medieval bestiary

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#ThyCaptionBe: Moving Island

You captioned this detail. And we’re revealing the full story now.

Medieval Jaws or scary genetically modified fish,actually it’s a monster that looks like an island.

Here’s the full story:

That moment of realization that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

In this medieval bestiary, a kind of encyclopedia of animals where Christian symbolism is found in individual creatures, the aspidochelone (a scheming whale-like creature) lures unwary sailors into thinking that its broad back is a safe island haven. Once it feels the sailors build a fire, it dives deep into the ocean, taking the hapless men with it. This sea monster was understood as an allegory of the devil, who plunges unsuspecting sinners into hell.

#ThyCaptionBe is a celebration of modern interpretations of medieval aesthetics. You guess what the heck is going on, then we myth-bust.

BESTIARY XVIII: THE BEE

BEES ARE THE SMALLEST BIRDS IN THE WORLD. THEY LIVE IN COLONIES, AND ARE THE ONLY BIRDS IN THE WHOLE FUCKING WORLD TO APPOINT THEIR KINGS BY DEMOCRATIC VOTING. IF ANY BEE BREAKS THE LAW, THE LITTLE SHIT STINGS ITSELF TO DEATH IN A FUCKED-UP FORM OF JUSTICE. BEE SOCIETY IS FUCKING WEIRD.

THEIR MAIN JOB IS COLLECTING THE HONEY THAT FALLS OUT OF THE FUCKING SKY AND WASHING IT ALL BY HAND TO MAKE IT SHINY AND NICE AGAIN.

BEES ARE BORN FROM THE FLESH OF DEAD COWS. A BUNCH OF WEIRD-ASS WORMY BABIES MAGICALLY APPEAR IN ROTTING MEAT, AND GROW UP TO BECOME TINY TINY FUCKING BIRDS. 

IF A BEE DIES IT CAN BE BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE BY CAREFULLY RUBBING MUD ALL OVER IT AND THEN POURING A FUCKLOAD OF BLOOD ONTO ITS SHITTY LITTLE CORPSE. BEES ARE FUCKING WEIRD. ALSO THEY’RE MOTHERFUCKING BIRDS. TINY TINY BIRDS.

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Bailey Henderson Sculpts Fantastic Beasts Based Off Illustrations In Medieval Maps
External image

Artist Bailey Henderson creates intricate sculptures depicting fantastic beasts that have been portrayed in medieval maps. Each creature is stylized and made to detail the original image accurately. The texture found in her sculptures mirror the lines in an illustration, …

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BESTIARY VII: THE MANTICORE

THE MANTICORE IS A BRIGHT RED GIANT LION WITH THE TAIL OF A FUCKING SCORPION AND THE HEAD OF A MAN. IT HAS THREE MOTHERFUCKING ROWS OF TEETH, AND A COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE GRIN. IT’S LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN A CRAZY POISONOUS SCORPION LION MONSTER AND THE JOKER. IT’S THE STUFF OF MOTHERFUCKING NIGHTMARES, AND ALSO IT EATS PEOPLE. AND LAUGHS WHILE IT EATS PEOPLE. IT’S FUCKING HORRIFIC.

ALSO IT CAN JUMP REALLY FUCKING FAR. IT CAN JUMP OVER RIVERS AND ALSO WALLS, SO THERE’S NOWHERE YOU CAN EVER BE SAFE FROM THE FUCKING NIGHTMARE LION SCORPION DEMON MAN THING. BE VERY FUCKING AFRAID.

Wolf

“If a wolf sees a man before the man sees the wolf, the man will lose his voice.”

Like the wolf, the devil always sees mankind as prey and circles the sheepfold of the faithful, that is the Church. As the wolf gives birth when thunder first sounds, so the devil fell from heaven at the first display of his pride. The shining of the wolf’s eyes in the night is like the works of the devil, which seem beautiful to foolish men. As the wolf cannot turn his neck, so the devil never turns towards the correction of penitence. Like the man who, because of the wolf has lost his voice, can save himself by removing his clothes and banging two rocks together, so can the man who is lost in sin be saved by stripping off, through baptism, his worldly self and then appealing to the saints, who are called “stones of adamant”.

Prostitues are called she-wolves (lupae) because they lay waste their lover’s riches.


                     -the Medieval Bestiary

Lions

In Christian allegory, the three main natures of the lion each have a meaning. The lion erasing its tracks with its tail represents the way Jesus concealed his divinity, only revealing himself to his followers. The lion sleeping with its eyes open represents Jesus, physically dead after crucifiction, but still spiritually alive in his divine nature. The lion roaring over his dead cubs to bring them to life represents how God the father woke Jesus after three days in his tomb.

The other natures of the lion are taken as examples of how people are to live. Just as the lion will not attack a prostrate man, will allow captive men to depart, and is not easily angered, people should be slow to anger and quick to forgive.

-the Medieval Bestiary

The Orphan Bird is a little-known creature from a medieval bestiary by Pierre de Beauvais. It’s so little-known, in fact, that his work is one of the only known mentions of the creature. Not much is known about the author, either—only that he composed two bestiaries prior to 1218 that detail a number of mythological creatures that weren’t even originally from Europe. The Orphan Bird is from India and described as having the body of a crane, the neck and chest of a peacock, the feet of an eagle, and feathers that are black, red, and white. The mother Orphan Bird lays her eggs in water, and there are two different kinds—good and bad. The good eggs float, and when they hatch, the mother and father raise them, welcoming them into the world and rejoicing in their appearance. The bad eggs sink to the bottom of the water and hatch there. These bad birds are condemned to live in darkness beneath the water. It’s thought that the Orphan Bird is an allegory for the good souls who will rise to heaven and the bad ones who are condemned to a life of darkness in hell.

Photo credit to JH French

Ashmole bestiary, MS Bodley Ashmole 1511 046v

A pelican and her young.

From the Medieval Bestiary website (bestiary.ca):
“As young pelicans grow, they begin to strike their parents in the face with their beaks. Though the pelican has great love for its young, it strikes back and kills them. After three days, the mother pierces her side or her breast and lets her blood fall on the dead birds, and thus revives them. Some say it is the male pelican that kills the young and revives them with his blood.”

History fact of the night!

(This is from the Aberdeen Bestiary, which is available online. Gorgeous.)

One of my favourite creatures in medieval bestiarity (that is a word now) is the hyena. These are some of the things the Aberdeen Bestiary tells us about the fearsome hyena.

It’s both male and female, and therefore apparently kinda icky. This is kinda true, in that female spotted hyenas have an external pseudo-penis. (The icky part is definitely not true.) Oh, hyenas. You are my favourite.

Hyenas also live in tombs and eat corpses. They also like a bite of less recently dead human, and mimic human voices to lure in a snack. I assume they then go back to the tomb for the better marinated meat. If there is no tomb around, they dig up graves.

There is more, like a fused spine and a bit about future-telling stones. Rock on, hyenas.

General Attributes

“Badgers work together to dig their holes in the mountains. One will lie down at the entrance to the hole, holding a stick in its mouth, while the others pile earth on its belly. Two badgers take hold of the stick with their mouths and drag the loaded badger away.”

Medieval Bestiary

Owl

The owl haunts ruins and flies only at night; preferring to live in darkness it hides from the light. It is a dirty, slothful bird that pollutes its own nest with its dung. It is often found near tombs and lives in caves. Some say it flies backwards. When other birds see it hiding during the day, they noisily attack it to betray its hiding place. Owls cry out when they sense that someone is about to die.

There are several kinds of owls described in the bestiaries: noctua, the night-owl, that lives in the walls of ruined houses and shuns the light; nicticorax, the night-raven; and the bubo, the common owl, a dirty bird that pollutes its nest.

                                                             -from the medieval bestiary