Species: Some cold turtles, seen off the coast of the Orkney Islands, probably leatherbacks (Demochelys coriacea), also some chilled-out pet tortoises (sp. unclear).
Source: Scotia Illustrata (Scotland Illustrated), a complete geography of Scotland written in early enlightenment Scotland by Robert Sibbald.
Date: First published 1684 CE.
Highlights: This blog post introduces, translates and comments what I believe to be the earliest record of a marine turtle (most probably a leatherback) from Britain. This record, from Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata has been overlooked by previous scholars because the book is only available in difficult Latin. It is a decade older, and more certain than the previous oldest record.
Photograph of leatherback turtle with Marian Garvie and other, unknown, taken by Steve Garvie, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
You too can grow up this big and strong on a diet of Natural History and jellyfish.
Posted in Amphibians and Reptiles, Latin, Scots
Tagged Britain, coastland, ecosensitive approach, harmony with nature, historical approach, history text, leatherback turtle, native status, natural history, nature is amazing, rise of scientific method, robert sibbald, scotland, tortoise, turtle, wildlife history
Species: Several, most importantly seagull (Larus argentatus) and cuckoo (Cuculus canorus).
Source: Two Old English lyric elegies: ‘The Seafarer’ and ’The Wanderer’.
Date: Seafarer c.850, Wanderer c.900 AD. (Klinck, 1992:13-21)
Highlights: Tolkien’s totally stole the idea of “sea-longing” from medieval poetry.
Now I’m not saying Tolkien was a sneaking-snaking-snarer who purposefully snuck medieval literature into his stories to educate people, but, well, they didn’t call him Professor for nothing.
Photograph by Julian Nitzsche CC-BY-SA 3.0.
Posted in Birds, English
Tagged 10th century, 9th century, civilisation vs nature, coastland, cuckoo, ecosensitive approach, elegy, folkloric approach, heroic age, linguistic drift, literary approach, medieval vision, middle earth, modern, nature is a moral guide, nature is a pest, nature is a texture, ocean, Old English, Seagull, sermon, The Seafarer, The Wanderer, tolkien
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
Atlantic Salmon (S. salar) photographed by Hans-Petter Fjeld, licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.5.
Species: Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and white-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) AT WAR.
Source: ‘Culhwch ac Olwen’ the oldest native (not imported) Welsh prose story.
Date: The version we have most probably c.1100 A.D., but some plot lines of the story also found mentioned in text from 828 A.D.
Highlights: The supposedly pointless oldest animals episode in Culhwch actually makes perfect sense, if you read it like a medieval person, with a knowledge of the species being discussed.
Click the “more” button below to read this post…
Posted in Birds, British, Monsters, Welsh
Tagged arthurian, coastland, ecosensitive approach, folkloric approach, harmony with nature, imported stories, linguistic approach, mabinogion, nature is a hero, wetland
Sea Eagle photographed by GerardM, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0. Sea eagles (=white-tailed eagles; fish-eagles) often nest in lowland trees.
Species Mentioned: Most importantly the sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla).
Source: ‘Anogaeth i Rys ap Rhydderch o’r Tywyn’ a praise poem justifying why Rhys should take the lordship of his father.
Highlights: This text contains what is almost certainly a reference to a sea eagle, and may be therefore one of the last references to a sea eagle in Wales for centuries. However the sea eagle is identified in an old phrase and the continued use of this phrase might post-date the extinction of the eagle.
Posted in Birds, Welsh
Tagged coastland, eco-sensitive reading, extinction, figurative, fossilised phrase, harmony with nature, heroes as animals, hierarchy of birds, linguistic approach, nature is a texture, praise poem, woodland
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
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