A bestiary, or Bestiarum vocabulum is a compendium of beasts. Bestiaries were made popular in the Middle Ages in illustrated volumes that described various animals, birds and even rocks. The natural history and illustration of each beast was usually accompanied by a moral lesson. This reflected the belief that the world itself was the Word of God, and that every living thing had its own special meaning. For example, the pelican, which was believed to tear open its breast to bring its young to life with its own blood, was a living representation of Jesus. The bestiary, then, is also a reference to the symbolic language of animals in Western Christian art and literature.

Bestiaries were particularly popular in England and France around the 12th century and were mainly compilations of earlier texts. The earliest bestiary in the form in which it was later popularized was an anonymous 2nd century Greek volume called the "Physiologus", which itself summarized ancient knowledge and wisdom about animals in the writings of classical authors such as Aristotle's "Historia Animalium" and various works by Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, Solinus, Aelian and other naturalists.

Following the "Physiologus", Saint Isidore of Seville (Book XII of the "Etymologiae") and Saint Ambrose expanded the religious message with reference to passages from the Bible and the Septuagint. They and other authors freely expanded or modified pre-existing models, constantly refining the moral content without interest or access to much more detail regarding the factual content. Nevertheless, the often fanciful accounts of these beasts were widely read and generally believed to be true. A few observations found in bestiaries, such as the migration of birds, were discounted by the natural philosophers of later centuries, only to be rediscovered in the modern scientific era.

Two illuminated Psalters, the "Queen Mary Psalter" (British Library Ms. Royal 2B, vii) and the "Isabelle Psalter" (State Library, Munich), contain full Bestiary cycles. That in the Queen Mary Psalter is in the "marginal" decorations that occupy about the bottom quarter of the page, and are unusually extensive and coherent in this work. In fact the bestiary has been expanded beyond the source in the Norman bestiary of Guillaume le Clerc to ninety animals. Some are placed in the text to make correspondences with the psalm they are illustrating. [ The Queen Mary psalter: a study of affect and audience By Anne Rudloff Stanton, p44ff, Diane Publishing]

The Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci also made his own bestiary.

The Aberdeen Bestiary is one of the best known of over 50 manuscript bestiaries surviving today.

Mediaeval bestiaries are remarkably similar in sequence of the animals of which they treat.

In modern times, artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Saul Steinberg have produced their own bestiaries. Jorge Luis Borges wrote a contemporary bestiary of sorts, the Book of Imaginary Beings, which collects imaginary beasts from bestiaries and fiction. Nicholas Christopher wrote a literary novel called "The Bestiary" (Dial, 2007) that describes a lonely young man's efforts to track down the world's most complete bestiary. Writers of Fantasy fiction draw heavily from the fanciful beasts described in mythology, fairy tales, and bestiaries. The "worlds" created in Fantasy fiction can be said to have their own bestiaries. Similarly, authors of fantasy role-playing games sometimes compile bestiaries as references, such as the "Monster Manual" for "Dungeons & Dragons". It is not uncommon for video games with a large variety of enemies (especially RPGs) to include a bestiary of sorts. This usually takes the form of a list of enemies and a short description (e.g. the "Metroid Prime" and "Castlevania" games, as well as" Dark Cloud" and "Final Fantasy").


* Beasts
** Lion
** Lioness
** Tiger
** Pard
** Panther
** Antelope
** Unicorn
** Lynx
** Gryphon
** Elephant
** Beaver
** Ibex
** Hyena
** Bonnacon
** Ape
** Satyr
** Deer
** Tragelaphus
** Goat
** Wild goat
** Monoceros
** Bear
** Leucrota
** Crocodile
** Manticore
** Parandrus
** Fox
** Hare
** Chameleon
** Yale
** Wolf
** Dog
* Domestic beasts
** Sheep
** Wether
** Lamb
** Kid
** He-goat
** Sow
** Boar
** Bullock
** Ox
** Buffalo
** Cow
** Calf
** Camel
** Dromedary
** Ass
** Onager
** Horse
** Mule
* Small creatures
** Badger
** Cat
** Mouse
** Weasel
** Mole
** Dormouse
** Hedgehog
** Ant
** Frog
* Birds
** Eagle
** Barnacle
** Osprey
** Water-ouzel
** Coot
** Vulture
** Crane
** Parrot
** Charadrius
** Stork
** Heron
** Swan
** Ibis
** Ostrich
** Coot
** Jackdaw
** Halcyon
** Phoenix
** Cinnomolgus
** Harz bird
** Hoopoe
** Pelican
** Night-owl
** Screech-owl
** Sirens
** Partridge
** Magpie
** Sparrowhawk
** Hawk
** Bat
** Nightingale
** Raven
** Crow
** Dove
** Turtle-dove
** Swallow
** Quail
** Goose
** Peacock
** Screech-owl
** Hoopoe
** Cock
** Hen
** Duck
** Sparrow
** Kite
** Bee
* Serpent
** Perindens
* Snakes and Reptiles
** Serpent
** Dragon
** Basilisk
** Viper
** Asp
** Scitalis
** Amphisbaena
** Hydrus
** Boas
** Jaculus
** Siren
** Seps
** Dipsa
** Lizard
** Salamander
** Saura
** Newt
** Snake
** Scorpion
** Horned Serpent
* Worm
* Fish
** Fish
** Aspidochelone
** Whale
** Serra
** Dolphin

ee also

*Allegory in the Middle Ages
*List of mediæval bestiaries


* " [ The Medieval Bestiary] ", by James Grout, part of the "Encyclopædia Romana".
* Payne, Ann. (1990) "Mediaeval Beasts."
* Hassig, Debra (1995) "Medieval Bestiaries: Text, Image, Ideology."
* Hassig, Debra, ed. (1999) "The Mark of the Beast: The Medieval Bestiary in Art, Life, and Literature".
* Benton, Janetta Rebold. (1992) "The Medieval Menagerie: Animals in the Art of the Middle Ages".
* George, Wilma and Brunsdon Yapp. (1991) "The Naming of the Beasts: Natural History in the Medieval Bestiary".
* Clark, Willene B. and Meradith T. McMunn. (1989) "The Bestiary and its Legacy."


External links

* " [ The Bestiary: The Book of Beasts] ," T.H. White's translation of a medieval bestiary in the Cambridge University library; digitized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison libraries.
* [ The Medieval Bestiary] online, edited by David Badke.
* [ The Bestiary]
* " [ The Bestiaire of Philippe de Thaon] " at the National Library of Denmark.
* " [ The Bestiary of Anne Walshe] " at the National Library of Denmark.
* " [ The Aberdeen Bestiary] " at the University of Aberdeen.
* [ Exhibition (in English, but French version is fuller) at the Bibliothèque nationale de France]
* [] Animals and their meanings.
* [ "Ashes and Snow"] , Modern day bestiary by Gregory Colbert.
* [ similarities in sequences of animals in mediaeval bestiaries]
* [ BESTIARY - Monsters & Fabulous Creatures of Greek Myth & Legend with pictures]

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  • Bestiary — Bes ti*a*ry, n. [LL. bestiarium, fr. L. bestiarius pert. to beasts, fr. bestia beast: cf. F. bestiaire.] A treatise on beasts; esp., one of the moralizing or allegorical beast tales written in the Middle Ages. [1913 Webster] A bestiary . . . in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • bestiary — (n.) medieval treatise on beasts usually with moralistic overtones, 1818, from M.L. bestiarium a menagerie, also a book about animals , from bestia (see BEAST (Cf. beast)). A Latin term for such works was liber de bestiis compositus. Roman… …   Etymology dictionary

  • bestiary — [bes′tē er΄ē] n. pl. bestiaries [ML bestiarium < L bestiarius, relating to beasts < bestia,BEAST] a type of medieval natural history book with descriptions and moralistic and religious interpretations of actual and mythical animals …   English World dictionary

  • bestiary —    Bestiaries were popular medieval collections of descriptions and anecdotes of both real and mythical animals, accompanied by moral commentary that gave a Christian interpretation to the animal’s stated qualities. The view behind the format of… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • bestiary — bestiarist /bes chee euhr ist, cheuhr , bees /, n. /bes chee er ee, bees /, n., pl. bestiaries. a collection of moralized fables, esp. as written in the Middle Ages, about actual or mythical animals. [1615 25; < ML bestiarium, neut. of L… …   Universalium

  • Bestiary — The illustrated bestiary, depicting real and imagined creatures, is a distinctive medieval construct. Bestiaries first appeared in England in the 12c and were derived ultimately from a Greek text, the Physiologus, from 4c Alexandria. They display …   Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases

  • bestiary — noun (plural aries) Etymology: Medieval Latin bestiarium, from Latin, neuter of bestiarius of beasts, from bestia Date: 1840 1. a medieval allegorical or moralizing work on the appearance and habits of real or imaginary animals 2 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Bestiary (album) — Infobox Album Name = Bestiary Type = studio Longtype = Artist = Robert Rich Released = 2001 Recorded = Genre = Ambient Length = 53:09 Label = Relapse Records Producer = Robert Rich Reviews = *Allmusic Rating|2|5… …   Wikipedia

  • bestiary — noun A medieval treatise of various real or imaginary animals. See Also: beast, bestial …   Wiktionary

  • BESTIARY —    a name given to a class of books treating of animals, viewed allegorically …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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