BY: NATANIA SHERMAN
|What this book needs is more gold, you'll see what I mean (Source)|
Many people say that new technology signals the death of the book, but the reality is that the power of the interwebs is that rare books that had previously been inaccessible are now online and available for the public. This is the case with today’s object, the Aberdeen Bestiary, which has recently been digitized and put online thanks to a project associated with The University of Aberdeen in Scotland.
|This tree illustration reinforces the feudal social order (Source)|
We don’t know who commissioned the the Aberdeen Bestiary other than it was created in England around 1200. Given the sheer quantity of gold they were probably wealthy member of the clergy or aristocracy. Manuscripts were illuminated because under the feudal system of the 11th and 12th century. While at first glance the bestiary appears to be an encyclopedia of animals, but in fact the role of the bestiary was to use animal symbolism to communicate the principles of Christian belief. Each page of the Aberdeen Bestiary has an illustration of an animal, plant or story and a description of the animal. However, this is not a scientific text. The stories and symbolism associated with each animal is obscure today, but would have been quite obvious to a citizen of the 11th century. The stories accompanying each animal were inspired by popular concepts from Pliny the Elder, Aesop’s fables, the Bible, and Aristotle. The didactic message of the bestiary was also inherent in the illustrations.
|The fox is a metaphor, don't go for it birds! (Source)|
For example the description of the fox playing dead to tempt birds to fly into his mouth is symbolic of the devil persuading Christians to turn to sin. Similarly, images of mythical animals such as the phoenix, recall the story of Christ’s resurrection.
|The phoenix is also a metaphor (Source)|
Bestiaries contain huge amounts of information about medieval morality and belief. I haven't even begun to discuss the physical properties or the skill with which it was illustrated and transcribed. Given the sheer volume of textual references within the Aberdeen Bestiary, it becomes very clear that the so called dark ages, at least where this volume is concerned, were quite enlightened. That being said, I still find myself transfixed by the whimsical, enigmatic and sometimes funny images of animals.
So, I’ll leave you with a short article about medieval manuscripts entitled Two Monks Invent Bestiaries from the Toast.