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Re: Midieval Bestiaries

Eogan writes at some length about the information in medieval bestiaries,
and summarizes an article in Dragon Mag about them by D. Howery.

I'm glad you spent the time to bring this interesting stuff to the
attention of Cheapside, Eogan.  I also understand that you are not
to blame about misinformation that Howery has in his article.  With
that in mind, however, some of your paraphrases of his points include
stuff I think is badly worded or incorrect.  So don't blame Eogan
for this misinformation--it is probably a faithful paraphrase of
the misinformation resident in Howery's article.

>...misconceptions people had about animals in the Middle
>Ages that led to the legends we have today.

The legends they had about animals led to the (are the) legends we
have today.  Characterizing their "lore" as "misconceptions" misses
the point--they weren't doing the same things with their bestiaries
as we would do today.  To them the most important thing about an
animal was how it reflected God's Plan, which meant that allegorical
stories about beasts were much more important than real information.

>To summarize his introduction:  Most of the "Learned Men" of the Middle Ages
>were quite ignorant.

No.  All of the "Learned Men" of the early middle ages were very well
versed in the only things they considered important--religion and its
philosophy.  St. Thomas Aquinas, for example (though early) is still
taught in modern philosophy classes in universities.  The focus of
knowledge and learning in the early middle ages was totally different
and almost alien to us, but they were not ignorant in the things that
were important to them.  They were ignorant, perhaps, in the things
that are important to us.

>  Most of the information we know on how people in the
>Middle Ages viewed the world was copied by monks, giving the work a religious
>slant, but allowing the work to be preserved in monestaries (thankfully).

True, but the work had a religious slant because the WHOLE WORLD had a
religious slant.  EVERYTHING.  And all of Europe was the same religion,
essentially.  So saying that the monks gave bestiaries a religious slant
is untrue--everything had a religious slant, and the monks were the
normal product of an intensely religious society, rather than observers
writing a slanted record.

>All of the information above was considered fact by the "learned men" of
>Europe during the Middle Ages.

Or not.  The monks copied these things out, but there is no reason to
assume that everyone accepted a bestiary as being literally true.  A
male goat is listed as having blood so hot it would melt stone.  Every
single person in the middle ages must have seen a male goat at least
a thousand times.  And they were not idiots.  They copied it down
because they thought it was "true", but their meaning of "truth" does
not imply that anyone ever believed that you could actually melt stone
by killing a male goat on it.

The medieval bestiaries are fantastically interesting documents,
and several of them are commercially available in some form or other.
I'd like to thank Eogan for bringing the subject up.