Tag Archives: medieval vision

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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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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PEER REVIEWED: The whale (Eubalaena glacialis?) in ‘Breuddwyd Rhonabwy’ (‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’)

MAD

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.
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Broom (Cytisus scoparius) and “pine” (Taxus baccata? Pinus sylvestris?) in ‘Breuddwyd Rhonabwy’ (‘The Dream of Rhonabwy’)

 

Broom shrub in flower

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…

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