Monthly Archives: May 2015

Daddy-long-legs are harmless, right?

Phoenix

In the seventeenth century people still believed in phoenixes, based partially on indisputable pictorial evidence like this.
Picture from the Aberdeen Bestiary is a photographic representation of a 2d public domain image.

Source: Pseudodoxia Epidemica (the ‘Plague of Pseudoscience’), by Thomas Browne.

Date: 1646 A.D.

Highlights: It turns out that in the seventeenth century, belief in phoenixes, griffins and unicorns was still a thing.

To stop you feeling too proud of ‘how far we’ve come’ I should point out that we still have one or two irrational beliefs today.  Continue reading

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Guest Blog Post – Vote for Bobbe!

Species: Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris); oak (Quercus robur); crow (Corvus corone) ; tawny owl (Strix aluco); wild cat (Felis sylvestris).

Source: ‘Coed Marchan’ by Robin Clidro.

Date: Around 1580 A.D.

Highlights: After Marchan Wood was cut down, a delegation of red squirrels went to Parliament in London to request no more deforestation. They begged this on behalf of the wild animals mentioned above, but also mentioned the poor domestic stock and humans that were suffering. Sadly they weren’t listened to.

This week's blog post is on the RSPB web site, see it here. Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

This week’s blog post is on the RSPB web site. Click here to see it.
Image from British Library Additional Manuscript 18852, a red squirrel from c.1500 AD. Image in the public domain.

Continue reading

Pine trees and DEATH

Strand of Scots Pine

Strand of Scots Pine photographed by Gwen and James Anderson and licensed under CC-AT-SA. This photo is missing DEATH.

Species: ‘pin’, usually thought to be (Pinus sylvestris) but could be yew (Taxus Baccata) or generic term for conifers.

Source: The ‘Song of Roland’, a piece of Crusades propaganda.

Date: Most probably c.1098-1100 A.D.

Highlights: If you believe the ‘Song of Roland’, every soldier rushes to the nearest pine tree whenever they are either (i) meeting a rich person or (ii) about to die. Pretty cool, eh?

The only trouble is, pine trees are supposed to have been extinct in England and northern France when the text was written…

Continue reading

The Hierarchy of Birds

Species: The 35 most popular types of bird.

Source: ‘The Parliament of Fowls’ by Geoffrey Chaucer.

Date: c.1380-82.

Highlights: Considering Chaucer had no idea what he was talking about, his categorisation of birds into four categories was perhaps the best we could hope for.

Parliament of Birds

Public domain woodcut from another text (‘The Woody Choristers’).

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Medieval snakes are not always so bad…

Three boys with spotty green snakes coiled around their necks

Part of the Vaughan coat-of-arms at Tretower Court, Brecon Beacons, south-east Wales.

Species: Generic snakey-snake, called an adder (Vipera berus) but has prey constricting habit like smooth snake (Coronella austriaca).

Source: The Vaughan family coat-of-arms and its descriptions (not as boring as it sounds, I promise!)

Date: c.1450 A.D.

Highlights: The Vaughan coat-of-arms shows three boys being strangled by snakes. This was inspired by the legend of a family member being born with a snake around his neck. Boring folklorists  c.1900 interpreted this as an #IHateSnakes moment. They are wrong, it was originally the opposite. The writings of Lewis Glyn Cothi suggest comparing someone to a snake was a compliment. Continue reading