Bear

Bear

CreaturesBackground Essay Author: Kara L. McShane
In the bestiary tradition, bears are described as having a weak head and strong arms.  They give birth to unformed cubs, and the mother forms the cub's body by licking it once it is born (138).  These strange attributes are not allegorized, and this lore seems largely absent from the depictions of bears in medieval Arthuriana, where they appear primarily in dreams.  In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, Arthur dreams of a dragon defeating a bear in battle; some of his philosophers explain that Arthur himself is the dragon, and the bear represents the tyrants that torment Arthur's people or, perhaps, a giant.  The dream foretells Arthur's successful fight against the Giant of Mont St. Michel (155-157).  This account may well be related to the account in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain.  In Geoffrey's narrative, Arthur dreams of a bear flying through the air, which battles and is defeated by a dragon.  The dream predicts Arthur's victory over the giant of Mont St. Michel (182-3).  A similar dream also appears in the Lancelot-Grail Cycle's Merlin and in Malory's Morte d'Arthur.  In the Winchester Manuscript's version of the Roman Wars, Arthur dreams of dragon defeating a bear, and a philosopher interprets the dream as a sign of Arthur's victory in the upcoming battle.  (In Caxton's printed edition of Malory, however, the animal is a boar rather than a bear.) 
 
Though bears often feature in dreams, one particularly memorable bear fight appears in the French Romance of Yder,...

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