The Account of the Birds, Dove.

All of the text will be below the fold, because it carries on like you would not believe, most of it about doves.

The dove and hawk sit on a perch under a twin-domed edicule. They represent the clergy and the military, converted and sharing a monastic life together.



Three Doves, white, multi-coloured, and black. Franco-Flemish Bestiary, 1270.

Three Doves, white, multi-coloured, and black. Franco-Flemish Bestiary, 1270.

Text Translation:

Here begins the account of the birds Birds have a single name, avis, but a variety of species. For just as they differ in appearance, so they differ in nature. Some are guileless, like doves; others are cunning, like the partridge; some come obediently to man’s hand, like hawks; others shun it, like the wild birds called garamantes. Some take pleasure in man’s company, like the swallow; others love the solitary life of the wilderness, like turtle-doves. Some feed only on the grain they find, like the goose; others eat flesh and think only of their prey, like the kite. Some live communally, that is, they fly together in flocks, like starlings and quail; others roam the skies alone, that is, they keep to themselves because they take their prey by surprise, like the eagle or the hawk and others of that sort. Some have twittering voices, like the swallow; others sing the sweetest of songs, like the swan and the blackbird. Some imitate the words and voices of men, like the parrot and magpie.

There are countless others, however, differing alike in kind and habits. For it is impossible to find out how many kinds of birds there are. And anyone who could penetrate the desert places of Scythia and India or Ethiopia still could not get to know all the species of birds there or the differences between them. Birds are called aves because they do not go in a straight line but fly at random, off-course, per avia. They are called alites, winged creatures, because it is on their wings, ale, that they reach for the skies and it is by beating them that they ascend to the heights. They are called volucres, flying creatures, from volandum, flying, For what we call ‘walking’ and ‘flying’ stem from the same mechanism. For what we call vola, the hollow, or middle part of the foot or the hand, is in birds the middle part of the wings – at the junction with the shoulders – by whose motion the flight feathers are activated; hence their name, volucres. The young of all birds are called pulli. But the young of quadrupeds are also called pulli. So, too, is a human child. The newly-born, then, are called pulli, because they are polluti, unclean; for the same reason, dark clothes are also called pulla.

Birds have wings, ale, in which feathers, fixed in a particular order, demonstrate the act of flight. Wings are called ale because birds nourish, alere, and cherish their young, folding their wings around them. The flight feather, penna, is so called from pendeo, to hover, that is, fly, from which comes also ‘suspend’. For birds move by means of their flight feathers when they entrust themselves to the air. The down feather, pluma, is so to speak, piluma, derived from pilus, hair. For just as there are hairs on the body of a quadruped, so there is down on birds. It is known that many bird-names are formed from the sound of their call, like grus, the crane; corvus, the raven; cignus, the swan; bubo, the owl; milvus, the kite; ulula, the screech-owl; cuculus, the cuckoo; [garrulus] graculus, the jackdaw, and others. For the particular call they give has taught man what name they should be given.

Of the silver-sheathed wings of the dove It is my intention to paint a picture of the dove, whose wings are sheathed in silver and whose tail has the pale colour of gold (see Psalms, 68:13). In painting this picture I intend to improve the minds of ordinary people, in such a way that their soul will at least perceive physically things which it has difficulty in grasping mentally; that what they have difficulty comprehending with their ears, they will perceive with their eyes. I want not only to depict the dove by creating its likeness, but also to describe it in words, to reveal the picture through the text, so that the reader who is unimpressed with the simplicity of the picture may at least take pleasure in the moral content of the text. To you, therefore, who have received the wings of a dove; to you who have fled far away, to stay and be at rest in solitude (see Psalms, 55:6); to you who do not seek deferment, croaking like the raven ‘Cras, cras, Tomorrow tomorrow!’ but express penitence in the mournful cry of the dove (see Isaiah, 38:14); to you, I say, I shall at this time depict not just the dove but also the hawk.

See, on the same perch sit a hawk and a dove. For both of us – I from the clergy, you from the military – have been converted, so that we should share the monastic life together, as if we sat on the same perch, and that you,who were in the habit of stealing domestic birds, should now attract wild birds to conversion, luring them with the hand of virtuous conduct; by ‘wild birds’, I mean worldly people. Therefore let the dove mourn, let it mourn (see Isaiah, 59:11) and let the hawk utter cries of grief. For the call of the dove is one of sorrow; the cry of the hawk, a complaint. For that reason, at the beginning of this work, I placed the dove first, because the grace of the holy spirit is always made ready for anyone who repents, and no-one will attain forgiveness except through this grace. The account of the hawk comes after that of the dove; it signifies members of the nobility. For when anyone of the nobility is converted, he furnishes an example of virtuous conduct to the poor. Of the dove and the hawk As I have to write for people who have no education, the attentive reader should not be surprised if, for their improvement, I speak in a simple way of complex subjects. He should not ascribe to triviality the fact that I depict the hawk or the dove, since the blessed Job and the prophet David left us examples of birds of that kind to illustrate their teaching. For what the written word means to teachers, a picture means to the uneducated; just as the wise take pleasure in the complexity of a text, so the mind of ordinary people is captivated by the simplicity of a picture.

Personally, I try harder to please the uneducated than to speak to the learned – as if I were pouring liquid into a vessel. For to furnish the wise man with words is like pouring liquid into a vessel that is already full. Here begins the account of the three doves ‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14; NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13). In reading the Holy Scripture, brothers, I have found references to three doves which, if they are carefully studied, can bring the minds of the uneducated to perfection. They are the doves of Noah, David and Jesus Christ. Noah represents peace; David, the mighty hand; Jesus, salvation. Now the sinner is told: ‘Hast thou sinned? do so no more’ (Ecclesiasticus, 21:1). If, therefore, you wish to be Noah, desist from sin; in order to be David, you must do brave deeds; if you long to be saved, ask for salvation from your Saviour. ‘Depart from evil and do good; seek peace’ (Psalms, 34:14). Turn towards the ark of Noah. Fight with David the battles of the Lord. Seek peace with Jesus in Jerusalem. Turn towards peace of mind. Resist temptation. Await patiently the favour of salvation. Of Noah’s dove, it is said: ‘The dove came in to him in the evening; and in her mouth was an olive branch’ (see Genesis, 8:11). The dove returns to Noah’s ark as the soul is recalled from external things to the inner peace of the mind. The dove returns at evening as the light of wordly pleasure starts to fade, and the soul flees from the pomp of empty glory, fearing to encounter the darkness of the night – that is, the depths of eternal damnation. The dove carries an olive branch signifying the soul seeking mercy. It carries the olive branch in its mouth, signifying the soul begging with prayers for its sins to be forgiven. Of the dove of David it is said: ‘and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold.’ Its tail feathers are of gold because anyone who conducts himself virtuously in time to come is promised forgiveness. Likewise we read of our Saviour, that when the dove descended upon him, a voice was heard, saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew, 3:17). The dove is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which was seen to decend upon Jesus in Jordan, because grace is made ready for anyone who is humble and cleansed of sin. To the penitent, mercy is granted; to those who are virtuous in conduct, a pardon is promised; to the loving, grace is given.

The mystic aspects of the dove ‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14; NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13). The silver-covered dove is the Church, instructed by the teaching of the holy word. It is said that the Church has a rostrum, pulpit, for preaching, divided for the purposes of receiving the ideas of the Old and New Testament, by analogy with the beak, rostrum, of the dove, which is divided to gather grains of barley and corn. The dove has a right and a left eye, signifying moral and mystic perception. With the left eye the dove regards itself, but with the right, it contemplates God. It has two wings, signifying the active and the contemplative life. At rest, it is covered by them; in flight, it is raised by them to heavenly things. We are in flight, when we are in a state of ecstasy. We are at rest when we are among our brothers in a sober state of mind. Feathers are set in these wings. They are teachers, fixed in the wings of righteous behaviour and the contemplation of God. The word cleros in Greek we translate into Latin as sortes, shares assigned by lot. There are two such shares, the two Testaments. Between them rest those who agree with and trust in the authors of the Old and New Testaments. ‘Its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’. The back of the dove is said to be the part of the body to which the base of each wing is joined naturally. The heart, too, is seated there; lying just beneath the golden plumage of the dove’s back, it will be covered in time to come with the gold of eternal bliss. As gold is more precious than silver, the bliss of the world to come is more precious than the joy of the moment. Therefore the tail feathers of the dove’s back will be in the pale colour of gold, because the righteous will shine with surpassing brilliance in eternal bliss. Also of the dove ‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14; NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13). The dove, with its silver-covered feathers, signifies every faithful and pure soul, renowned for the high esteem accorded to its virtues. The dove gathers as many grains of seed for food as the soul does examples of righteous men as models of virtuous conduct. The dove has two eyes, right and left, signifying, that is, memory and intelligence. With one it foresees things to come; with the other it weeps over what has been. Our ancestors in Egypt closed their eyes since they did not understand the works of God, nor remembered the multitude of his mercies. The dove has two wings, signifying love of one’s neighbour and love of God. One is spread out in compassion to its neighbour, the other is raised in contemplation to God. From these wings spring feathers, that is, spiritual virtues. These feathers gleam with the brilliance of silver, since word of their renown has the sweet ring of silver to those who hear it.

The Greek word cleros is what we call in Latin sortes, shares allocated by lot. In life, there are four such ‘shares’: fear and hope, love and desire. They are ‘shares’, because they allot to us a place in our Father’s heritage. Fear and desire are extremes, hope and love intervene. Fear throws the soul into confusion, desire tortures the mind, and unless something intervenes between them, the soul has no peace. We must, therefore, place hope and love between desire and fear. For hope transforms fear, love moderates desire. Anyone who is between hope and love, therefore, between the two inner shares, sleeps soundly; anyone who is between the two outer ones, namely, fear and desire, lies awake and loses his wits. If, therefore, you are a dove, or the feather of a dove, when you fear and desire, you lie sleepless between the outer shares; when you hope and love, you sleep soundly between the inner. ‘And its tail feathers are in the pale colour of gold.’ Burdens are usually carried on the back, which can be said to signify toil; but by the tail feathers, which lie behind the back, is meant the expectation of reward. We believe that after enduring the labours of the present, the righteous will be rewarded for their merit in the future. For God will reward his saints for their labours and lead them on a wondrous road; this, we believe, is represented by ‘the pale colour of gold’, because ‘precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints’ (Psalms, 116:15). On the flight feathers, therefore, there is silver, as there is eloquence on tongues; but on the tail feathers there is gold – the reward that follows toil. Also of the dove ‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…a dove, its wings sheathed in silver and its tail feathers in the pale colour of gold’ (see BSV, Psalmi, 67:14; NEB, Psalms, 68:11-13). The silver-coloured dove means any prelate, or dignitary of the Church hierarchy still living, without the bile of malice. ‘If you sleep among the sheepfolds…’ What the Greeks call cleros, we call sortes, shares allocated by lot; therefore, the proper meaning of clerimonia is an inheritance bequeathed by will. As a result, the sons of Levi, among the children of Israel, were to have no allotted portion, that is, no part of an inheritance, but were to support themselves from tithes. There are two inheritances. The earthly inheritance of the Old Testament and the eternal inheritance of the New. You ‘sleep’ between them, therefore, when you come to the end of your life with contempt for earthly things and hope for the things of heaven; when you do not gaze longingly at things of the present but wait patiently for those that are to come. ‘And its tail feathers are in the pale colour of gold.’ For the eyes of the righteous will see the king in his glory.

You will have gold on your tail feathers, when the glory of the divine majesty appears in time to come. Kingly crowns are fashioned from the purest gold; and coins are minted from true silver, on which the royal portrait is stamped. On an ordinary coin of silver or bronze there is stamped a representation of the king’s appearance; on a gold crown, the symbol of his victory. The coinage of God’s word teaches us to imitate the life of Christ, but the crown of his victory teaches us that after our struggles in this world, there is an end of conflict. There is the gold, then, as if on the tail feathers of a dove. The silver, here on the flight feathers, is the silver of preaching; because when the dove comes to receive those gifts, it will no longer need the eloquence of the pulpit, but in recompense will live in the purity of perfection without end. Of the feet of the dove The dove, the subject of this account, is said to have red feet. This dove signifies the Church, which had feet on which it covered the extent of the whole world. The feet of the Church are its martyrs, who traverse the earth with as many steps as there are examples of righteous conduct whereby they demonstrate to their followers the way of righteousness. They touch the ground when they reprimand with fitting reproaches earthly deeds and desires. But when they tread on the earth, their feet are injured by its harshness. Thus the feet of the Church are turned red, because the martyrs shed their blood in the name of Christ. The red of the dove’s feet, therefore, is the blood of martyrs.

Of its feathers, sheathed in silver. The dove, which is said to have red feet, is shown in the words of the prophet to have had silver-covered feathers. ‘The wings of the dove,’ says David, ‘sheathed in silver.’ The flight feathers of the dove, covered with silver, are the preachers of the Church. Silver signifies the word of God. The ringing sound of silver signifies the sweetness of the word. Its colour is shining white. Truly, silver contains the shining whiteness of purity, as when a teacher preaches purity in his words and is pure within, loving the doctrine he teaches and revealing what he loves inwardly through his outward deeds. The holy words of the Lord are like silver, tested by fire. The words of the Lord are holy because they have not been corrupted by falsehood. Silver tested by fire remains strong against onslaught. The brilliance of silver on the feathers, therefore, is what is found on the tongues of those who preach – the soft allure of the word of God. Of the colour of the dove’s wings I have found no written reference to the colour of the dove’s wings, but it can be attributed by analogy with the real dove; so that if you were to see a painting of a dove, you would not deny that it should have the colour of the real dove. The surface of the wings is suffused with the colour of sapphire, because the soul of a contemplative man takes on the appearance of heaven. But the sapphire colour of the wings is marked by traces of shining white, as the white of snow is tinged with sapphire. The mixture of snow-white and sapphire in the wings signifies purity of the flesh and the love of contemplation. Of the tail feathers of the dove The prophet refers to the tail feathers of the silver-covered dove and thereafter shows, in moral terms, that they refer to the end of a man’s life on earth. He shows that the colour gold represents purity of mind; the pale colour of gold signifies mortification of the flesh. For paleness is the the natural colour of the suffering soul and of the mortified flesh. Therefore the tail feathers of the silver-coloured dove will have the paleness of gold as purity of mind and mortification of the flesh prevail when a dying man makes his end. But for this reason also the golden colour of the dove’s tail feathers is mixed with sapphire, because the glory of the bliss to come will closely follow the soul of the contemplative man. Therefore the golden colour of the tail feathers signifies the gift of his eternal reward.

Of the eyes of the dove ‘Thou hast doves’ eyes’ (Song of Solomon, 1:15). The dove spends much of its time sitting on water, so that if it sees the shadow of a hawk that is flying overhead, it can avoid it by fleeing. The Church protects itself with the scriptures, in order to escape the deceits of the Devil who plots against it. The dove, therefore, has saffron-coloured eyes. The colour of saffron in the eyes, therefore, signifies the discernment that comes with mature reflection. For when anyone considers deliberately what he should do or think, it is as if he adorns the eyes of the spirit with saffron. Saffron has the colour of ripe fruit. Therefore a saffron-coloured eye signifies the perceptivity that comes with maturity. Of the colour of the rest of the dove’s body The rest of the dove’s body matches the colour of a wild sea. The sea, raging with the motion of the waves, boils; the flesh, boiling with the motion of the senses, rages. The sea, in its wildness, shifts and uplifts the sands; the flesh, with its carnal pleasures, beats upon the frail soul. The sea, flowing beyond its bounds, rushes to meet quiet waters; the flesh, lusting, pounds against quiet streams of tears. The sea, with stormy winds from different directions, hampers the passage of vessels; the tempests of the flesh send to the bottom the principles of righteous living. When the sea is whipped up by storms of such force, earth is mixed with the water under the impact of the waves; and thus from the violent intermingling of sea and land, the sea acquires a mixed hue. Likewise, when the spirit will not condone the impulses of the flesh, this creates a certain colour in the body, like black mixed with white; formed from opposites, this colour is called neutral. The sea-like colour of the dove’s breast, therefore, signifies the distressed state of the human mind. Of the different characteristics of the dove I have found various references to its different characteristics, which I have included in this work, and on which I have made it my business to Commentary. The first characteristic of the dove is that instead of song it brings forth a lament. The second, is that it lacks bile; the third, it likes to kiss; the fourth, it flies in flocks; the fifth, it does not live by theft; the sixth, it gathers better-quality grain; the seventh, it does not feed on corpses; the eighth, it nests in holes in rocks; the ninth, it rests on flowing water so that if it catches sight of the shadow of a hawk, it can more swiftly avoid its approach; the tenth, it rears twin chicks.

The dove produces a lament instead of a song, because anything it does with pleasure, it then bewails aloud. It lacks bile, that is, the bitterness born of anger. It likes to kiss because it delights in widespread peace. It flies in flocks because it likes communal life. It does not live by theft, because it takes nothing from its neighbour. It gathers better-quality grain, that is, better precepts. It does not feed on corpses, that is, on carnal desires. It nests in holes in rocks because it places its hope in Christ’s passion. It rests on flowing waters, so that by sighting the hawk’s shadow it can avoid more swiftly the hawk’s approach, as one studies the scriptures to avoid the plotting of the Devil, who comes without warning. It rears twin chicks, that is the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour. Let anyone who has these qualities assume the wings of contemplation and with them fly to heaven.

Folio 25r – ants continued. Hic incipit de avibus; the account of the birds.

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