[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Author Index][Search Archives]

Re: Medieval Bestiaries

Beep! (sound of one of Alianora's buttons being pushed - begin academic rant

Thanks to Eogan and Dafydd for getting the ball rolling on this one.  Dafydd is
correct, however, that Howery seems to have included much misinformation.  My
biggest beef is with the idea that the learned men (and women) of the Middle
Ages "were quite ignorant" and largely stuffed away in monasteries or

Point one:  education and literacy were much more widespread in the Middle Ages
than most people (ie, people who aren't professional medievalists) think.  The
vital reading on the subject is Brian Stock's book _The Implications of
Literacy_, published either in the early seventies or the early eighties, I
can't remember which.  It is still in print, however.  I would also recommend
Michael Clanchy's _From Memory to Written Record_ (2nd edition, 1993), which
covers England from 1066 to 1307, and Rosamund McKitterick's _The Carolingians
and the Written Word_ (1989).  Dr McKitterick has also recently edited a book
called _The Uses of Literacy_.  All very good stuff.

Furthermore the educated people of the medieval period were not all monks or
pointy-headed school teachers.  There are known women writers from as early as
the 12th century, working in both Latin and vernacular languages - eg Hildegard
von Bingen and Marie de France.  To use two obvious examples, consider Dante
and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Both of these men were extremely well-educated by the
standard of their day (the 14th century).  Both were polyglot.  Dante's
_Commedia_ is a compendium of medieval theological and scientific knowledge, in
addition to being a stunning poetic achievement.  Everyone remembers the
Canterbury Tales, but few recall Chaucer's treatise on the astrolabe, a work of 
science (and not a bad one) or his _Boece_, a translation of Boethius'
_Consolation of Philosophy_.  (BTW, if you haven't read Boethius, do.  His
ghost haunts all of medieval thought).  Of the four writers I mentioned, only
one (Hildegard) was cloistered, and none were professional scholars.

Just as an aside, the bestiary translated by T.H. White is published by Dover
under the title _The Book of Beasts_, ISBN 0-486-24609-4.  It's a translation
of a Latin bestiary preserved in the Cambridge University Library, MS II.4.26.

(academic rant mode off)

In service,