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.
- So why shouldn’t I wet my appetite?
I know it’s banned in English, but it seems perfectly natural to me, just as natural as wetting one’s whistle: if it don’t rain it won’t grow, and the road to the kebab shop is awash with Blairite pub extensions.
Gordonio, a medical treatise published in 1495, is against drinking between meals but recommends they …
- Bestiaries (i): the zebra
Once upon a time Pere Quart (Joan Oliver to his friends) composed some often wickedly funny verses that were published with drawings by Xavier Nogués under the title Bestiari in Barcelona in 1937. His treatise on the camel and the dromedary is reminiscent of one by Ogden Nash that I blogged into melodious Catalan a couple …
- Bestiaries (iii) / stags (i)
Like a tree quick, rooted in the wind…
- Digging up Orwell
Orwell biographer DJ Taylor wants to dig up the common of Southwold, a quiet Suffolk seaside resort, in order to find a time capsule that Orwell allegedly buried there 70 years ago. If found, I suspect that it will not contain a bucket and spade.