Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750-1150

Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750-1150

Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750-1150

Talking Animals: Medieval Latin Beast Poetry, 750-1150

Excerpt

The medieval Latin beast poems were not merely the rudiments of what later became the Roman de Renart . Although little has been written about their sources (Ross 2; Jauss 84; Schaller 1970a, 91), the beast poems can be shown to have profited from a heritage of literature about animals. Indeed, they drew from such a large reservoir of inspiration for their stories and descriptions of animals that the difficulty in studying sources and analogues lies not in detecting them, but in grouping them in manageable and meaningful categories. In this chapter I seek out genres of ancient and early medieval literature in which animals play a major part and which could have inspired medieval Latin poets. For simplicity's sake I divide the forms of literature into three classes: beast fables and tales; the Physiologus and bestiary; and such genres of classical and early medieval Latin literature as voces animantium, animal epitaphs and wills, and beast riddles. Although this listing cannot be exhaustive, it is meant to determine the most important of the literary models that medieval Latin beast poets were likely to have recalled as they composed poems about animals.

Fables and Tales

The idea of telling fables seems universal, almost innate in the human imagination. As William Thackeray stated evocatively ( The Newcomes , chap. 1, as cited by Jacobs 229): "the tales were told ages before Aesop; and the asses under lion's manes roared in Hebrew; and the sly foxes flattered in Etruscan; and the wolves in sheep's clothing gnashed their teeth in Sanskrit, no doubt." But is the fable form so widespread as Thackeray would have it? If we assume with him that the genre encompasses any and every tale about animals with human traits, then the answer would have to be affirmative. But is such a loose definition acceptable or useful? Surely we can catch tighter hold of the elusive terms Aesopic and fable.

At first blush the task of defining Aesopic fable seems ludicrously simple. After all, almost every child has seen or heard versions of Aesop's . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.