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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Medieval cosmology and bestiaries

I read an interesting article today on medieval bestiaries and how they reflect the cosmology of Aristotle/Aquinas ..... Christ or Aristotle: Where did this book come from?. Here's a bit from the article ....

[...] A critical examination of a bestiary, with special attention to the order of the catalogue and the kind of details that were recorded, can return a vivid image of the medieval European cosmology, shedding light on how Europeans distinguished themselves from animals, whether they believed animals were a positive or negative aspect of their world, and similar issues .....

As Joyce Salisbury states, early Christian thinkers sought to pull away from the pagan tradition of Aristotle by strictly adhering to a literal interpretation of the Bible, which explicitly stated that men and animals were completely different, the former created to rule over the latter. However, as time went on, Aristotle and the Greco-Roman naturalistic thinking began to creep back into the European cosmology, and as it did so, medieval scholars such as St. Thomas Aquinas sought to Christianize this influence in order to render it harmless and, indeed, beneficial to the Church. The bestiary is no doubt a product of this effort ....

I like the illustrations in medieval bestiaries. For those interested, there's a a bestiarie blog, and here's a video of Dr. Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, showing a 12th cent. bestiary ...


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