Bestiaries (ii): Llull and Orwell

Through the serpent have come all evils in the world.

Although saying so will probably lead to bloody conflict in Europe and intermittent showers in Letchworth, Herts, it seems to me axiomatic in terms of human psychology that mythologies in which zoomorphs and humans mingle socially progressed naturally to bestiaries mirroring human behaviour, from which emerged zany zoologies like Pere Quart’s. Ramon Llull’s Llibre de les Bèsties (Book of the Beasts), dated by Ferran Gadea to the early 1280s, falls into the second category. Llull may have had such a great leap forward in mind when in chapter four he wrote:

Lord, said Reynard, in that time, when God threw Adam out of paradise, God cursed the Serpent, who had advised Eve to eat of the fruit that God had forbidden to Adam; and from that time to this, all serpents are horrible to see, and are venomous, and through the serpent have come all evils in the world; and for this reason a wise man had a serpent thrown out of the king’s council, which serpent the king greatly loved.

This same expository progression from symbiosis to allegory is used in a more recent moral novel, Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which Biblical convention linking human folly and animal agency is scrupulously followed. I think it’s pretty unlikely that Orwell encountered Llull’s beasts, but embassies between the animal and the human kingdoms also form an important and unusual feature of both works. However, where Orwell despairs of the present and fears the future, Llull cheerfully champions the role of proto-Machiavellian guile in the maintenance and marginal improvement of a society that is divinely ordained. Orwell was deeply conservative, but it’s funny to think of him having been more so than a thirteenth century quasi-cleric.

An English translation of Llibre de les Bèsties was published in London in 1927, but I don’t think there’s one available at the moment. Ferran Gadea’s edition was issued in 2002 by Proa.

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Last updated 18/01/2004

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

English literature (60):

George Orwell (21): Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic, whose work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and outspoken support of democratic socialism.Orwell wrote literary criticism, poetry, fiction and polemical journalism.

Kaleboel (4307):

Natural history (512): Natural history is the research and study of organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment, leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study.

Ramon Llull (1): Ramon Llull, T.O.S.F.

Translation (788):


  1. Llull bought an Arab slave in order to learn the language and seems to have beaten him up when he took the Lord’s name in vain, but Orwell also beat his servants in Burma.

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