of an injury, or because they have a hidden, occultus, light, that is, one which is secret or is located within. Here the eyes are, of all the senses, the most closely allied to the soul. For they reflect every aspect of the intellect. As a result, confusion or joy within the soul is visible in the eyes.

The eyes are the same as lights and are called ‘lights’, lumen, because light pours forth from them, or because from the beginning they hold light enclosed within them, or because they take in light from outside and reflect it to create vision.

The pupil, pupilla, is the middle point of the eyes, in which the power of seeing resides. Because you see small images at this point, it is called pupilla, a word for ‘little children’. For little boys are calledpupilli. Many people call the pupil pupilla, ‘the little girl’, because it is pure and undefiled, as girls are. Physicians say that those who are dying lack for three days before death those pupils which we see in the eyes; if they are not visible, it is a clear sign that the patient’s condition is hopeless.

The circle by which the white of the eye is separated from the pupil, defined by its black colour, is called the corona, because its roundness enhances the circumference of the pupil like a garland, corona.

Some call the upper lid, vertex, of the eye, volvus, from its similarity to the leaf of a door, valva.

The eyelids, palpebre, fold over the eyes. The word comes frompalpitatio, ‘frequent, rapid movement’, because the lids are always in motion. For they move quickly to meet each other, so that by their constant motion they refresh the vision.

The eyelids are fortified by a rampart of hairs, so that if anything should fall into the eyes when they are open, it is repelled; also that, with the lids closing in sleep, the eyes should rest hidden as if wrapped up.

At the extreme edges of the eyelids, in the places where they touch each other when closed, lashes stand in line, providing protection for the eyes, lest they should be easily hurt by things blundering into them and be damaged as a result. These lashes are also designed to prevent contact with dust or any heavier matter, or, in addition, soften the air itself by filtering it, making vision clear and bright.

Some think that the word for tears, lacrime, comes from the phrase, laceratio mentis, ‘rending of the mind’; others think that it is because the Greeks call them lassiria [dakrua].

Cilia is the word for the lids with which the eyes are covered. They are called cilium or scilium because they conceal, celare, the eyes and cover them to keep them safe.

Eyebrows, supercilia, are so called because they are placed above the eyelids. They are clad with hairs so as to offer protection to the eyes and turn aside the sweat which flows down from the head.

Intercilium, however, is space between the eyebrows which is without hairs.

The cheeks, gena, are the part of the face under the eyes, where the beard begins to grow. For the Greek word for beard is gene [geneias]. They are also called gena because it is here that the beard begins to grow, gigni.

The cheek bones, mala, are the protruding parts under the eyes, placed under them as protection. They are called mala either because they project under the eyes in their roundness, which the Greeks call mela [melon], or because they are placed above the jawbone, maxilla.

The jawbone, maxilla, is a diminutive of mala, as paxillus, peg, comes from palus, stake, taxillus, a small die, from talus, a full-sized die.

The mandibles, mandibule, are parts of the jaws, which is how they get their name.

The ancients called barba, beard, that which is peculiar to men, not women.

The word for ear, auris, comes from the phrase voces haurire, ‘to hear voices’. In this context Virgil says: ‘I have heard the voice with my ears’ (see Aeneid, 4, 359).

Alternatively, it is so called because the Greek word for voice itself isaudien [aude] from the same root as auditus, hearing. For by the substitution of a letter, ears are called aures for audes. For the voice, rebounding along the twisting passage by which the ears take in their sense of hearing, produces a sound.

The tip of the ear, pinnola, ‘little point’, gets its name from its sharpness. For the ancients called anything sharp pinnion. From this we get bipennis,two-edged, and pinna, a fin.

The nostrils, nares, are so called because odour or breath continually flows, manare, through them, or because through odour they warn us,admonere, that we should learn something from an odour. For this reason, in contrast, the unlearned and uncouth are called ignari, ignorant. The ancients said that to smell something was to know something. Terence: ‘And would they not have smelled it six whole months before he started anything?’ (Adelphi, 397).

The straight part of the nose, of equal extent in roundness and length, is called ‘the column’, columna.

The end of the nose is called pirula, ‘little pear’, because it is pear-shaped.

But the right and left parts of the nose, from their resemblance to wings, are called pennule, ‘little wings’.

The part between nostrils is called the septum, interfinium.

The mouth, os, is so called because, as if through a door, ostium, we send food inside and eject sputum outside; or because food goes in there and speech comes out.

Lips, labia, get their name from lambere, to lick. The upper lip we call labium; the lower, and thicker, labrum. Others say that men’s lips are labra; women’s, labia.

Varro thinks that the tongue, lingua, got its name from the phrase,ligare cibum, to bind food. Others say that it is because it binds words together from distinct sounds. For the tongue hits the teeth, like a plectrum hitting strings, producing the sound of the voice.

The Greeks call teeth odontes, from which they seem to have taken their Latin name, dentes.

The first of the teeth are called incisors, precisores, because they first cut up, praecidere, everything that we take into our mouth.

The Next are called canines, canini; two of them are in the right jaw, two in the left. They are so called because they look like the teeth of dogs, canis. Dogs use these teeth to break up bones, just as men do; such food as the incisors cannot cut up, they pass on to the canines to break up. They are commonly called colomelli, ‘little columns’, because of their length, breadth and roundness.

The last of the teeth are called molars, molares; they work, grind and chew the food which the incisors have cut up and the canines have broken up; they get their name from molere, to grind.

The number of teeth is determined by sex. For there are more in a man’s mouth; fewer in a woman’s. The gums, gingive, are so called because they produce, gignere, the teeth. They were created to adorn the teeth, lest a row of crooked teeth might seem more of a horror than an ornament.

Our palate, palatum, is placed like a vault over the mouth; the word comes from polus, a pole, or figuratively, the sky. The Greeks call the palate uranus [ouranos], since in its curved shape it resembles the sky.

The throat, fauces, gets its name from the phrase fundere voces, ‘to produce sounds’, or because we speak, fari, through it.

The windpipes, artherie, are so called because air, that is the breath, aer,is conveyed through them from the lung, or because they keep the vital breath in narrow, artus, confined passages. From these they produce the sounds of the voice. The sounds would be all of one kind if the movements of the tongue did not make them different.

Toles, a word in the Gallic tongue meaning goitre, becomes in common speech, by diminution, toxilli, tonsils, which often swell up in the throat.

The chin is called mentum, or ‘coping stone’, because the two mandibles begin or are joined together there.

The soft palate, gurgulio, gets its name from guttur, the gullet. Its passage extends to the mouth and nostrils, having within it a channel by which the sounds of the voice are sent to the tongue, so that it can bring them together as words. From this we get the word garrire, to babble.

Next to the windpipe is the oesophagus, rumen, by which we swallow food and drink. Hence animals which regurgitate food and chew it again, are said to ruminate, ruminare.

The epiglottis, sublinguium, is otherwise known as ‘the lid’ of the windpipe. It is like a little tongue which shuts off the opening at the rear of the tongue from secretions such as phlegm.

The neck, collum, is so called because it is rigid and rounded like a column, columpna, carrying the head and supporting it like a capitol.

The front part is called the throat, gula; the rear, the nape, cervix. The nape, cervix, is so called because the brain, cerebrum, is linked in a straight line through that section to the spinal chord; it is, so to speak,cerebri via, ‘the route of the brain’.

The ancients spoke of napes, or necks, in the plural. Hortensius was the first to speak of it in the singular. In fact, cervix in the singular means that specific part of the body. In the plural, it often signifies ‘obstinate resistance’. Cicero in his orations against Verres: ‘You accuse the praetor. Curb your boldness, cervices’ (6,110).

The shoulders humeri, are like armi, forequarters. They are so called to distinguish men from dumb animals, so that we say men have shoulders, humeri; animals, forequarters, armi. For, strictly speaking, ‘forequarters’ applies to four-legged animals.

The part at the rear of the highest point of the shoulder we call the shoulder-blade, ola.

The word for arms, brachia, is associated with that for strength. For in Greek barus means ‘strong’ and ‘heavy’. Muscles swell between the shoulder and elbow and in muscles there is remarkable strength.

In the arms there are bulges, tori, which are muscles; they are so called because the inner parts seems to be twisted, tortus.

The elbow, cubitus, is so called because we lean on it, cumbere, to eat.

The ulna, according to some, is an extension of either hand; according to others, of the elbow; the latter seems more likely to be true because the elbow in Greek is ulenos [olene].

The pits under the arms, ale, are so called because the movement of the arms begins there, like that of wings, ale.

Some call the armpits ascelle, because from that point the arms are set in motion, cillere. For this reason they are also called oscilla,because the arms are swung, oscillare, that is they are moved,movere, from the extremity of the body, ora; since movere and cilleremean the same, to move from the extremity becomes ora cillere.

Some call the armpits subhirci, ‘undergoats’,because in many people they give off the rank smell of goats.

The hand, manus, is so called because it performs a service, munus, for the whole body. For it serves food to the mouth, does everything and disposes of everything; with it, we take and we give.

The word is used incorrectly for labour or workmen, ‘hands’. For this reason, we talk about manupretium, ‘workman’s wage’.

The right hand, dextra, gets its name from dare, to give, for it is given as a pledge of peace. It is used as a proof of faith and in greeting, and is used in this context in Tully: ‘By order of the Senate, I have pledged the public faith’, that is, the right hand (Cicero, Catiline, 3, 8). And the apostle says: ‘They gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship’ (Galatians, 2:9).

The left hand, leva, is so called because it is more suited to raising,levare. It is also called sinistra, sine dextera, ‘without the right hand’, so to speak, or because it permits, sinere, something to be done. Forsinistra comes from sinere. The palm, palma, is the hand with the fingers spread; when they are contracted it is called the fist, pugnus. The word comes from pugillus, a handful, just as the word for the palm, palma, comes from the outspread branches of the the palm tree.

Fingers are called digiti, either because there are ten, decem, of them, or because they are joined together in a proper fashion, decenter. For they amount in themselves to a perfect number and are ranged in a most regular order,

The first, the thumb, pollex, is so called because it surpasses, pollere, the others in strength and power.

The second finger, index, is also known as salutaris or demonstratorius,the greeting or indicating finger, because we generally use it in greeting, showing or pointing.

The third finger is called impudicus, lewd; it is frequently used to express the pursuit of something shameful.

The fourth is the ring finger, anularis, because it is the on which a ring is worn. It is also called medicinalis, the medical finger, because it used by physicians to smear on ground-up salves.

The fifth finger is called auricularis, because we scrape our ear, auris,with it.

Our word for nails, ungule, comes from the Greek, for they call themonices.

The trunk, truncus, is the middle part of the body, from the neck to the groin. Nigidius says of it: ‘The head is carried by the neck, the trunk is supported by the hips, knees and legs’ (Opera, 108). Thorax is the Greek word for the front part of the trunk from the neck to the stomach; we call it the ark, archa, because what is there is arcanus, hidden, that is, secret; others are kept out by it. For this reason both arca, a chest, and ara, an altar, have names implying secrecy.

The soft mounds on this part of the body are called breasts, mamille.

Between them is a bony part called the breast bone, pectus. To the right and left are the ribs, coste.

The breast bone, pectus, is so called because there is a nap, pexus,between the protruding parts of the breasts. In the same way, a comb is called pecten, because it makes hairs smooth.

The breasts, mamille, are so called because they are round, as if the word were a diminutive of mala, apple.

The nipples, papille, are the tips of the breast; suckling infants take hold of them. They are called papille because babies seem to stroke them,palpare, while they suck milk from them. Accordingly, the word mamillarefers to the whole mound of the breast; uber, the part from which the baby is suckled. But the nipple is the short bit that conveys the milk.

Uber is so called either because it is filled, uberta, with milk, or because it is moist, uvida, with fluid, namely, full of milk, as a grape, uva, moist with juice.

Milk, lac, gets the force of its name from its colour because it is a white fluid. For the Greek word for white is leucos [leukos].

The nature of milk comes by a process of change from blood. For after birth, any blood not consumed as nourishment for the womb, flows by its natural passage into the breasts and, becoming white from their particular quality, acquires the properties of milk.

Skin, cutis, is what you meet first on the body. It is so called because, placed over the body, it is the first part to suffer any cut. For the Greek word for ‘cut’ is cutis.

Skin or hide, pellis, is the same thing. It is so called because it keeps off, pellere, external injuries by covering the body, and takes the force of rain, wind and the heat of the sun.

When the skin has been removed, what is now revealed underneath is called ‘hide’, corium. The word is derived from caro, flesh, because flesh is covered by it, but this applies to brute animals.

The pores, pori, of the body have a Greek name; in Latin they are properly called spiramenta, ‘breathing-holes’, because the vitalising spirit is supplied through them from outside.

Arvina is the fat which adheres to the skin.

Pulpa is flesh without fat, so called because it pulsates, palpitare,for it often recoils. Many also call it viscus, because it has a gluey quality.

Limbs, membra, are the parts of the body.

The joints, artus, by which the members are fastened together, get their name from artare, to compress.

Sinews, nervi, get their name from the Greek; the Greeks call themneutra [neura]. Others think that they are called nervi, strings, in Latin, because the connections of the joints are in turn attached to them.

It is definitely the case that the sinews are the greatest source of our strength. For the thicker they are, the more likely they are to increase our strength.

Limbs or joints, artus, are so called because, bound together in turn by the sinews, they are compressed, coartare, that is, drawn together; the diminutive of artus is articulus, joints. For we call the larger limbs, like the arms, artus; the smaller limbs, like the fingers, are articuli.

Compago is the word we use for the heads of the bones, because they are pressed to each other by the sinews, as if by glue.

Bones, ossa, are the foundations of the body; in them is the basis of its posture and all its strength. The word comes fromustus, burnt, either because the ancients burned bones or, as others think, because bones are visible when flesh is burnt, for indeed everywhere else they are hidden under a covering of skin and organs.

Marrow, medulla, is so called because it moistens the bones, refreshing and strengthening them.

The vertebrae, vertibula, are the extremities of the bones, pressed together by thick knots; they are so called because they swivel, vertere,to allow the members to bend in different directions.

Cartilages, cartilagines, are soft bones without marrow. The external part of the ear, the partition between the nostrils and the ends of the ribs are of this kind, or the coverings of those bones which are articulated. They are so called because, if they rub together lightly when they are bent, there is no pain, carere dolore.

Ribs, costa, are so called, some think, because the interior of the body is guarded, custodire, by them; surrounded by them, as by a palisade, the entire soft part of the belly is kept safe.

The side, latus, is so called because when we lie down it is hidden, latere,for it is the left part of the body.

On the right side, movement is easier; the left is stronger and better fitted for carrying a load. For this reason, the left, leva, is so called because it is more suitable to lifting, levare, and carrying anything. It is the left side which carries the shield, sword, quiver and other burdens, leaving the right hand free for action.

The back, dorsum, runs from the neck to the loins. It is so called because it is a very hard, durior, surface of the body, strong like stone, able to carry loads and to bear things steadfastly.

The hinder parts,terga, get their name because we lie flat on them on the ground, terra, something that only man can do. For dumb animals can only lie either on their belly or side. For this reason it is incorrect to use the word in connexion with animals.

The shoulder, scapula, comes from scandere, to mount.

The interscapilium is the space between the shoulders, from which it gets its name.

The protruding parts on the right and left of the back are called pale,because we press on them in wrestling, which the Greeks call palin [pale].

The spine, spina, is what we call the series of joints of the back, because it has sharp little spokes; its joints are called spondilie, from the part of the brain which is carried by them on a long course to other parts of the body.

The sacral spine, sacra spina, is the end of the continuous spine, which the Greeks call hyronoston [hieron ostoun], since it is the first part of an infant to be created after conception; and also because it was the first part of the beast offered by pagans in sacrifice to their gods; for this reason also it is called sacra spina.

Varro says that the kidneys, renes, are so called because streams,rivus, of the obscene fluid [semen] rise there. For the veins and spinal cord, medulla, exude a thin liquid into the kidneys. Freed by the heat of sexual desire, it runs down from the kidneys.

The loins, lumbi, get their name from the wantonness of lust, libido,because the seat of fleshly pleasure in men is there, just as in women it is in the navel. For this reason the Lord says to Job at the beginning of his speech: ‘Gird up now thy loins like a man’ (Job, 38:2), in order that he should make ready his resistance there, where the dominance of lust normally begins.

The navel, umbilicus, is the centre of the body, so called because it is like a knob, umbo, in the middle of the groin. For this reason the boss in the middle of a shield, from which it hangs, is called umbo.

The word for groin, ilium, comes from the Greek, because we cover ourselves there, for the Greek word ileos [eileo]means ‘to wind round’.

The buttocks, clunes, are so called because they are beside the straight gut, colum quod est longum.

The rump, nates, is so called because we bear down upon it, inniti,when we sit. For this reason the flesh on the rump is compressed into a round shape, lest the bones should ache under the weight of the body pressing down on them.

The sexual organs, genitalia, as their name itself shows, are parts of the body named from the begetting of offspring, which are created and produced by them. They are also called pudenda, ‘shameful parts’, either on account of our modesty, or from the hair, pubis, with which they are covered at puberty. They are called ‘shameful’ because they lack the same decent appearance of the other parts of the body which are visible.

The same part is called the penis, veretrum, because it is found in men only, viri est tantum, or because semen, virus, is emitted from it. For virus strictly means the fluid which comes from a man’s organs of generation.

The word for testicles, testiculi, is a diminutive of testis, witness; there is a minumum of two. They supply to the penis, calamus, semen which the kidneys and loins take from the spinal cord, in order to create a fetus.

The skin which contains the testicles is called viscus.

The posterior parts of the body are so called because they are at the rear, turned away from the face, lest when we empty our bowels, we should defile our gaze. The anus or passage, meatus, is so called because excrement passes, meare, through it, that is, it is discharged from it.

The thighs, femur, are so called because the male sex is distinguished from the female, a femina, by that part; they extend from the groin to the knee.

The word femen comes from femur; the femina are the parts of the thighs with which we grip the horse’s back when we ride. For this reason, it used formerly to be said that warriors lost their horses ‘from under their thighs’.

The word for hips, coxe, comes, so to speak, from coniuncte axes, ‘axles joined together’, for the thighs are moved on them. Their joints are called hollows, concava, because the heads of the thigh bones turn in them.

The hollows of the knee, suffragines, are so called because they are broken underneath, subtus franguntur, that is, they bend downwards and not upwards like the arm.

The knees are the junction between the thighs and the legs. They are called genua because in the womb they are opposite the upper part of the face, gena; knees and cheeks press closely together and, in the same way as the eyes signify grief, the knees signify the desire for mercy. For genua comes from gena. Finally, they say that a man is born in a folded shape, so that his knees are on top, as a result of which his eyes are formed so that they are hollow and hidden. Ennius: ‘And the cheek presses against bent knees’ (Incerta, 14). For this reason, when men fall on their knees, they start to cry. For nature wills them to remember their mother’s womb, where they stayed, before they came into the light.

The legs, crura, are so called because we run, currere, and take steps on them; they extend from under the knee to the lower calf.

The word for shins, tibia, comes, so to speak, from tuba, trumpets, which they resemble.

The ankle, talus, comes from from the word for a dome, tholus; for a dome is is of a prominent, round shape. For this reason the roof of a circular temple is called tolus.

The ankle is under the leg; under the ankle is the heel, calcaneum.

The feet, pedes, have been assigned a name from the Greek. For the Greeks call them podas [poas], meaning that they proceed with alternating footsteps, firmly on the ground.

The sole, planta, gets its name from planities, a flat surface, because they are not rounded, as they are in quadrupeds, lest a two-legged person might not be able to stand on them, but are flat and long in shape, so that they keep the body stable. The sole has a front part which also is made up of many bones.

The heel, calx, at the end of the foot, gets its name from callus, thick skin, with which we tread the earth. Calcaneus, heel, comes from the same root.

The sole is the under part of the foot, so called because with it we imprint our footsteps. Everything which supports something is calledsolum, as if it were solid, solidus; for this reason the earth is calledsolum, because it supports everything, and the sole of the foot,solum, because it bears the whole weight of the body.

We use the word viscera not only for intestines, but for anything under the skin, from viscus, the layer between the skin and the flesh. Likewise the word is used of the tips of sinews, which are made from blood combined with nerves.

Again, muscles, lacerti, or mures, exist because there are places in every member of the body like the heart, cor, in the middle part of the whole body; and they are called by names of animals -lacerti,lizards, mures, mice – which like them lie hidden under the ground. Thus the muscle, musculus, is name from its likeness to a mussel, or ‘sea-mouse’.

It is also called torus because in areas where there is muscle, the inner parts seem to be twisted, tortus.

The heart, cor, comes either from the Greek word, because they call it cardinan [kardia], or from cura, care, for the heart is the seat of concern and the source of knowledge. For this reason it is near the lung, so that when it is aflame with anger, it can be cooled by the fluid of the lung.

The heart has two arteries, arterie: the left one has more blood; the right, more life-giving spirit. For this reason we see the pulse beating in the left arm. Precordia are places near the heart in which we perceive feeling. They are so called because there is the origin of emotion and of thought.

The pulse, pulsus, is so called because it throbs, palpitare. From its sign we learn whether the body is in in sickness or health.

The motion is twofold, single or complex. The single motion consists of a single movement. The complex is uneven and irregular because it makes many movements, with fixed intervals between them. It strikes a dactyl as long as there is nothing wrong; if the beats are more rapid, like dorcacizontes [dorkadazontes] or fainter, like mirmizontes [murmizontes], they are a sign of death.

The veins, vena, are so called because they are the channels, vie, of flowing blood and streams which are spread throughout the whole body, by which the members are supplied with blood.

Blood, sanguis, gets its name from Greek etymology, because it is active, it survives and it has life. When it is in the body, it is calledsanguis; when it pours forth, it is called gore, cruor.

It is called cruor because when it is spilled, it runs down, decurrere; or because when it runs, it sinks into the ground, corruere. Others takecruor to mean corrupt blood which is discharged from the body.

Others say blood is called sanguis because it is sweet, suavis.

Except in young people, the blood supply does not remain constant. For physicians say that it diminishes with age, which is why old people have tremors. Strictly speaking, however, blood is a property of the soul. For this reason women tear their cheeks in grief, and we furnish the dead with purple clothing and purple flowers.

Isidore on the parts of man’s body

The lung, pulmo, gets its name from the Greek. The Greeks call the lung, pleumon, because it acts as a fan for the heart, in which thepneuma, that is, the spirit resides, by which they are both activated and set in motion; for this reason lungs too are called pulmones. In Greek the spirit is called pneuma; by inflating and activating, it sends out and takes in air, causing the lungs to move and throb, opening in order to catch a breath, contracting to expel it, for it is the organ of the body.

The liver, iecur gets its name because it is the seat of a fire which flies up to the brain. From there the fire is spread to the eyes and other senses and members of the body, and by its own heat, draws the moisture from food to itself and turns it into blood which supplies each part of the body with food and nourishment.

Pleasure and lust reside in the liver, according to those who debate scientific matters.

The extremities of the liver are filaments, fibre, like the outer parts of leaves on the vine or like projecting tongues. They are said to be so called because among pagans they were borne by soothsayers in religious rites to altars of Phoebus, so that when they had been offered up and burned, the soothsayers would receive answers.

The spleen, splen, gets its name from supplementum, because it fills up the part opposite the liver lest there should be an empty space; some reckon that it was created as a seat of laughter. For we laugh with the spleen, grow angry with the bile, discern with the heart and love with the liver; the whole animal is formed from these four elements in harmony.

The gall bladder, fel, is so called because it is a little bag holding the humour called bile, bilis.

The gullet, stomachus, is called in Greek os because, as the door,ostium, of the belly it takes in food and sends it on to the intestines.

The intestines, intestina, are so called because they are contained in the inner, interior, part of the body. They are arranged in long coils, so that they are not obstructed by food that has been swallowed.

The caul, omentum, is a skin containing the greater part of the intestines; the Greeks call it epiploon.

The diaphragm, disceptum intestinum, is so called because it separates the belly and other intestines from the lungs and heart.

The blind intestine, cecum, is so called because it lacks an opening or exit; the Greeks call it tiaonentipon [tuphlon enteron].

The thin intestine is calledieiuna; from it comes ieiunium, fast day.

The belly, venter, the bowel, alvus, and the womb, uterus, differ from each other.

The belly digests food that has been swallowed and is visible from outside; it extends from the breast to the groin. It is called venterbecause it conveys throughout the body the food of life. The bowel is the part that receives the food and is regularly purged. Sallust: ‘Pretending that he purged his bowels’ (History, 1, 52). It is also called the bowel, alvus, because it is washed out, abluere, that is, purged. For from it flows out excremental filth.

Only women have a womb; in it they conceive as in a small cup; but there are writers who assign a womb to either sex, often calling it venter, belly – and not just poets, but others also. The womb is called uterus because it is double and divides itself into two parts which bend in different and opposing directions like a ram’s horn; or because it is filled inside with a fetus. For this reason it is called uter, a bag, because it has something inside it, such as limbs and intestines.

Paunch, aqualiculus, is properly the word for a pig’s belly. For this reason it is translated as venter, belly. It is called the matrix because the baby is generated in it. It fosters the semen it has received, and by cherishing it, turns it into flesh; and what it has turned into flesh, it separates into parts of the body.

The vulva is so called as if it were a folding-door, that is, the door of the belly; either because it receives the semen or because the fetus goes forth from it.

The bladder, vesica, is so called as if it were a water-container; thus it is filled with urine collected from the kidneys, and is distended by the fluid. There is no need for this in birds.

Urine is so called either because it burns, urere, or because it comes from the kidneys. Its appearance reveals future health or sickness. The fluid is commonly called lotium, because you use it to wash clothes clean, lotus.Semen, seed, is so called because once scattered it is consumed either by the earth or by the womb, to produce either fruits or a fetus. For it is a liquor concocted from food and the body, which is spread through the veins and spinal cord. From there it is sweated out like bilgewater; it thickens in the kidneys and is ejaculated during intercourse, and taken up into the woman’s womb, by a sort of intestinal heat and the flow of menstrual blood, it is shaped in the body.

The menstrual flow is the superfluous blood of a woman. It is calledmenstrua from the cycle of the light of the moon which regularly brings about this flow. For the Greek word for ‘moon’ is mene; menstruation is also called muliebria, ‘womanly business’. For the woman is the only creature which menstruates. When they come into contact with menstrual blood, crops do not put forth shoots, wine turns sour, grasses die, trees lose their fruit, iron is corrupted by rust, copper blackens, if dogs eat it they become rabid. Asphalt glue, which cannot be melted by fire or dissolved by water, when it is tainted by this blood, disintegrates by itself.

After many days of menstruation, the semen cannot generate, because there is no further flow of menstrual blood by which it can be moistened. Semen of thin consistency does not stick to the womanly parts and is unstable, for it has not the strength to adhere; likewise thick semen has not the power to generate, because it cannot mix with the woman’s blood, so dense is it. For this reason men and women become sterile, either through excessive density of the semen, or the blood, or excessive thinness.

For they say that a man’s heart is the first part to come into existence, because in it is all life and wisdom; then on the fortieth day, the whole body is complete, a fact gathered from abortions. Others say that the fetus takes its beginning from the head. For this reason we see in eggs that in the fetus of birds the eyes are the first things to grow.

The fetus is so called because it is still being fostered, fovere, in the womb. The afterbirth, secunda, of the fetus is called folliculus, ‘little sack’; it is produced simultaneously with the baby and contains it. It is called secunda because when the baby comes forth, it follows, sequi. They say that children are born resembling their fathers, if the father’s semen is stronger. They resemble the mother if her seed is stronger; for this reason countenances have a similar appearance.

Infants who have the face of both parents were conceived in an equal mix of their their paternal and maternal seed.

They resemble grandparents and great-grandparents because, just as there are many seeds hidden in the earth, so there are seeds hidden in mankind, which give us the features of our ancestors.

From the paternal seed girls are born; from the maternal, boys; because each birth consists of a double seed, and when the greater of the two parts overcomes the other, it produces a similarity in sex.

In our body certain things are created for a functional purpose, such as the intestines; some for utility and ornament, like the sensory organs on the face and the hands and feet on the body. The usefulness of these parts is great and their appearance most seemly.

Some are there for ornament only, like men’s nipples and the navel in both sexes.

Some are there to distinguish one sex from the other, like the genitals, the long beard and the broad chest in men; the soft cheeks and narrow breast in women; but for conceiving and carrying babies their loins and hips are widened.

What pertains to man and the parts of his body has already been said; now we will go on to the ages of his life.


Age of man

Of the age of man

There are six stages of life. Infancy, childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity and old age.

The first age is infancy, which lasts from the time the child enters the light till it is seven.

The second is childhood, that is, when the child is pure and not yet old enough to generate young; it extends to the fourteenth year.

The third is adolescence, when the child is old enough to generate children; it lasts until the twenty-eighth year.

The fourth is youth, the the most robust of all the ages; it ends in the fiftieth year.

The fifth age is that of riper years, that is, of maturity, and represents the movement away from youth to

old age; you are not yet ancient, but you are no longer young; the Greeks call someone at this age of maturity presbiteros, an elder; an old man they call geron. This age, beginning in the fiftieth year, ends in the seventieth.

The sixth age is that of old age, which has no end-date; whatever of life is left after the five Previous ages is classed as ‘old age’.

The final part of old age is senility, senium, so called because it marks the end of the sixth age, sexta etas.

Philosophers, therefore, have categorised human life in these six periods, during which it is changed and runs its race and comes to an end, which is death.

So, let us proceed briefly through the above-mentioned categories of the ages, pointing out their etymology in the context of man.

Man at the first stage is called infans; this is because he is incapable of speaking, fari. As his teeth are not yet arranged correctly, his capacity to produce words is restricted.

Boy, puer, is so called from purity, puritas, because he is pure, with no down or bloom yet on his cheeks. These are ethebi [ephebi], named after Phoebus; not yet grown men but gentle little boys.

The word ‘boy’ is used in three ways. In the context of birth, as in Isaiah: ‘Unto us a child is born’ (9:6). In the context of age, as ‘a boy of eight’ or ‘a ten year-old boy’. In this context: ‘Now he bore the yoke on his tender neck’. And in the context of compliance and purity of faith, as the Lord said to the prophet: ‘You are my son, do not fear’ (see Jeremiah, 1:7-8), although Jeremiah had long since outlived the years of his childhood.

Girl, puella, comes from parvula, very small female, or ‘chicken’, pulla, so to speak.

For this reason we refer to ‘orphans’, pupillus, not from their status but because of their childish age. They are called pupillus as if they were without eyes, that is, bereft, orbus, of their parents. They are properly called ‘orphans’ if their parents died before they were named; others call them ‘parentless’, orbi. ‘Orphan’, orphanus, means the same as pupillus. The one is the Greek word; the other, the Latin; as also in the psalm where it says: ‘Thou art the helper of the fatherless’ (Psalms, 10: 14). The Greek text has orphano.

The pubescent are so called from pubis, that is, they get their name from the private parts of the body because these first show the down of puberty. Some think of puberty as a specific age, that is, they call ‘pubescent’ someone who has reached the end of his fourteenth year, even though the signs of puberty may appear much later. It is certain, however, that a child has reached puberty when it shows the physical signs and can generate children.

The word puerpure refers to women who give birth during the years of puberty. In this context Horace says: ‘The young mother is praised for her firstborn male’ (Odes, 4, 5, 23). The word is also used of those who are pregnant with their first child, or those who bear sons for the first time.

The adolescent, adolescens, is so called because he is old enough to beget children, or because he grows in maturity and size.

A young man, iuvenis, is so called because he begins to be able to help, as among oxen bullocks, iuvencus, are so named when they have withdrawn from the calves. For a young man is at that particular growth period and is ready to be of help. For it is incumbent on a man to devote himself to helping others. Just as the thirtieth year is that of perfect age in men, so the third is that of greatest strength among cattle and beasts of burden.

Man, vir, is so called because there is greater virtue, virtus, in him than in women. It is for that reason that he takes the name, or because he acts with force in his relationship with woman.

Woman, mulier, however, gets her name from her softness, mollicia, as if mollior, softer, with the letter l removed or changed, giving mulier.

There are differences between men and women in physical strength and weakness. But because the man’s strength is greater, the woman’s is less and she is subject to him, lest rejected by women, lust should drive men to seek something else, or to fall on their own sex.

Woman gets her name, therefore, from her female sex, not as a result of her corruption of man’s integrity, as the words of the holy scripture show. For Eve was made directly from her husband’s side, and was called ‘woman’ before she had been touched by a man, as the scripture says: ‘He made the rib a woman’ (see Genesis, 2: 22).

A virgin, virgo, is so called because she is in the green, viridus, or blooming age of her life like a slender green branch, virga and a calf, vitula. Otherwise the word may come from her uncorrupted state, as virago, because she does not know womanly passion.

A virago is so called because she acts like a man, vir agere, that is, she does manly things and has the strength of a man. For this is the name the ancients gave to strong women. But it is not correct to call a virgin a virago if she does not perform the office of a man; nevertheless, a woman who does masculine things, like an Amazon, is rightly called a virago.

What we now call a woman, femina, was, in former times, calledvira; as serva, maid-servant, from servus, famula, handmaid fromfamulus, so vira from vir. Some think that the word virgo has the same derivation. We get the word femina, however, from those parts of the thighs by which this sex is distinguished from the man.

Others think that femina derives by Greek etymology, from the phrase ‘fiery force’, because a woman lusts fiercely; for females are more lustful than males, among women as as among animals. For this reason excessive love was called ‘womanly love’ among the ancients.

To be ‘elder’, senior, is to be still more vigorous. Ovid writes in his sixth book: ‘The elder, between youth and old age’ (Metamorphoses, 12, 464]. Terence: ‘By this law we are younger’ (Hecyra II, Prologue, 3). Undoubtedly adolescentior here does not mean ‘more adolescent’ but ‘less’, as an elder is less of an old man, where the comparative form signifies less that the positive. Senior, therefore, is not as old as senex, just as a ‘younger’ man stands between youth and seniority and a ‘poorer’ man stands between rich and poor.

Some think that the aged, senes, are so called from the reduction of their senses and the fact that they act foolishly because of their old age. For physicians say that foolish men are of cold blood, the wise of hot. For this reason, the aged, whose blood has now grown cold, and children, whose blood has not yet warmed up, are less wise. As a result, infancy and old age are alike. The old lose their wits from their excessive age, and the very young, through frivolity and immaturity, do not know what they are doing.

The word senex, old man, however, is used of the masculine gender, as anus, old woman, is of the feminine. For anus is used only of a woman. It comes from the word for ‘many years old’, annosa, so to speak. For if the word were common to both genders, why does Terence not use the words senem mulierem?

In the same way vetula, a little old woman, comes from vetustus, aged. Just as senility, senectus, comes from senex, so ‘old womanhood’, anilitas, comes from anus.

Hoariness, canities, comes from candor, ‘shining whiteness’, as if it were candities. This gives the phrase ‘blooming youth, milky age’, as if to say ‘white’.

Senility brings with it the good and the bad in quantity. The good, because it frees us from our post powerful masters, imposes moderation on our pleasures, bridles the onset of our lust, increases our wisdom, gives more mature counsel. Bad, because the most wretched thing about being old is the frailty you feel and the resentment you meet. For diseases and miserable old age approach together. For there are two things by which the body’s powers are lessened: senility and sickness.

Death, mors, is so called because it is amarus, bitter, or from Mars, the deliverer of death, or from the bite, morsus, of the first man, because by biting into the apple of the forbidden tree, he incurred death.

There are three kinds of death: premature, untimely and natural. Premature is the death of a child; untimely, the death of a young man; fitting, that is, natural, the death of the old.

There is some doubt, however, according to which part of speech,mortuus, dead, is to be declined. For as Caesar said, on the basis that it is from morior, in the past participle, it should end in -tus, namely, with one u not two. For where the letter u is doubled, it is an adjective not a participle, as in fatuus, arduus.

Thus, it is not inapt that in so far as what death means cannot be shown physically, so the word itself cannot be declined orally.

Every dead man is a corpse, either funus or cadaver. His body is called funus if it is buried, the word coming from the burning ropes of reeds in wax, which they used to carry before the bier.

It is called cadaver, if it lies unburied. The word comes from cadere, to fall, because it cannot stand up.

When the body is carried, we speak of a funeral procession, exequie. When the remains are burned, we call them reliquie. When the body is interred, we say it is now buried, sepultus.

The common word is corpus as in the quotation: ‘The bodies of those lacking light’ (Vergil, Georgics, 4, 255).

We call someone dead, ‘defunct’, defunctus, because he has completed the office of life. For we talk of someone having discharged an office,functus officio, because they have completed the duties required of them. In the same way we also talk of someone discharging public business. For this reason, therefore, we use the word defunctus, because the deceased has been set aside from the office of life, or because he has completed the duties of life’s day.

The word for ‘buried’, sepultus, is so called because the body is that point without a pulse, sine pulsu, or palpitation, that is, motionless.

The word sepelire means to bury bodies; we use the words humareand obruere, that is, to cast earth on the body.


Fire bearing Stones

Of fire-bearing stones

On a certain mountain in the east, there are fire-bearing stones which are called in Greek terrobolem; they are male and female. When they are far from each other, the fire within them does not ignite. But when by chance the female draws near to the male, the fire is at once kindled, with the result that everything around the mountain burns.

For this reason, men of God, you who follow this way of life, stay well clear of women, lest when you and they approach each other, the twin flame be kindled in you both and consume the good that Christ has bestowed upon you. For there are angels of Satan, always on the offensive against the righteous; not only holy men but chaste women too.

Finally, Samson and Joseph were both were tempted by women. One triumphed; the other succumbed. Eve and Susanna were tempted; the latter held out; the former gave in. The heart, therefore, should be guarded and guided by all forms of divine teaching. For the love of women, which has been the cause of sin from the beginning, that is from Adam to the present day, rages uncontrolled in the sons of disobedience.

Adamas Stone

Of the adamas stone

Physiologus says: There is a stone called adamas found on a certain mountain in the east. Such is its nature, that you should search for it by night, not day, since it shines at night where it lies, but it does not shine by day, since the sun dulls its light. Against this stone, neither iron, fire or other stones can prevail.

The prophet says of it: ‘I saw a man standing on a wall of adamant and in his hand was an adamant stone in the midst of the people of Israel’ (compare Amos, 7:7).

But a creature cannot prevail against its creator, and for this reason Christ is the adamas stone. He stands on a wall of such stone, on the holy and living stones of which heavenly Jerusalem is built. These are the Apostles, the prophets and the martyrs, over whom neither fire, nor the sword nor the teeth of beasts could prevail. All the saints are called adamantine by the prophet, after that one true stone, just as Christians are named after Christ.

The prophet says: ‘I saw a man standing on a wall of adamant, and behold in his hand was an adamant stone’, that is, the son of God and the son of man who deigned to take flesh in Mary’s womb. The man held the stone in his hand, signifying the glory of his divinity, as Daniel testifies, saying: ‘I looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in baldachin’ (see Daniel, 10:5).

The man in the text signifies the majesty of the divine nature; the baldachin represents carnal man, whose form Christ saw fit to assume. For ‘baldachin’ is taken to mean linen, clothing which has its origin in the earth. Of Christ being called a man, blessed Peter, the Apostle, says: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord made manifest to you’ (see Acts, 2:22). And the blessed Paul says: ‘I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ’ (2 Corinthians, 11:2). In order that we should know more clearly that it is Christ of whom he speaks, Paul says: ‘Do you seek proof of Christ speaking in me?’ (see 2 Corinthians, 13:3).

The mountain in the east, therefore, on which, according to Physiologus, the adamant stone is found, signifies the Lord our father unbegotten, from whom all things spring. He says that mountain is high and that his glory is inaccessible, just as the Apostle Paul says of him, who alone has immortality and inhabits the inaccessible light in which the stone is found: ‘Christ is in the Father and the Father in me’ (see John, 14:10). Again: ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ (John, 14:9).

The fact that the adamant stone is not found in the light signifies that Christ hid his descent from the heavenly virtues and dominions and powers which, like luminaries, stand beside God. They did not know, therefore, of the righteous one, who bore the heavenly-assigned office of his descent and incarnation, to be fulfilled on earth. In the end, when he had performed all his wonders for the redemption of the human race and ascended into heaven, clad as a whole and perfect man, the ranks of the heavenly city seeing him said: ‘Who is this that cometh from Edom, with red garments from Bozrah?’ (see Isaiah, 63:1). Who is he who rises from blood and the red of his clothing from flesh?

The stone is found at night because Christ descended into the darkness of this world and gave light to the race that stayed in darkness and in the place of the shadow of death, just as David the prophet says, personifying the whole human race: ‘ For thou wilt light my candle, Lord; my God will enlighten my darkness’ (Psalms, 18:28). Our Lord came therefore and, taking up the light which the devil had extinguished, that is, the soul and the body, he lit it with the splendour of his glory, giving it new life and taking it back with him.

The Apostle puts this more clearly, saying of this sacrament of such marvellous mystery: ‘Without controversy, great is the mystery godliness; God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory’ (1 Timothy, 3:16).

Moreover, Physiologus says of the adamant stone that iron does has no effect on it, just as, death will not rule Christ. For he destroyed death and trampled on it, as the apostle bore witness, saying: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting?’ (1 Corinthians, 16:54-55).

Nor is this stone affected by fire, meaning the devil who with his blazing darts burns the whole earth, its cities and its wanton, drunken and raging inhabitants; of these Isaiah says: ‘Your country is desolate, your cities are burned with fire’ (Isaiah, 1:7). ‘The Lord Jesus Christ shall consume him with the breath from his mouth’ (see 2 Thessalonians, 2:8).

No other stone can damage adamant, that is, no man at all, nor any creature, can oppose Christ. ‘All things were made by him, and without him was not any thing made’ (John, 1:3).

Adamant is a small and unsightly stone, with a dusky colour and the brightness of crystal, and is about the size of an Abelline nut. It yields to no other matter, not iron, nor indeed fire, and it never grows hot; for this reason its name, translated from Greek, means ‘invincible force’.

While adamant remains unconquered by iron, however, and scorns fire, it can broken by the fresh blood of a goat, softened by heat and thus crushed with repeated blows of iron. Engravers use fragments of it for engraving and cutting gemstones.

Adamant is at odds with the magnet stone in so much as, placed near iron, it will not suffer the metal to be drawn to the magnet; if the adamant is removed, however, the magnet seizes holds and bears away the metal.

They say also that it resembles amber, repelling poisons, banishing vain fears, resisting evil spells.

There are six kinds of adamant.

Of the stone called mermecoleon

There is a stone in the sea which is called in Latin mermecoleon and in Greek concasabea, because it is both hollow and round. It is, moreover, divided into two parts, so that if it wants to, it can close up.

The stone lies at the bottom of the sea and comes to life early in the morning. When it rises from its resting-place to the surface of the sea, it opens its mouth and takes in some heavenly dew, and the rays of the sun shine around it; thus there grows within the stone a most precious, shining pearl indeed, conceived from the heavenly dew and given lustre by the rays of the sun.

The stone, therefore, is called conchus; it symbolizes Saint Mary, of whom Isaiah foretold, saying: ‘There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse’ (Isaiah, 11:1). And again: ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son’ (Isaiah, 7:14). Of the rod and the virgin, Saint Mary, it is said: ‘A flower was born of Saint Mary, our Lord Jesus Christ’. For just as the stone rises from the sea, so Saint Mary went up from the house of her father to the temple of God and there received the dew from heaven. These are the words which were said to her by the archangel Gabriel: ‘The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God’ (Luke, 1:35). Behold these words are the heavenly dew, just as before her, the patriarch Isaac, blessing his son, signifying that Christ would be born from his seed, said to him: ‘God give thee of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth’ (Genesis, 27: 28), signifying the chaste, untouched virgin Mary.

‘Early in the morning’ refers to the time of prayer.

The mussel opening its mouth signifies the occasion when Mary says to the angel: ‘Behold the handmaiden of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word’ (Luke, 1:35).

‘The foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones’ (Revelation, 21:19), that is, the prophets and Apostles on whose faith and doctrine the whole city of the church is founded.

Of these it is said in the Psalms: it is founded on holy hills (see, eg, Psalms, 15:1); the wall was adorned with every precious stone (see Revelation, 21:18-19). They were furnished, that is, with every kind of virtue and good work.

It is not only the prophets and apostles who are called ‘foundations’, but lesser men also, who had or have a life and faith like theirs. They are called ‘foundations’ not by virtue of their personalities, but the way in which they exercised their virtue; because it was through their virtue that they founded the church.

On account of this, John shows here in which virtues they were as a light in the church, reckoning their number as twelve, demonstrating that they shone in every virtue. For this number signifies the universe, because it is made from parts containing seven, that is by threes and by fours; and that faith is first among the virtues according to the statement of Prudentius.

Virtue Faith


Faith, the first of the virtues, ready to fight, takes to the field in battle with doubt. And because without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews, 11:6), faith is set in the first foundation.

It should not trouble you that stones are called foundations, because by foundations are meant virtues. For this reason when the stone is said to be a foundation, it should be interpreted as a decoration of the foundation.

John says, therefore:

“The Angel speaking with me had a gold measuring stick to measure the City, its gates, and its wall. The City was laid out in a perfect square. He measured the City with the measuring stick: twelve thousand stadia, its length, width, and height all equal. Using the standard measure, the Angel measured the thickness of its wall: 144 cubits. The wall was jasper, the color of Glory, and the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. The foundations of the City walls were garnished with every precious gem imaginable:

  • the first foundation Jasper
  • the second Sapphire
  • the third Agate
  • the fourth Emerald
  • the fifth Onyx
  • the sixth Carnelian
  • the seventh Chrysolite
  • the eighth Beryl
  • the ninth Topaz
  • the tenth Chrysoprase
  • the eleventh Jacinth
  • the twelfth Amethyst

The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate a Single Pearl” Revelation 21:15-21 (MSG)

1st stone Jasper

The first stone in the foundation of the wall is jasper.

The first foundation, that is, the adornment of the first foundation, is jasper, that is, faith ever green, strengthening the sight, but whether it be faith in one’s country or in the Church triumphant, which is in question here, does not primarily occur except to those coming to the Church; through it there will be entry to the aforesaid city, while he who does not have it will not be able to enter.


Jasper is said to have seventeen species. It is also known to be of many colours. It is said to come from many regions of the world. The best is a translucent green in colour. It is shown to have more virtues than any other.

2nd stone Sapphire

The second, sapphire

The second, that is, the second foundation, that is, the second decoration of the foundation, is sapphire. Its colour is similar to that of a clear sky; struck by the rays of the sun, it sends forth, burning, a flash of lightning, signifying the hope by which we are carried off to heaven; through it we are fired with a love of heavenly things, disdaining love of the present world, so that we can truly say with the apostle: ‘Our conversation is in heaven’ (Philippians, 3:20); ‘I will lay thy foundations with sapphires’ (Isaiah, 54:11).


The image of the sapphire is most fitting for the fingers of kings. It shines in an outstanding way and resembles most a clear sky. The power of nature has endowed it with such honour that it is called sacred and deservedly the gemstone of gemstones.

3rd stone Chalcedony

The third, chalcedony

The third, that is, the third decoration of the foundation is chalcedony; it is pale yellow, similar to lamp-light, and shines more under the open sky than indoors; warmed by the sun or by a rub of the fingers, it attracts particles to itself; it does not resist the subjects of the engraver, and it signifies the charity which is within us, hidden in the heart.

It is pale yellow like lamplight, but when it is forced into the open for the benefit of others, then what its virtue was inside is demonstrated outside. Touched by the sun, that is Christ, or the spirit, namely the finger, it attracts sinners to itself; that it cannot in any way be cut signifies that it is not wanting in times of adversity but is rather of advantage. In this context, it is said in the Song of Solomon: ‘Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love’ (8:6-7). It cannot, therefore, be carved, because it is not shattered by adversity or even softened by fulsome praise. In this context, the psalms: ‘My head shall not be annointed with the oil of wicked men’ (NEB, Psalms 141: 5); 1 Corinthians, 13: ‘Charity is patient; it is kind; charity it suffers everything; it endures everything; it is not puffed up; it is not ambitious etc.’ (see 13:4-5).


Chalcedony is a stone which shines with a faint paleness. It comes between the hyacinth and the beryl. Anyone who carries it will, it is said, be successful in lawsuits.

4th stone Smaragdus

The fourth, Smaragdus

The fourth foundation, smaragdus, outdoes in its greenness every kind of grass and the boughs of trees; it makes those who wear it appear attractive; it makes the air around grow green; it yields an image just as a mirror does; it signifies virginity, which wholly preserves the freshness of the flesh; and it surpasses all other virtues in a way. Because it preserves virginity it is more angelic than human; moreover, it is pleasing to angels and God and man and carries within itself the image of Christ because it follows the lamb wherever it goes; and for this reason this stone is called the fourth, because virginity is recommended in the four Gospels.


The smaragdus surpasses every green thing in its greenness.

5th stone Sardonyx

The fifth, sardonyx

The fifth foundation, sardonyx, gets its name from the association of two names, as Isidorus says; for it has the white of onyx and the red of sard; and it is three-coloured, as the Glossator says, black at the bottom, white in the middle and red at the top; and when used for sealing, it does not pull any of the wax away.

From this, it signifies the suffering of the saints. At the bottom, that is in the world, they are considered worthless and despised; in this context, Job, 12: ‘The just upright man is laughed to scorn … a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease’ (12:4). In the middle, that is the righteous man in his heart or conscience, they are white, as a result of their innocence. At the top they are red, by reason of the zeal of their martyrdom for Christ.

The stone does not pull any of the wax away, because the righteous man forgives his persecutors fully, from the heart, retaining no bitterness, according to Ecclesiasticus, 28: ‘Forgive thy neighbour the hurt that he hath done unto thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest (28:2).

This virtue is said to be the fifth because it diminishes infirmity of the body, because it is ruled by the five senses.


Two names, sard and onyx, make the sardonix. This single stone has taken from the two stones three colours. Alone of precious stones, it cannot pull away wax.

6th stone Sard

The sixth, Sard or Ruby or Carnelian

The sixth foundation, sard is so called because it was first found in Sardis; it is of the colour of blood only. For this reason it signifies the perfect constancy of the martyrs, who poured forth their blood for Christ and for that reason it is placed in the sixth position, because Christ in the sixth age and on the sixth day consecrated his martyrdom with his blood.

 “the fifth onyx, the sixth ruby, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth turquoise, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst’ Revelation 21:20

“The fifth was sardonyx, the sixth was carnelian, the seventh was chrysolite, and the eighth was beryl. The ninth was topaz, the tenth was chrysoprase, the eleventh was jacinth, and the twelfth was amethyst” Revelation 21:20 (CEB)


The sard gets its name from Sardis where it was first found. It gets its name from its reddish colour.

7th stone Chrysolite

The seventh, chrysolite

The seventh foundation, chrysolite, is similar in colour to gold. For this reason its name comes from crisis [chrysos], which means ‘gold’; it seems to give out glittering sparks, as the Glossator says; and it signifies wisdom, which exceeds all other gifts, just as gold exceeds all other metals.

Wisdom, through the medium of preaching, gives out glittering sparks, that is, encouragement and doctrine, setting alight the hearts of those who hear them. In this context, Ezekiel 1, on the sacred animals: ‘They sparkled like the colour of burnished brass’ (1:7); The Wisdom of Solomon, 3: ‘The righteous shall shine and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble’ (see 3:1,7).

This stone is placed in the seventh position, because it holds the seventh place in order of ascendancy among the gifts of the holy spirit.


Chrysolite shines like gold and flashes like fire. It is similar to the sea, displaying something of its green colour. We read that the Ethiopians send us this stone.

8th stone Beryl

The eighth, beryl

The eighth foundation is beryl. This stone is polished into a hexagonal shape; it shines like water struck by the sun; it is also said to be of such heat that it warms the hand of the holder; and it signifies the virtue of mercy.

Mercy operates in six ways, warming the cold hearts of the infirm to a love of God and one’s neighbour, according to Proverbs, 25: ‘If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he thirsty give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head’ (25:21-23). Matthew, 5: ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (5:16).

This virtue is placed in the eighth position, because not here but in the eighth age it expects its reward. In this context, the psalm: ‘Thou shall eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee’ (Psalms, 128:2). Gregory: ‘It will be bad for those who eat their labours here, like hypocrites.’


Its hexagonal form causes beryl to shine brightly; otherwise it seems to have a faint pallor.

9th stone Topaz

The ninth, topaz

The ninth foundation is topaz; this stone, although it is multi-coloured, has two colours especially, gold and a clear colour, as the Glossator of Exodus, 34, says: And it is touched by the splendour of the sun. It exceeds all other gemstones in clearness; its appearance is singularly pleasing to those who look at it; if it were polished, it would be dulled; left to its own nature, it is clearer; it is the largest of stones; and it is cherished by kings.

Topaz signifies contemplation. The love with which contemplation burns, colours it gold; the understanding which illuminates contemplation, gives it its clear colour. In contemplation the Lord is seen more clearly; and men are more especially drawn to his love when they are open to it. Their nature is such that, if they are embellished by the honours of this world, they see less clearly, because, like Martha, they have many distractions. This stone shines with every colour, because contemplation shines with the splendour of every virtue. It is the biggest of stones, because contemplation expands the heart greatly, and those who are truly kings think nothing of the flesh. It is placed in the ninth position, because contemplation aligns contemplative men with the nine orders of angels.


Topaz comes from the island of the same name. It is all the more precious as it is rare. The land of the Arabs, rich in stones, produces it.

10th stone Chrysoprase

The tenth, chrysoprase

The tenth foundation is chrysoprase. This stone, according to Isidorus, comes from India, and is purple in colour with separate, small gold marks; for this reason it gets its name crisopassus, ‘scattered everywhere with gold’. It signifies desire of the the heavenly land, which burns the more brightly, the more it is affected by tribulation, because, as Gregory says: ‘What a bellows does to coal, tribulation does to love.’

Chrisoprase is placed in the tenth position, because holy men, in their desire for heaven, hasten to reach the tenth order of angels by observing the ten commandments. The tenth order is the one which will be renewed from men. In this context, man is called, in Luke, 15, the tenth piece of silver which the woman searched for and found (see 15:8-10).


India, its home, sends us the stone called chrysoprase. It shines with the sap of the leek and is of mixed colour, tinted with purple and marked with gold.

11th stone Hyacinth

The eleventh, hyacinth

The eleventh foundation is hyacinth. This stone changes in accordance with the weather: on clear days, it is transparent; when the sky is overcast, it is opaque. For this reason it signifies the judgement of holy men, who use it, as the Lord did, to adapt to all conditions of life, in order to win the hearts of all men; as the apostle says, 1 Corinthians, 9: ‘I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save all’ (see 9:22); Romans, 12: ‘ Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep’ (12:15). This virtue enables holy teachers to know what, to whom, when and how to preach.

This stone is placed in the eleventh position, because through it, especially, all manner of sin is avoided.


The learned say that there are three kinds of hyacinth. The best is the kind whose colour is not so dense as to be obscure or so light as to be transparent but has a purple, myrtle-like bloom drawn from both parts of the spectrum.

This stone, placed in the mouth, proves to be colder than others. It is very hard and resists cutting or engraving. But it can be marked by a fragment of diamond.

12th stone Amethyst

The twelfth, amethyst

The twelfth foundation is amethyst. Isidorus says of it: Among purple stones, the Indian amethyst holds first position; it is, indeed, purple but of mixed coloration, giving forth violet and rose-coloured lights; it is easy to engrave. For this reason the humility of the saints is signified by it; associated with humility is obedience, as Ambrose says: ‘Humility is small, like the violet, beautiful like the rose, easy to apply to all things’; or: ‘They are like burning flames, looking at love’. For humility is acceptable to everyone, even to our enemies; as pride, in contrast, is viewed by everyone with detestation, as it says in Ecclesiasticus, 15: ‘Pride is hateful before God and men’ (see 10: 7). For this reason the amethyst is placed in the final position, as if watching over all, and as if humility always reckons itself the least and always takes the last place. In this context, Gregory: ‘He who assembles in himself the other virtues without humility is like one who carries dust in the wind. Also Paul: ‘He who is modest, that is to be understood as humble, deserves to possess the tenth place.’

What the stones Do

The diamond is amongst all stones the hardest, cutting all other precious stones; it likes to be set in steel; it does not wish to be given away; and it will not allow the goods of him who possesses it to be divided.

The ruby has the virtue of all precious stones, that if it is washed in water and that water is then given to the sick who are thirsty, they grow well if each one is according to his nature virtuous.

The smaragdus refreshes the eyes; it cheers the body of him who looks upon it; and preserves love.

The sapphire restrains the flow of and blood and kills le felun.

 Topaz is saffron coloured, like amber, but more pleasing and it prevents a pot from boiling over; placed in the mouth of a thirsting man it removes his thirst.

Turquoise brings anger and boldness.

Sardonyx is tri-coloured; it gives you boldness and brings victory.

The toadstone brings you victory in achieving your ends and in war.

The amethyst brings an omen of wood and water; it is better given than desired.

 Jasper is green like the the smaragdus but not so pleasing; it restrains the flow of blood and preserves the love of the person who gives or receives it.

 Carnelian is red and restrains the flow of blood.

The pearl, parlus, is white and round and disposes you to sleep.

 The stone decapun is of the same colour; it seems to be marked with blood and brings victory in every field.

 Crystal when ground and drunk in water restores milk to a woman who has lost it.

Note that hot goat’s blood dissolves a diamond.

The pearl,margarita, is a small stone but a precious one; it is white, compact, found in shellfish and conceived by heavenly dew, as Isidore says.

 Note that the pearl conceived from the morning dew is whiter and of better quality than that from the evening dew. Sometimes, however, margarita is a general word for a precious stone. However the word is to be understood, it is certain that the twelve ‘pearls’, interpreted in the moral sense, are the twelve virtues, symbolised by twelve stones as you will more plainly see.

The diamond, adamas or dyamas, is a transparent stone, like crystal, but having the colour of polished iron, but it cannot be destroyed by iron, fire or any other means, unless it is placed in the hot blood of a goat; with sharp pieces of diamond other stones are engraved and polished. It is no greater than a small nut. There are six kinds, however Adamant attracts metal; it expels venom; it produces amber [and is efficacious against empty fears and for those resisting spells]. It is found in India, in Greece and in Cyprus, where magicians make use of it. It gives you courage; it averts apparitions; it removes anger and quarrels; it heals the mad; it defends you from your enemies. It should be set in gold or silver and worn on the left arm. It is likewise found in Arabia.

Acates is a stone so called from the name of a river flowing through the middle of Sicily. It is a black stone with white lines, having several images, sometimes of a king, sometimes of beasts, placed there by nature. Another kind is found in Crete, similar to coral, having veins like gold. This stone is used against poison.

Another kind is found in India; it is marked with veins like the branches of a tree, and in the form of men. This stone removes thirst and strengthens the sight.

There is another kind which has the scent of myrrh when it is placed in fire.

Another kind has marks the colour of blood.

Another has the colour of wax. But because there are so many kinds, it is of less value. It defends a man, however; it gives him strength; puts colour in his face; it endows him with good counsel; and it makes him persuasive.

Electorius grows in the stomach of a fowl after it is three years old and grows until the bird is seven. It is no bigger than a nut or a bean; it is clear like crystal or water; it gives victory to the man who wears it; it takes away thirst if it is placed in the mouth of the thirsty; it summons back those who are scattered; it acquires friends for him; it makes him eloquent and loved. It bestows love between a man and a woman. It has all these virtues if it is carried in the mouth.

Sernatites is a black stone of such a nature that if it is placed in the mouth and held under the tongue, a man can perceive what people think of him, and no woman can withstand his will. You can test its nature by smearing someone with honey and milk and placing him in the midst of a swarm of flies; if he has the stone he is not bitten; remove the stone and the flies bite him ceaselessly. There are seventeen kinds of jasper; it has many colours; and it grows in parts of Sicily. The green and translucent kind is better and of more virtue than the rest. Jasper defends any chaste person wearing it from fever and the dropsy, and from apparitions; it strengthens friendship, keeps you safe and gives you courage. It is of greater virtue if set in silver rather than gold.

Sapphire is of such virtue that it is called the gemstone of gemstones. In colour, it is like the sky when it is cloudless. It is called serc[t]ites because it is found on the shore of Libya in front of sandbanks. This kind is clear; but a better kind is that found in the land of the Turks, although it is not so clear. Its virtue strengthens him who wears it, preserves his limbs intact, overcomes envy and deception, takes away fear, brings him out of prison, and loosens his bonds. It gets rid of an ulcer and cools you if you are overheated internally. Ground up with milk, it serves as an emollient; it is good for the eyes and for an injury to the tongue, and it takes away a headache. If you wear it, you should behave in a chaste fashion.

Smaragdus surpasses everything in its greenness. There are six kinds: from Scythia, from Britannia [Bactria], from the Nile, which flows from Paradise; one is found in the veins of mines; one is called Chalcedonian. The one from Scythia is so clear that you can see through it; it colours the air around. It is the better kind. Smaragdus does not change its colour on account of the sun or moon or shade; it is so even that you can look through it, as Nero used to do; you can use it to find things under water. It brings wealth if it is worn chastely; it endows you with persuasive eloquence if it is worn on the neck. It cures fever; it gets rid of the hemitertian fever and epilepsy; and it banishes storms and wantonness. It also takes on colour: if it is discoloured and washed in wine and anointed with green oil, the discoloration is dissolved.

Crisapacion comes from Ethiopia; its colour is like gold and at night it shines like fire etc.

Sardonyx gets its name from two stones, and from these it gets three colours. Its first colour is black; above the black is white; above the white is red. This stone has five types, but the one which has the three colours not mixed together is worth more. It does not stick to wax; it has no other virtue, but you must be chaste and humble for it to have this virtue. The stone comes from Arabia and India. If worn on the neck or finger, it brings deep sleep, cures strife and also makes infants somewhat sharp-sighted. There are five kinds Sard gets its name from the island where it was first found; it is red in colour; the least valuable of gemstones, it has no virtue other than its beauty and the fact that it removes the harmful effect of the onyx stone. There are five kinds.

Chrysolite resembles the water of the sea and has a grain of gold within it, and sparks like fire. Its virtue is to counter night-time fears; if it is pierced, with the hair of an ass placed in the middle, and worn on the left arm, it puts demons to flight. It is found in Ethiopia.

Beryl has a hexagonal shape to give it greater clarity; the better kind has the colour of oil or sea water. It is found in India. It bestows love between a man and a woman; it brings honour to him who wears it; it warms the hand of anyone who holds it; water in which it has lain is good for the eyes; and it takes away asthma and the pains of fevers. There are nine kinds.

Topaz gets its name from the island, Topazos, where it is found. It is valued more because it has two kinds of radiance: one the colour of gold; the other, clearer. It is quite good for piles; it is said to feel the pull of the moon; and it causes water to stop boiling. It comes from Arabia.

The chrysoprase comes from India. Its colour is like the sap of a leek, with golden marks; but there is nothing on record about its virtue.

There are three kinds of hyacinth. Each one gives strength, and removes sadness and false suspicion. The kind with a watery colour chills you; anyone who wears it on his neck or finger can go in safety in foreign parts and is safe from overeating; he will be honoured by his enemies and anything he seeks in a righteous fashion, he will receive. The stone cannot be engraved.

The amethyst is the colour of a violet or a drop of red wine or whiteish. It comes from India. It is easy to shatter. If it were rarer, it would be more valuable. There are five kinds to look for.

Chelidony is a stone. It is found in the stomach of the swallow; it has two colours, black and red; the black kind is helpful to the insane, heals demonic possession and other kinds of weakness; it makes a man eloquent and loved; it should be worn on the left arm wrapped in a linen cloth.

The red kind helps to bring things to completion; it offers protection against the threats and rages of kings and princes; if it is moistened in saffron and worn in a linen cloth, it heals anyone with a fever and restrains noxious humours.

Jet comes from Lycia. The better kind is found in England. When it is made warm it attracts straw; it burns in water; it is quenched in oil, Anyone wearing it who suffers from a swelling between the skin and the flesh (ie dropsy), will benefit, if it is poured in. Ground and mixed with water, it fixes loose teeth in place. By means of inhalation in hot baths it restores menstrual flow. The odour given out by jet when it burns will, in inhaled, get rid of epilepsy, and it puts snakes and demons to flight. It helps those who have an upset stomach; it is good for ringing in the ears; and it offers protection against spells; it is said to be a test for virginity. A woman who suffers from the flux, if it is of the womb, will be healed by water in which jet has been soaked for three days.

Lodestone is found in the land of the cave-dwellers and in India. It has a metallic colour and attracts iron. Its virtue is that if a man wants to know if his wife is chaste or not, he should place the stone under her head when she is asleep; if she is chaste, she will embrace him warmly; otherwise, she will fall from the bed as if struck by a hand; this happens because of the odour of the stone. If a thief should enter a house to rob it, and should place in different parts of the house a live coal and on top of it powdered lodestone, so that it gives off smoke to the four corners of the house, it will seem to those who are in the house that the house is collapsing; as a result, they will flee and the thief can rob the place. Lodestone produces harmony between man and woman; it bestows grace, eloquence, skill in argument. If it is given in the form of a drink, it purges dropsy. Its powder, put on a fire, quenches it.

Coral grows like a tree in the sea, at which time it is green; afterwards, however, it hardens and takes on a reddish colour. It resembles the branch of a tree. Its virtue is that it drives away lightning and storms, wherever it is; and if it is scattered around a vineyard or olive-grove, or on a field or on seeded ground, it protects it from hail and storms and it increases its yield. It banishes apparitions and brings a good outcome to legal business.

Almandine comes from the part of Asia called Alablanda. It resembles sard and is not easily distinguished from it.

Carnelian has a pale colour. Its virtue is this: it quenches the anger of people in dispute, and it staunches blood flowing from any part of the body, especially menstrual flow.

The carbuncle is found in Libya where cave-dwellers live; it sends out rays like a live coal, by night but not by day.

Ligurium comes from the urine of the lynx. You can see through the middle of the stone as through glass. The beast hides its urine in the sand lest it should be found. The virtue of ligurium is that it takes away stomach-ache and staunches flux and takes away jaundice. Eaglestone is a stone which the eagle carries from the ends of the earth to its nest. It does not put the stone down until it is inside the nest; there the stone remains until the eagle’s young have grown up. This stone has another stone within it: for this reason it is of benefit to pregant women; likewise at childbirth. It should be worn on the left side. It prevents drunkenness; it increases wealth; it bestows love and victory; it keeps young children healthy; and it takes away epilepsy. If anyone should be suspected of giving poison, the stone should be placed under his plate; as long as it stays there, the suspect will not be able to eat; if the suspicion is true, he can eat only when the stone has been removed.

Moonstone has the colour of jasper. It is called silenites because it waxes and wanes with the moon. It bestows love; it is good for the health. It comes from Persia.

Gagatromen is a stone which is marked like the skin of a a wild goat. It gives a leader victory and puts his enemies to flight.

The thunderstone falls to earth with a bolt of lightning. If you wear it and behave chastely, lightning will not strike the spot on which you stand, and no storms will arise. It helps you in war and to achieve your purpose. It bestows sleep and sweet dreams. It has two colours.

The bloodstone is of this nature: if you place it in a vessel facing the sun, it makes the sun turn red and causes a new eclipse; it also makes the vessel boil and spill water if it is full. Anyone wearing it can foretell much of the future. It bestows praise on a man, and good health. It staunches a flow of blood and works against poison and trickery. If you wear it together with the herb of the same name, you can go where you want, invisible, using the appropriate spell. The bloodstone comes from Ethiopia and Africa. It is of the colour of the emerald with blood-coloured marks.

Epistites is a brilliant red stone. Its nature is that it quenches a boiling cauldron, and after a short while cools it. It scares harmful birds away from seeded ground; it repels storms; it banishes quarrels; and it keeps you safe safe. Placed in the sun, it gives out light like fire; It is better worn on the left.

Hematite gets its name from blood. Powdered and mixed with the white of egg, it is good for roughness of the eyelids. Ground and mixed with water, it helps anyone who spits blood. It restrains menstruation; it takes away the scar tissue that grows in wounds; and it restrains a flux of the stomach. Drunk in wine, it works against poison and against snakebite; taken with honey it is good for eye trouble; and it softens the stone in the bladder. It comes from Africa, Ethiopia and Arabia.

Asbestos comes from Arcadia. It has a metallic colour. Its nature is that if you once ignite it, it burns forever.

Penantes conceives and gives birth to another stone; for this reason it is good for women who are pregnant or in labour.

Sagda is hard to find. This is how you find it: it sticks to ships and cannot be taken or cut off. It is found in the country of the Chaldeans.

Medus is found among the Turks. It bestows life and death if it is ground on a green grindstone and mixed with a woman’s milk. Placed on sightless eyes, it restores their vision. Dissolved in the milk of a ewe that has had no more than one lamb, and that one a male, it takes away gout and cures the kidneys. It should be kept in silver and drunk in the evening and before lunch. If the powder is administered in water, whoever drinks it will vomit up his lungs and die; and if he bathes his eyes with it, he will go blind. Its colour is black.

Gelatia is a stone so hard that it cannot be shattered and so cold that it cannot be warmed.

Exacontalitus has sixty colours within it. It is found in the land of the cave-dwellers.

Dionysia is black in colour, with red marks. Ground in water, it has the flavour of wine; nevertheless, it banishes drunkenness.

Chryselectrum has the colour of gold and amber. If it is given in the morning it brings joy; but it brings anger and sadness if it is not looked at often.

Diadocos is of value to those who cast spells in water, but if it touches a dead man it loses its virtue.

Pyrite does not allow you to grasp it, because if you do so, it burns your hand.

Chelonite is a stone, carried by a certain kind of tortoise in India. It is a mixture of purple and other colours. If you put it in your mouth, well washed, under your tongue, at the waxing of the moon, it gives you the power to see the future; on the first day you can do this up to the sixth hour; when the moon is new, you have the power for the full twenty-four hours, up to the fifteenth day. This stone is unaffected by fire.

IP Blocking Protection is enabled by IP Address Blocker from