Tag Archives: ecosensitive approach

The Colours of New Latin

A badger labelled with the colours attributed to it in Sibbald (1684)

Badger (Meles meles) photographed by Mark Robinson, CC-BY 2.0. Colour analysis is mine.

I’m currently working on translating and analysing a seventeenth century natural history text called Scotia Illustrata by Robert Sibbald. It’s lots of fun but there are occasional bits I have trouble with. This week I looked at how sophisticated his colour terminology is, and found something very surprising…

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The difficult Latin of Renaissance Natural History

 

himantopus

In my last blog post I announced I had found funding to start a research project looking at a seventeenth century Latin Natural History text. I am now well underway, kindly sponsored by the Antiquaries of London and the Alice McCosh Trust.
Robert Sibbald’s (1684) Scotia Illustrata is a really important text. One of the reasons for this is that it gives a full catalogue of wildlife found in seventeenth century Scotland. Most naturalists of the time period wanted to just write down every species of wildlife known at the time. Sibbald however, restricted himself to just writing about the species he had observed or had had people write to him about. That makes it a really important work for trying to reconstruct Scotland’s pre-industrial fauna. That includes some quite surprising species, and I’m planning to publish my findings next year.

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Leatherback turtles in the Orkney Islands

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.

leatherback turtle bigger than himan

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.

 


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Sea-birds and Wanderlust

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.

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.

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Gareth and the Power Rangers

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.

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.

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The Early Extinction Date of the Beaver (Castor fiber) in Britain: paper now available

Species: Beaver (Castor fiber)

Source: My paper looks at an exhaustive list of reliable historical documents, selected depending on their reference to other wild species of mammal.

Date: The texts range from  c.1200-1607 in south Britain and 1526-1684 in Scotland. Beavers are only found in those at the start of each period.

Highlights: If beavers were still around in south Britain after 1300 and Scotland after 1600 they must have suddenly started hiding-out.

beaver by river

Photograph of European beaver by Harald Olsen, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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Sir Balyn of the Stabby-stab

Species: Imported garden laurel tree (?Laurus nobilis ; Prunus Laurocerasus?)

Source: ‘Balyn & Balan’ in Le Morte Darthur.

Date: Complete by 1469-70, first printed 1485 A.D.

Highlights: Sir Balyn is the least subtle knight that’s ever lived. Once Balyn brought a sad, jilted knight to visit his lover. She was otherwise engaged. Balyn snuck his friend in anyway. Balyn can’t be held responsible for EVERY murder right?

Well-maintained laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) in Westbury Court Gardens. Photograph by Pauline Eccles.

Well-maintained laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) in Westbury Court Gardens. CC-BY-SA 2.0. Photograph by Pauline Eccles.

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