An Arthurian Bestiary: Introduction

Print

An Arthurian Bestiary: Introduction

from: The Camelot Project  2013

Creatures mythical and ordinary appear in medieval Arthurian literature.  Knights fight dragons and wild boars; dogs reveal the true identities of their masters; and knights are not knights without their horses.  Animals also feature in prophesies, predicting Arthur's victories and providing insight about events that have just transpired.  The role of these and other creatures in medieval Arthuriana is often overlooked by readers.  Yet recent criticism has sought to study animals in their medieval context, providing new insight into the role that animals played in medieval life and thus in medieval literature.  This Bestiary is an important step in that work; it documents major appearances of these creatures and identifies patterns in how they are presented in a range of major Arthurian materials. 
 
Animals in the Middle Ages

The modern reader is generally much further removed from daily contact with animals than the people of the Middle Ages.  Animals were central to life in the Middle Ages, for example, in farming and as pets.  John Aberth notes that “medieval people could also greatly empathize with their domestic animals” and notes the many texts describing animals’ emotions (166).  The lion in the Middle English Ywain and Gawain, moved almost to suicide in his distress for Ywain, is one particularly poignant example (lines 2071-86).  Perhaps due to this close association between the species, much philosophical energy was spent on articulating the key differences between humans and animals.  Diet was an important distinction between humans and animals: as Salisbury explains, “eating one’s meat raw was considered bestial” (64) and sacred food – that is, consecrated Communion host – was firmly forbidden to animals (65).  (Gerald of Wales’s anxiety about giving communion to a werewolf is a “practical” case where this distinction is blurred and perhaps even called into question.)  However, the main trait distinguishing humans from animals was the capacity for reason.  Salisbury observes that for Christian thinkers of the early middle ages, the lack of reason was the defining difference between animals and humans (5).  Violence, too, was considered a major difference, particularly by Aquinas: while humans were capable of violence, irrational violence was a trait exclusive to animals (5).  While reason was not attributed to animals in the Middle Ages, their complex behaviors were justified by estimativa, that is, instinct (Aberth 146).  This instinct explained why animals hid from danger without suggesting that they could reason, a claim that would have challenged medieval understanding of human superiority over animals.  The notion of human superiority was based in interpretations of the book of Genesis, where the first humans are given dominion over all creatures (Genesis 1:26-28). 
 
Since humans were understood to be superior to animals, humans were thus accountable for the actions of their domestic creatures.  As Salisbury observes, “human owners were held liable for the behavior of their animals, and animals sometimes shared the penalties given to human misbehavior” (Salisbury 37).  Laws describing fines to be paid if a loose animal damaged another’s property are plentiful from the period.  However, the legal language around animals almost undermines the distinction between animals and humans since animals were occasionally expected to stand trial.  Animals could be – and were – tried for crimes during the medieval period; the earliest record of such a trial is the execution of a pig by burning in 1266 for eating a child near Paris (Aberth 219).  Allowing animals to stand trial holds them (rather than their owners) accountable for their actions.  These seemingly contradictory views are common in depictions of medieval animals as rational yet irrational, empathetic yet oblivious, and violent yet tame.  Unsurprisingly, these same contradictions in the depiction of animals appear in Arthurian literature.   
 
What is a bestiary?
 
In its medieval context, a bestiary is simply a book cataloguing a series of animals, often including illuminations and other images.  These works were undoubtedly used as religious texts, as they provide moral and theological meanings for the attributes they ascribe to the animals included in them.  Several critics have suggested that they may also have been used by pious laypersons as educational texts, perhaps in teaching reading (de Hamel 20, Clark 29).  Clark suggests that the bestiary was in fact "compiled for use principally by teachers in elementary education" (98). 
 
The Second-family bestiary is used in this project due to its popularity in northwestern Europe (Clark 2), an area which also produced many of the best-known Arthurian works of the Middle Ages.  This family of the Bestiary tradition is considered the most important Latin version by bestiary scholars because of the number of manuscripts extant, the clarity of its organization, and the number of luxury copies (Clark 8), and it is distinguished from other family groups by its long section on birds (de Hamel 7).  Clark dates the earliest manuscript to the 1180s, and she notes that most manuscripts of this type originated in England (12).  de Hamel observes that nearly all bestiaries were created between the middle of the twelfth and the late thirteenth century, a fairly short span of time within the Middle Ages (6).  Thus, if writers and readers of many Arthurian texts were familiar with bestiaries, it is likely that they knew the second-family bestiary. 
 
One purpose of this Bestiary is to demonstrate the ways in which Arthurian works were part of larger literary trends in their depictions of animals.  As Willene B. Clark observes, casual references to bestiaries often invite readers to assume a causal relationship, that is, that the bestiary is the source for a particular detail included in a text (10).  This assumption is problematic because bestiaries are themselves drawn from numerous other sources, including Pliny, Ambrose, Biblical verse, Isidore, Aesop, and others.  In fact, Clark suggests that medieval audiences of the bestiary would have already been familiar with much of the spiritual material these works included through sermons and Bible readings in church (22).  The references to the bestiary tradition in this project, then, are meant to provide context, a source of collective (generally spiritual) understanding about a particular animal. Latin bestiaries are themselves in flux during much of the time when early Arthurian texts were written; similarities between the two likely suggest that both draw on common cultural wisdom rather than implying that the bestiary tradition is the source for a particular animal's presentation in Arthurian texts. 
 
The Organization of this Bestiary
 
In large part, this bestiary follows the common divisions within medieval bestiaries, and it classifies animals according to those divisions.   Thus, for example, dragons are a type of serpent rather than a distinct category of creature; likewise, pigs are identified as boars and sows, which are grouped into one category.  However, unlike its medieval counterparts, this bestiary is organized alphabetically for ease of navigation.  Cross-references are included to help users navigate easily through these categorizations.  For animals that appear only rarely or minimally in the Arthurian texts considered, the bestiary includes short entries detailing those appearances.  For animals whose appearances are more central to the Arthurian tradition (or more numerous), I have included longer essays outlining themes and trends as well as major appearances of the creature.  A complete list of animals included is also featured in the “Creatures” section of the Camelot Project.  While it is the goal of this project to be as comprehensive as is reasonable, it should not be considered an encyclopedia of each animal's appearances.
 
To some extent, of course, this project is ever-expanding.  As more texts are included, entries for new animals will be created.  In addition, though this bestiary is presently almost wholly medieval, Arthurian texts span well into the present day.  Some of these materials are modernized retellings; many more reimagine or re-historicize the Arthurian world.  This project will expand to take later Arthurian materials into account.  All questions about the project can be directed to kara.mcshane@rochester.edu or alupack@library.rochester.edu.

Animals
 
Babian (See Bird)
Bear
Berbiolette
Bird
Bratchet (See Dog)
Bull
Cat
Deer
Dog
Dragon
Eagle (See Bird)
Elephant
Fox
Frog
Greyhound (See Dog)
Griffin
Hare
Hart (See Deer)
Hawk (See Bird)
Horse
Hound (See Dog)
Hybrids
Leopard
Lion
Owl (See Bird)
Parrot (See Bird)
Pelican (See Bird)
Phoenix (See Bird)
Pig (See Boar)
Questing Beast
Rabbit (See Hare)
Serpent
Snake (See Serpent)
Sow (See Boar)
Stag (See Deer)
Unicorn
Wolf
Bibliography
Arthurian Bestiary: Further Resources
 
Selected Translations of Bestiaries
 
Barber, Richard W., trans. Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford MS Bodley 764 With All the Original Miniatures Reproduced in Facsimile.  Translated and Introduced by Richard Barber. Rochester, NY: Boydell, 1993.
 
Book of Beasts: A Facsimile of MS Bodley 764.  Introduction by Christopher de Hamel.  Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.
 
Clark, Willene B. A Medieval Book of Beasts: The Second Family Bestiary: Commentary, Art, Text and Translation.  Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006.
 
Curley, Michael J., trans.  Physiologus. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1979.
 
White, T. H., trans.  The Bestiary: A Book of Beasts: Being a Translation from a Latin Bestiary of the Twelfth Century.  New York: Putnam, 1960. 
 
Arthurian Works Considered
 
Middle English
 
Alliterative Morte Arthure. In King Arthur's Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure. Ed. Larry D. Benson and Edward E. Foster.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994. 
 
The Avowyng of Arthur. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Awntrys of Arthur. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
The Carle of Carlisle.  In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Caxton's Malory: A New Edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur Based on the Pierpont Morgan Copy of William Caxton's Edition of 1485. 2 vols. Ed. James W. Spisak and William Matthews.  Berkeley; Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.
 
The Greene Knight. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
The Knightly Tale of Gologras and Gawain. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
The Marriage of Sir Gawain. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
The Jeaste of Sir Gawain. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
King Arthur and King Cornwall. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Lancelot of the Laik. In Lancelot of the Lake and Sir Tristrem. Ed. Alan Lupack. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994.
 
Perceval of Galles. In Sir Perceval of Galles and Ywain and Gawain. Ed. Mary Flowers Braswell. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Prose Merlin. Ed. John Conlee. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1998.
 
Sir Cliges. In The Middle English Breton Lays. Ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Sir Gawain and the Carle of Carlisle. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In The Poems of the Pearl Manuscript: Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron. 5th ed.  Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2007.
 
Sir Launfal. In The Middle English Breton Lays. Ed. Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
Sir Tristrem. In Lancelot of the Lake and Sir Tristrem. Ed. Alan Lupack. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994.
 
Stanzaic Morte Arthure. In King Arthur's Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure. Ed. Larry D. Benson and Edward E. Foster.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994. 
 
The Turke and Sir Gawain. In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales.  Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle.  In Sir Gawain: Eleven Romances and Tales. Ed. Thomas Hahn.  Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
The Works of Sir Thomas Malory. Ed. Eugene Vinaver, Revised by P. J. C. Field. 3rd ed. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon; Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.
 
Yvain and Gawain. In Sir Perceval of Galles and Ywain and Gawain. Ed. Mary Flowers Braswell. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1995.
 
French
 
Béroul. The Romance of Tristran. Ed. Stewart Gregory. Amsterdam; Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1992.
 
Chretien de Troyes. Cleges. In The Complete Romances of Chretién de Troyes.  Trans. David Staines.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
 
Chretien de Troyes. Lancelot. In The Complete Romances of Chretién de Troyes.  Trans. David Staines.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
 
Chretien de Troyes. Perceval. In The Complete Romances of Chretién de Troyes.  Trans. David Staines.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
 
Chretien de Troyes. Yvain. In The Complete Romances of Chretién de Troyes.  Trans. David Staines.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
 
Gottfried von Strassburg. Tristan. Translated entire for the first time with the surviving fragments of the Tristan of Thomas, newly translated. Trans. A. T. Hatto. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. Rpt. 1974.
 
The Knight of the Parrot.  Trans. Thomas E. Vesce.  New York; London: Garland, 1986.
 
Lancelot-Grail: The Old French Arthurian Vulgate and Post-Vulgate in Translation. 5 vols. Ed. Norris J. Lacy. New York: Garland, 1993.
 
The Romance of Yder.  Ed. and trans. Alison Adams. (Arthurian Studies viii.) Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1983.
 
German
 
Gottfried von Strassburg. Tristan. Translated entire for the first time with the surviving fragments of the Tristan of Thomas, newly translated. Trans. A. T. Hatto. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. Rpt. 1974.
 
Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Trans. A. T. Hatto.  New York: Penguin, 1980.
 
Latin
 
Geoffrey of Monmouth.  The History of the Kings of Britain. Ed. and Trans. Michael A. Faletra. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview, 2008.
 
Welsh
 
The Mabinogion. Trans. Lady Charlotte Guest.  London: Bernard Quaritch, 1877.  Rpt. Ruthin: Spread Eagle Publications, 1977.
 
Dutch
 
Dutch Romances Volume I: Roman van Walewein. Ed. David F. Johnson and Geert H. M. Claassens. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2000.
 
Critical Material: Animals in the Middle Ages
 
Aberth, John. An Environmental History of the Middle Ages: The Crucible of Nature.  London: Routledge, 2013.

"The Animal Turn."  Special issue of postmedieval.  Ed. Peggy McCracken and Karl Steel. postmedieval 2.1 (Spring 2011). 
 
Animals and the Symbolic in Mediaeval Art and Literature.  Ed.  L. A. J. R. Houwen. Groningen: Egbert Forsten, 1997.
 
Baxter, Ron. Bestiaries and Their Users in the Middle Ages. Stroud: Sutton; London: Courtauld Institute, 1998.
 
Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages: The Bestiary and its Legacy.  Ed. Willene B. Clark and Meradith T. McMunn. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.
 
Crane, Susan.  Animal Encounters: Contacts and Concepts in Medieval Britain. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.
 
Hassig, Debra. Medieval Bestiaries: Text, Image, Ideology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
 
Huggan, Graham, and Helen Tiffin.  Postcolonial Ecocriticism:  Literature, Animals, Environment. London; New York: Routledge, 2010.
 
Kordecki, Lesley Catherine.  Ecofeminist Subjectivities : Chaucer's Talking Birds. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.
 
Mann, Jill.  From Aesop to Reynard: Beast Literature in Medieval Britain. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
 
The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature.  Ed. Debra Hassig. New York: Garland, 1999.
 
Salisbury, Joyce E.  The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.  New York: Routledge, 1994.
 
Salter, David. Holy and Noble Beasts: Encounters with Animals in Medieval Literature. Rochester, NY: D. S. Brewer, 2001.
 
Strickland, Debra Higgs. Medieval Bestiaries: Text, Image, Ideology.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
 
Wheatley, Edward.  Mastering Aesop: Medieval Education, Chaucer, and His Followers. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.
 
Yamamoto, Dorothy.  The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
 
Ziolkowski, Jan M. Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750-1150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.