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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fabulous Ark, 25 Oct 2000
This review is from: Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764 (Paperback)
...in which unicorns and lions rub shoulders and haunches with cattle, hounds and mice. This book allows us to imagine beasts, fowl and fishes as our medieval forefathers did, in what to present-day eyes is a confused blend of 'facts', speculation and moralizing. The emphasis is all on knowledge gained from the library, rather than from the field... and how it can be applied in pursuit of a good & pious life. We feel the force of a pervasive belief that the Beasts were Created by God for the benefit of Man, but we also see an awe and a delight in the beauty and variety of that Creation, most vividly in the beautifully reproduced miniatures which illustrate the text. I love this book, and recommend it wholeheartedly.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A medieval, Gothic bestiary, 24 Aug 2008
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This review is from: Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764 (Paperback)
"Bestiary" is a translation of a medieval book about animals, originally written in Latin during the 13th century, somewhere in England. The main source for this bestiary was another bestiary, compiled during the 12th century, and also translated to English as "The Book of Beasts". Thus, the text of the two books are very similar. If you just want to buy one of them, I recommend "Bestiary". The reason? The illustrations are much better, and they are all in full color! Indeed, the illustrations are taken straight from the original manuscript, making "Bestiary" not just a translation of an ancient book, but also an example of medieval (Gothic) art.

We are used to a modern, scientific view of nature and animals. The Middle Ages saw things differently. Animals weren't seen as random products of blind, natural forces. They were created by God for the edification of the human race. Indeed, Adam named all animals in the Garden of Eden, each name reflecting their true character. Animals were not just brute beasts. They carried a moral message, directed to sinful humanity. They also carried a hidden, mystical meaning, which somehow paralleled the message of the Bible itself! All the world was seen as an enchanted, magical place, with each thing a symbol for deeper, moral or spiritual, realities.

This explains the rather strange style of "Bestiary". It's not just a collection of (often badly distorted) zoological facts. It's also a book of moral edification. The anonymous author often digresses from the "real" subject (the animals), and starts to preach Christian morality to his readers. That, too, was considered part of the subject. After a short description of the pig, the author attacks sinful gluttons and unclean heretics. The author also claims that coots take care of eagle chicks that have been rejected by their parents. The moral lesson? Animals are better than humans, who treat the children of strangers with out-most cruelty! The bestiary further claims that lions don't kill humans who prostrate before them, that they liberate captive humans, and that they never attack women. Once again, the lesson is clear: the lion has a Christian morality, while man too often hasn't. One of my favorite birds, the jackdaw, is apparently an apt symbol for chattering philosophers and heretics, not to mention gossipy and greedy men!

The mystical meaning of various animals is the most far-fetched aspect of the bestiary. All of nature somehow proved the Christian message of salvation. The virgin birth of Christ was "proven" by the claim that female vultures (!) gave birth without sexual intercourse. The resurrection was paralleled by the fiery death and re-birth of the Phoenix. The bestiary further claims that female lions give birth to stillborn cubs, but after three days, the male lion breaths life into them. This points to the resurrection of Jesus, and also to the Biblical passage "He couched as a lion, who shall raise him up?" (Genesis 49:9).

What particularly strikes a modern reader of "Bestiary" is the dismally low level of real zoological knowledge available during the 13th century. To a large extent, the bestiary was a collection of tall-tales. Indeed, many of them seem deliberately tailored to produce Christian parallels, such as the legend of lion cubs being "resurrected" on the third day. Of course, this fable-like quality makes "Bestiary" a very entertaining read. Thus, we learn that the beaver will bite off his own testicles if pursued by hunters, that a certain antelope in Africa can change its colors like a chameleon, that lions fear white roosters, or that barnacle geese grow from sea-weed! Some of the creatures in the bestiary are purely imaginery, such as unicorns, dragons, the manticore, and the eale (a deer with movable horns). Only the bat seems to be reasonably correctly described, without legendary or mystical accretions.

"Bestiary" is an entertaining read, an excellent work of art due to its full-color illustrations, and offers a fascinating look at the medieval world-view and mentality.

But if you want to know what's really shaking in the animal world, please buy a modern science book, LOL.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise Guide, 3 Feb 2013
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This review is from: Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764 (Paperback)
This is a cleanly presented version of a Bodleian manuscript with colour pictures of the animals and birds described, and what seems to be a straight translation of the text of the original document. It's enchanting in itself but is also an ideal reference book for anyone interested in romanesque and mediaeval carving and illustration. I have only had a copy for a matter of weeks, but I find myself going back to it and I enjoy the fact that apart from an introduction, which is good and factual, it does not go in for
unnecessary commentary.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reference capacity, 6 Aug 2012
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This review is from: Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764 (Paperback)
This book is fascinating, but not set out as easy access paragraphs, nor linked to pictures as would be a modern style text. It therefore is not a quick reference experience if you want to look something up about ancient beasts. Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 11 Feb 2014
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This review is from: Bestiary: Being an English Version of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Bodley 764 (Paperback)
Purchased as a Christmas present, the book was in good condition , (I have been told) that it is very useful and informative.
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