The Aberdeen Bestiary

Folio 71r - the newt, continued. De natura serpentium; Of the nature of snakes.


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Commentary, Translation and Transcription

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It is not part of the project to provide a definitive edition of the text of the Bestiary, but to help readers by providing a transcription and translation of the text. Currently the following editorial conventions obtain:

Text

  1. The original capitalisation is retained, but capitals have been added for personal and place names, excluding deus and diabolus.
  2. The original punctuation, including a point and inverted semi-colon (both serving as commas), and a point (serving as a full stop), is represented by comma, full stop and question-mark; a colon has been inserted before quotations.
  3. Suggested readings are in [ ].
  4. Variants from other Bestiary texts (eg Ashmole 1511 and Patrologia Latina 176) are added where they indicate a corruption, elucidate a meaning and replace excised text. They are represented as [A: PL:]

Translation

  1. Direct quotations from the Bible, where identified, are cited from the Authorised Version in ( ).
  2. Paraphrased quotations are identified where possible and indicated as: (see Job, 18:22).
  3. Suggested translations of corrupt words are in [ ].
  4. Capitalisation is sparing; additional punctuation has been used where necessary to give the sense. Paragraphs have been created to break up the text.
more subtle than any beast of the field' (3:1). Of the nature of snakes The snake has three characteristics. The first of these is that when it grows old, its eyes grow dim; if it wants to regain its youth, it fasts for many days until its skin grows loose; then it seeks out a narrow crack in a rock, enters it, and scrapes through, sloughing off its old skin. Let us, too, through much affliction and abstinence in Christ's name, slough off our former self and garb, and seek Christ, the spiritual rock, and the narrow crack, that is 'the strait gate' (Matthew, 7:13). The snake's second characteristic is this: when it comes to a river to drink water, it does not bring its venom with it, but discharges it into a pit. When we come together in church, drinking in the living, eternal water, to hear God's heavenly word, we too should get rid of our venom, that is, earthly and evil desires. The snake's third characteristic is this: if it sees a naked man, it fears him; if it sees him clothed, it attacks him. In the same way, we are to understand in spiritual terms, that for as long as Adam, the first man, was naked in Paradise, the serpent was unable to attack him; but after he was clothed, that is, in mortal flesh, then the serpent assaulted him. If you are clad in mortal clothes, that is, in your former self, and if you have grown old in evil days, the serpent attacks you. If, however, you divest yourself of the robes of princes and of the power

Text

The snake sheds its skin by scraping through a narrow crack in a rock.

Illustration

The snake squeezes through a slot in a narrow tower.

Comment

The straightforward snake is nonethless shown with wings. Although the text says the snake goes through a rima (crack) in a rock, most of the second family of Bestiaries show the snake going through a masonry tower. This image appeared due to a misreading of the word rima for ruina (ruin). Initial type 2.

Folio Attributes

  • Initial Type 2

    Initial Type 2

    Initial Type 2
    Type 2 initial. Detail from f.5v

    Type 2 is much more common. The letter is made with burnished gold, filled with a blue or brown background which is decorated with a delicate white tracery. Many of these are embellished with red or blue traces or sprays. The Aberdeen Bestiary is a very early example of the use of sprays which culminates in the art of William de Brailes in the mid-thirteenth century (Morgan 1982,no.68). An elaborate spray is on f.41v. The fine white filigree pattern is also found on some of the illuminations (f.3r, f.11r, f.12r) suggesting that the main illuminator also made these initials. This type generally occupies two lines. This initial is generally used to introduce each new animal.

Transcription

entior, omnibus pecoribus terre. \ De natura serpentium \ Serpens vero tres\ habet naturas, pri\ma eius natura hec est.\ Cum senuerit caligant\ oculi eius, et si voluerit\ novus fieri, abstinet\ se et ieiunat multis\ diebus donec pellis eius\ relaxetur, et querit angustam\ rimam in petra et in\trat in eam, et contri\bulat se et deponit\ veterem pellem. Et nos per multam tribulationem et absti\nentias pro Christo deponamus veterem hominem et indumen\tum eius, et queramus spiritualem petram Christum, et angustam\ fissuram, id est angustam portam. Secunda eius natura est, cum vene\rit ad flumen bibere aquam non portat suum venenum\ secum, sed in foveam dimittit illud. Debemus et nos cum in\ collectam venimus aquam vivam atque sempiternam hau\rientes audire divinum sermonem et celestem in ecclesia, abi\cere a nobis venenum, id est terrenas et malas concupiscentias. Ter\cia natura eius est, si viderit nudum hominem, timet eum, et\ si viderit vestitum, exilit in eum. Sic et nos spiritualiter\ intelligamus quia primus homo Adam quamdiu fuit nudus\ in Paradiso non prevaluit serpens exilire in eum, sed postquam\ est indutus, id est mortalitate corporis, tunc exilivit in eum ser\pens. Si habes ergo in te mortalem vestem, id est veterem hominem,\ et inveteratus fueris dierum malorum, exilit in te serpens.\ Si autem expolies [PL, exspolies] te indumento principum et potestatum\

Translation

more subtle than any beast of the field' (3:1). Of the nature of snakes The snake has three characteristics. The first of these is that when it grows old, its eyes grow dim; if it wants to regain its youth, it fasts for many days until its skin grows loose; then it seeks out a narrow crack in a rock, enters it, and scrapes through, sloughing off its old skin. Let us, too, through much affliction and abstinence in Christ's name, slough off our former self and garb, and seek Christ, the spiritual rock, and the narrow crack, that is 'the strait gate' (Matthew, 7:13). The snake's second characteristic is this: when it comes to a river to drink water, it does not bring its venom with it, but discharges it into a pit. When we come together in church, drinking in the living, eternal water, to hear God's heavenly word, we too should get rid of our venom, that is, earthly and evil desires. The snake's third characteristic is this: if it sees a naked man, it fears him; if it sees him clothed, it attacks him. In the same way, we are to understand in spiritual terms, that for as long as Adam, the first man, was naked in Paradise, the serpent was unable to attack him; but after he was clothed, that is, in mortal flesh, then the serpent assaulted him. If you are clad in mortal clothes, that is, in your former self, and if you have grown old in evil days, the serpent attacks you. If, however, you divest yourself of the robes of princes and of the power
  • Commentary

    Text

    The snake sheds its skin by scraping through a narrow crack in a rock.

    Illustration

    The snake squeezes through a slot in a narrow tower.

    Comment

    The straightforward snake is nonethless shown with wings. Although the text says the snake goes through a rima (crack) in a rock, most of the second family of Bestiaries show the snake going through a masonry tower. This image appeared due to a misreading of the word rima for ruina (ruin). Initial type 2.

    Folio Attributes

    • Initial Type 2

      Initial Type 2

      Initial Type 2
      Type 2 initial. Detail from f.5v

      Type 2 is much more common. The letter is made with burnished gold, filled with a blue or brown background which is decorated with a delicate white tracery. Many of these are embellished with red or blue traces or sprays. The Aberdeen Bestiary is a very early example of the use of sprays which culminates in the art of William de Brailes in the mid-thirteenth century (Morgan 1982,no.68). An elaborate spray is on f.41v. The fine white filigree pattern is also found on some of the illuminations (f.3r, f.11r, f.12r) suggesting that the main illuminator also made these initials. This type generally occupies two lines. This initial is generally used to introduce each new animal.

  • Translation
    more subtle than any beast of the field' (3:1). Of the nature of snakes The snake has three characteristics. The first of these is that when it grows old, its eyes grow dim; if it wants to regain its youth, it fasts for many days until its skin grows loose; then it seeks out a narrow crack in a rock, enters it, and scrapes through, sloughing off its old skin. Let us, too, through much affliction and abstinence in Christ's name, slough off our former self and garb, and seek Christ, the spiritual rock, and the narrow crack, that is 'the strait gate' (Matthew, 7:13). The snake's second characteristic is this: when it comes to a river to drink water, it does not bring its venom with it, but discharges it into a pit. When we come together in church, drinking in the living, eternal water, to hear God's heavenly word, we too should get rid of our venom, that is, earthly and evil desires. The snake's third characteristic is this: if it sees a naked man, it fears him; if it sees him clothed, it attacks him. In the same way, we are to understand in spiritual terms, that for as long as Adam, the first man, was naked in Paradise, the serpent was unable to attack him; but after he was clothed, that is, in mortal flesh, then the serpent assaulted him. If you are clad in mortal clothes, that is, in your former self, and if you have grown old in evil days, the serpent attacks you. If, however, you divest yourself of the robes of princes and of the power
  • Transcription
    entior, omnibus pecoribus terre. \ De natura serpentium \ Serpens vero tres\ habet naturas, pri\ma eius natura hec est.\ Cum senuerit caligant\ oculi eius, et si voluerit\ novus fieri, abstinet\ se et ieiunat multis\ diebus donec pellis eius\ relaxetur, et querit angustam\ rimam in petra et in\trat in eam, et contri\bulat se et deponit\ veterem pellem. Et nos per multam tribulationem et absti\nentias pro Christo deponamus veterem hominem et indumen\tum eius, et queramus spiritualem petram Christum, et angustam\ fissuram, id est angustam portam. Secunda eius natura est, cum vene\rit ad flumen bibere aquam non portat suum venenum\ secum, sed in foveam dimittit illud. Debemus et nos cum in\ collectam venimus aquam vivam atque sempiternam hau\rientes audire divinum sermonem et celestem in ecclesia, abi\cere a nobis venenum, id est terrenas et malas concupiscentias. Ter\cia natura eius est, si viderit nudum hominem, timet eum, et\ si viderit vestitum, exilit in eum. Sic et nos spiritualiter\ intelligamus quia primus homo Adam quamdiu fuit nudus\ in Paradiso non prevaluit serpens exilire in eum, sed postquam\ est indutus, id est mortalitate corporis, tunc exilivit in eum ser\pens. Si habes ergo in te mortalem vestem, id est veterem hominem,\ et inveteratus fueris dierum malorum, exilit in te serpens.\ Si autem expolies [PL, exspolies] te indumento principum et potestatum\
Folio 71r - the newt, continued. De natura serpentium; Of the nature of snakes. | The Aberdeen Bestiary | The University of Aberdeen