A Medieval Bestiary: When a book breaks your heart


28 Responses to “A Medieval Bestiary: When a book breaks your heart”

  1. robdobbs says:

    That’s a very nice boob-shield the unicorn killer is using.

  2. blueelm says:

    It is always annoying when an image loaded art/art history book tries to go coffee table. On the bright side, books with full color plates can be excellent companions to text-only essays and footnotes in other books. 

  3. Andrei M says:

    Seems like a fair review. I am going to say, though, that I’m loving the book “behind” the ebook. I don’t read latin, but those images that you linked to at the British Library are magnificent.

  4. Stefan Jones says:

    Maybe it was supposed to be a virginal saint rather than a lady?

    “Leucrotas, you may be interested to know, happen when a male hyena mates with a female lion.”

    Hmmm. That could be doable . . . KICKSTARTER!

    • Ladyfingers says:

      And, to be fair, unicorns are (according to the literature) not just a horse with a horn. They’re weirdly chimeric, with a goat’s beard, cloven hooves and other animal features, having only later on become standardised as a white horse. Certainly pre-CGI, adding a prosthetic horn to a white horse was the easiest way of representing one on screen.

  5. Girard says:

    It sounds like you’d be more into the Aberdeen Bestiary website, which has context-setting historical pieces, translation of the inner texts, and commentary on the text and images. It’s an easy site to lose hours of your life in.

  6. Susan Carley Oliver says:

    we can rekindle the relationship

    I see what you did there.

  7. Edward says:

    So far as digital manuscript facsimiles go, I highly recommend the site run by the Library of St. Gall, the Codices Electronici Sangallenses Virtual Library. It’s possible to virtually leaf through 436 (as of this writing, with more to come) of the most beautiful manuscripts of the early medieval period, including their bindings, and to zoom in to a level where every detail of a letterform or rubrication is clear. It’s a godsend for the palaeographically-minded, and I find it profoundly moving to be able to digitally examine volumes that come from a world so far removed from the digital.The database of manuscripts is free (there is an inoffensive requirement to register that one has read the terms of use). In a sense, this remarkable project is a continuation of the mission of St. Gall, whose library has been in continuous existence for 1200 years.



    The site is well worth blogging on Boing Boing, in my estimation!    

  8. Dan Hibiki says:

    No wonder there’s no Dragons left, every other creature above Challenge Rating 4 repels or kills Dragons.

  9. urbiegreen2001 says:

    Was the virgin in the piece “restored” by Cecilia Gimenez by any chance?

  10. Al Corrupt says:

    Great review.
    I mean, it’s a bad review from the books point of view – but so well written – with devastating wit, constructive critiques and expanding the context into the nature of digital publishing . You know what I mean! 
    The book may be a lemon – but you just made some great lemonade.

    • Thanks. If you like this, I’d recommend visiting the Download the Universe blog. There’s lots more reviews along the same lines, from people like Carl Zimmer, Ed Yong, Ars Technica’s John Timmer, and more. 

  11. R. J. R. says:

    This is a really interesting and fair review.  Thanks for saying it so well!  When it comes to bestiaries, what you want is the translation by T. H. White (of “Sword in the Stone” fame) of a twelfth-century manuscript in Cambridge, published as “The Book of Beasts”.  It’s not only a translation but he footnoted it too with other interesting bits of information. My favourite piece of information among many is that apparently peacocks make that noise because they’ve just caught sight of their feet — they’re so proud of their great beauty that whenever they see their ugly feet they screech in aggravated disappointment.  It’s out of print but pretty available second hand.

    Of course the point of the medieval bestiary is not to record information for its own sake but to draw out of the natural world important points about life and morals.  In this way I think there’s an interesting parallel with the way that many people misapply approximations of Darwin’s ideas to social or cultural behaviour.

    • Ooooh, that’s a really interesting thought, and not one I’d considered. Evolutionary psychology = the bestiary of the modern world? Eeeeeenteresting. 

    • fredh says:

      I’ve read White’s, too. I love how his footnotes reflect his weariness of the original author’s proselytizing. I don’t know if that’s good scholarship, but it was damn entertaining.

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