Species: One black hauthorne (unearthly Crataegus monogyna / Crataegus laevigata) and one generic thorn (most likely the same species). These bushes are, strangely both used by knights to store their weapons.
Source: ‘Sir Gareth’ one of the tales from Le Morte Darthur by Thomas Malory.
Date: Le Morte Darthur was probably complete in manuscript form by 1460 CE, and was first published by Caxton in 1485.
Highlights: A significant portion of the plot of ‘Gareth’ is concerned with the main character’s battles with a group of Power Rangers. He defeats a Black Knight, a Green Knight, a Red Knight, a Blue Knight a second Red Knight and a Brown Knight.
Is Gareth seeking perfection through alchemy (Wheeler, 1994)? Is Gareth seeking to fight his way up through the ranks to becoming the golden knight (Tiller, 2007)? Where do the bushes come in? Is this the end of the Power Rangers?
Read on to find out.
The MS image is from BL Royal 14 E III, f.97v. One of the knights is Gareth. It is in the public domain because of its age. The photograph was taken by Mooshuu and is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0. If you know the identity of the cosplayers here please let me know.
Posted in English, Plants (incl. Trees)
Tagged 15th century, arthurian, battlefield, blackthorn, civilisation vs nature, ecocritical approach, ecosensitive approach, grassland, hawes, hawthorn, heroic age, human-environment conflict, king arthur, Le morte darthur, literary approach, marxist approach, mayflowers, meadow, nature is a texture, romance, sir gareth, woodland
Species: One overgrown snake which grows into a dragon-worm.
Source: The ‘Life of St Petroc I’ a text in Latin probably written in Cornwall, perhaps at Bodmin Priory.
Date: The historical Petroc probably lived in the sixth century A.D. Our text was first written prior to 1177, most likely around the mid-eleventh century, although the only complete manuscript (Paris MS. Lat. 9989) only exists in sixteenth century transcript form. The story itself may well have been known orally before it was first included in the written life (Doble, 1965: 133-4; Orme, 2000: 214-15).
Highlights: Once upon a time an evil villain died. He had a snake pit like most evil villains and after he died no-one was being fed to the snakes (awww). They ate each other until one got so big it came out and turned into a dragon. It happens.
Oh yes, it happens.
Grass snake (Natrix natrix) photographed by Thomas Browne and shared under CC-BY 2.0 license)
Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Latin, Monsters
Tagged 11th century, battlefield, coastland, dragon, dragon slayer, ecocritical approach, environmental management, folkloric approach, home, influence of christianity, literary approach, medieval brittany, medieval christianity, medieval cornwall, nature is a pest, saint's life, serpents, snake pit, snakes
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
Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, English, Welsh
Tagged adder, art history, artwork, battlefield, breconshire, coat-of-arms, eco-sensitive reading, figurative, folkloric approach, garden, harmony with nature, heroes as animals, history text, home, llys tre-twr, moreithig warwyn, nature is a pest, persecution, smooth snake, tretower, vaughan, vaughan family
This week’s blog post is being hosted by the Medieval Animal Data Network. Go read the rest of it here.
Species Mentioned: The baleen of a whale, possibly a right whale (E. glacialis) from the now extinct east Atlantic population.
Source: ‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’, which you might remember from its reference to the supposedly extinct pine tree.
Date of Source: Most probably c.1220-1309.
Highlights: One of the knights of the story has a belt made of a whale’s eyelash. The problems are (i) whales don’t have eyelashes and (ii) you couldn’t make a belt out of them if they did!
The phrase is now being translated for the first time as baleen, which is called the whale’s eyelash in Irish and German sources.
Posted in Mammals, Special Feature, Welsh
Tagged baleen, battlefield, coastland, ecosensitive approach, exploitation, extinction, historical approach, linguistic approach, medieval vision, nature is amazing
Broom flowers photographed by H. Zell and licensed under CC-AT-SA.
Species mentioned: The yellowest broom flowers and the bluest conifer you can imagine (wait, what?)
Source: ‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’ a bad, bad trip.
Date of Source: Most probably c.1220-1309.
Highlights: Whilst Rhonabwy hallucinates he sees a horse bluer than any “pine tree” he’s ever seen. You would not believe the trouble this causes:(i) Horses aren’t blue, (ii) pine trees were extinct in Wales at the time (iii) pine trees aren’t blue either.
It’s a shame medievalists take things so seriously…
Posted in Plants (incl. Trees), Welsh
Tagged arthurian, battlefield, ecosensitive approach, extinction, linguistic approach, linguistic drift, medieval vision, native status, nature is a texture, nature is amazing, no direct translation
Adder (V. berus), licensed under CC AT-SA. Created by Piet Spaans. Altered by Amy Raye.
Species mentioned: One adder (V. berus) who successfully provokes every knight in Britain and brings about the death of King Arthur.
Source: The ‘Stanzaic Morte Arthur’, the immediate forerunner of Thomas Mallory’s more famous ‘Le Morte dArthur’.
Date of Source: Fourteenth century, probably c.1350.
Highlights: A concerned adder realises that there is a possibility Arthur might reconcile with Mordred, leading to another hundred pages of boring story for poor students to read. It heroically glides (honestly!) from its hiding place and bites someone. This stirs-up a blood bath with 100,000 knights slaughtered, including many of the most angst-ridden ones. Soon afterward the text ends with no chance of a sequel. You’re welcome.
On a more serious ecological note, this text is symptomatic of the antipathy people had for snakes even in the medieval period.
Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, English
Tagged 14th century, arthurian, battlefield, Britain, ecocritical approach, human-environment conflict, literary approach, nature is a hero, nature is a pest, persecution, romance, vermin
Herring gulls drinking, picture taken by John Haslam and licensed for use under CC 2.0.
Species Mentioned: A group of less than stellar warriors are compared with a flock of mewling seagulls (Larus argentatus). Sorry guys.
Source: A poem by the historical Taliesin, one of the most famous Welsh bards ever to live. This is impressive since (i) he may not have been Welsh (ii) he would have taken offence at the term ‘bard’ (iii) he may never have existed.
Date of Source: Traditionally c.550-600, but perhaps centuries later.
Highlights: The comparison with seagulls is not a flattering one for the Cumbrian heroes but Taliesin tells it like it is: ‘They didn’t fight well, there’s no point denying it’. Ouch.
Posted in Birds, British, Welsh
Tagged battlefield, coastland, cynfeirdd, ecosensitive approach, figurative, heroes as animals, hierarchy of birds, literary approach, nature is a pest, praise poem, satire, scavengers, sixth century