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. 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 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.
Folio 7r – Incipit liber de naturis bestiarium/ Here begins the book of the nature of beasts. De leonibus/ Lions.
chigau (違う) says
Biology was alot more fun when you could just make stuff up.
Joseph Zowghi says
Wow. I’ve heard about the medieval legend of pelicans piercing themselves to feed their chicks with their own blood. I don’t know much about medieval thoughts on other animals, but clearly they are just as colorful.
Now, I can’t speak to the etymology of the word “tiger”, but I do know a little about Hircania. It’s a forest region in northern Iran. The name comes from the Old Persian word Verkana, which means “Land of Wolves.” The modern Persian word for the place is Gorgan, which has the same meaning. But you’ll find more than wolves there. There are deer, wild pigs, cheetahs, and leopards. The tigers, sadly, were killed off by the mid 20th century.
Chigau, yes. Wait until the elephants! That’s tomorrow.
That’s very interesting, thank you!
And y’know, I wonder how many people died because they believed panthers were gentle and kind animals.
Raucous Indignation says
Not enuff, I’ll wager!
You’re no doubt right about that one.
My guess is that the number of people who read this book in the Middle Ages, and the number of people who ever saw any of that animals described had close to zero overlap. That would also include the person who wrote the book.
Christ, I’ll have to go back to using smileys again. There’s no need to take everything so literally. Or seriously. And, Just so you know, Bruce, given the sheer amount of Medievalism I post about, you can safely assume I’m not an ignorant dumbfuck about things medieval.
People didn’t have to see or read the books. These beliefs were widespread, they got around. Because people fuckin’ talk.
chigau (違う) says
Seriously, though, I have seen some of their spiritual descendants trying to take pictures of bears in National Parks.
Heh. People will be stupid around animals, to be sure.