Medieval illustrated books of animals known as bestiaries were one of the most
popular genres of late medieval European literature. These were not so much scientific as
moralized accounts of animals, used to teach students the elements of Christian doctrine;
the more elaborately decorated manuscripts were collected by nobles. Today about one
hundred bestiary manuscripts, divided by scholars into textual groups called families,
survive. The bestiary is rooted in the Physiologus, a collection of moralized stories about
mythological creatures, animals, birds, and magical stones mostly to be found in Africa
and Asia. The purpose of the book was strictly didactic: it used the characteristics of
animals and other creatures to provide young Christians with lessons to be followed in
their lives. The original text (written in Greek circa 2nd century C.E., probably in
Alexandria) has long been lost, but because of its popularity, it was translated into many
languages in the 4th and 5th centuries. In the 8th and 9th centuries in France, several Latin
versions of the Physiologus were produced. By the 12th century, the so-called version B of
the Latin Physiologus had been transformed into a bestiary by the addition of pseudo-
zoological material taken from Book XII of the authoritative Etymologiae of Isidore of
Seville (570-636). In the same century bestiaries manuscripts were produced in England,
and over the following three centuries, the use of bestiaries became very widespread.
The course aims to contribute to the students understanding of the medieval
bestiaries tradition, their origin, structure, and development from 4th until 15th century.
We are going to learn the vocabulary related to the subject and possess the required skills
to enable a student to work with medieval bestiaries in their original form.