Tag Archives: eco-sensitive reading

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


What is a Beowulf?

Bear vs. Woodpecker

Brown bear photographed by Makeen Osman, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0. Great spotted woodpecker photographed by Maarten Visser and licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0. Compilation created by Lee Raye, and hereby released under CC-BY-SA 3.0.

Species Mentioned: Possibly one bee-wolf (?Ursus Arctos? Dendrocopus Major?)

Source: ‘Beowulf’ the most famous Old English story.

Date: Uh-oh, best not to ask. The version we have probably somewhere c.700-1050.

Highlights: Beowulf is the all-star hero of his story, so his name must mean something, right? It quite nicely breaks down to beo-wulf (=bee-wolf). But what could a bee-wolf be?

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Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla) in ‘Anogaeth i Rys ap Rhydderch o’r Tywyn’ (An Exhortation for Rhys ap Rhydderch of Tywyn)

sea eagle

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.

Date: c.1485-1500.

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.

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Toads, newts and snakes in ‘A Bawd’


Photograph of a toad (B. bufo) by JKL-Foto, Licensed under CC-BY-SA 3.0. Is this water clean or dirty?

Species mentioned: toads (?B. bufo; E. calamita?) snakes (?N. natrix?) and newts (?T. cristatus, L. vulgaris, L. helveticus?).

Source: ‘A Bawd’, a mock-sermon discussing bawdy (rude) people.

Date: 1630. Late for this blog but still centuries ahead of its time.

Highlights: John Taylor does not describe toads, newts and snakes as polluting the water they are in but rather as only being found in clean water. It is centuries before this fact is generally accepted, and even longer before the significance of amphibians and reptiles as bio-indicators is appreciated.

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GUEST BLOG POST – Celts and Sheep (Ovis aries) in AoE II (Age of Empires 2)

Age of Empires

This week’s blog post is on the Age of Empires blog. Click here to go there now.

We have a special sort of text to look at this week… a 21st century one!

This week’s entry, hosted on the Age of Empires blog looks at how accurately sheep are depicted in the computer game.

Species mentioned: Several but most interestingly sheep, (Ovis aries) which are the most frequently exploited animal in Age of Empires.

Source: Age of Empires II, one of the most influential RTS games of all time.

Date of Source: Age of Empires II is a 21st century game, but it’s based on the vague “middle ages”. For the Celts that’s c.550-1650.

Highlights: Although the developers of AoE II seem to have no idea what a medieval sheep looked like, they knew exactly what they were doing when they gave the medieval Celts a bonus with livestock. “Celts” ranging from the heroes of ‘Táin Bó Cúailnge’ to the ballads of the Borderers have specialised in being able to steal livestock from anywhere, no matter how isolated and well-guarded.

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Book Review: ‘The Natural History of Ireland’, edited and translated by Denis O’Sullivan

The Natural History of Ireland by Philip O’Sullivan Beare.

O’Sullivan D (2009) The Natural History of Ireland by Philip O’Sullivan Beare. Cork University Press.
Display of this cover comprises fair-use under the 1988 Licenses, Designs and Patents Act.

Species mentioned: ALL OF THEM, except silly invertebrates.

Source: The ‘Natural History of Ireland’ by Philip O’Sullivan, a man who really hated Gerald of Wales too much.

Date of Source: 1626 A.D. (post medieval)

Highlights: This is a review of the modern edition and translation by Denis O’Sullivan. Ultimately the book is a truly amazing one for historians and ecologists but may not be a reliable guide to Ireland’s contemporary fauna. The translation needs to be used with caution.

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