Of the quail Quails are so called from their call; the Greeks call them ortigie because they were first seen on the island of Ortigia. Quails have fixed times of migration. For when summer gives way to winter, they cross the sea. The leader of the flock is called ortigometra, ‘the quail-mother’. The hawk, seeing the quail-mother approaching land, seizes it; because of this, the quails all take care to attract a leader from another species, through whom they guard against this early danger. Their favorite food is the seed of poisonous plants. For this reason, the ancients forbade them to be eaten; for alone among living things, the quail suffers, like man, from the falling sickness.
Quails have fixed times of migration. For when summer gives way to winter, they cross the sea. The heat of summer is the warmth of love. The cold of winter is the temptation of the lethargic mind. From love of his neighbour, therefore, the righteous man crosses the sea of this world to love of God, that he mat stay forever in a warm land, burning continually with the heat of love within, in order to avoid the cold of winter, namely, the storms and winds of unexpected temptation. The leader of the flock is called the quail-mother. The hawk, seeing it approaching land, seizes it. The land represents earthly longings; the sea, the dangers of the world. The hawk, lying in wait, is the Devil, who tempts us by suggestion. Seeing the quail-mother approaching land, therefore, the hawk seizes it, as the Devil drags off with him those who seek earthly things.
Let the churchman, therefore, who heads his flock, take careful heed of his purpose in seeking earthly things, whether he acquires them for his own use or seeks them to meet the need of his brothers, lest the hawk, that is, the Devil, should seize him, if he has neglected the things of the spirit and has not ceased to long for the things of this earth. Because of this, the quails all take care to attract a leader of another species, through whom they guard against this early danger. There are two kinds of men, the good and the bad. The ‘other species’ is that of wicked men. The righteous, therefore, place the wicked before them, and watch closely what happens to them. By watching carefully, they see the early danger of sin, and avoid it. This bird, like man, suffers from the falling sickness, in the same way that the spiritually-minded man, just like the carnally-minded man, is said to sin at times. No matter how often he sins, he does not die, because the grace of penitence is not denied him. On this subject it is written: ‘The righteous man falls seven times in a day’ yet he does not cease to be righteous (see Proverbs, 24:16). For as often as the righteous man sins, so often does he go on to rise again.