The Aberdeen Bestiary

Folio 66r - the dragon, continued. De basilisco; Of the basilisk


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Commentary, Translation and Transcription

These sections are located below the image on each page, scroll down page and click on the tabs to view them. It is also possible to view the translation alongside the image by clicking the translation icon in the toolbar

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.
call it dracon, from this is derived its Latin name draco. The dragon, it is said, is often drawn forth from caves into the open air, causing the air to become turbulent. The dragon has a crest, a small mouth, and narrow blow-holes through which it breathes and puts forth its tongue. Its strength lies not in its teeth but in its tail, and it kills with a blow rather than a bite. It is free from poison. They say that it does not need poison to kill things, because it kills anything around which it wraps its tail. From the dragon not even the elephant, with its huge size, is safe. For lurking on paths along which elephants are accustomed to pass, the dragon knots its tail around their legs and kills them by suffocation. Dragons are born in Ethiopia and India, where it is hot all year round. The Devil is like the dragon; he is the most monstrous serpent of all; he is often aroused from his cave and causes the air to shine because, emerging from the depths, he transforms himself into the angel of light and deceives the foolish with hopes of vainglory and worldly pleasure. The dragon is said to be crested, as the Devil wears the crown of the king of pride. The dragon's strength lies not in its teeth but its tail, as the Devil, deprived of his strength, deceives with lies those whom he draws to him. The dragon lurks around paths along which elephants pass, as the Devil entangles with the knots of sin the way of those bound for heaven and, like the dragon, kills them by suffocation; because anyone who dies fettered in the chains of his offences is condemned without doubt to hell. Of the basilisk The basilisk's name in Greek, translated into Latin, regulus, means 'little king'. It is so called because it is the king of crawling things, who flee when they see it, because it kills them with its scent. It will even kill a man just by looking at him. Indeed, no bird can fly past unharmed by its gaze but, however far away, will be burnt up and devoured in its mouth.

Text

The dragon kills by wrapping its tail around a victim and it can even kill elephants. The basilisk is the king of crawling things and can kill with a glance.

Illustration

This basilisk has a raptor's beak, a cockscomb, wings, a tail and claws. He is being attacked by a weasel.

Comment

Early accounts of the basilisk (Dioscorides, in the first century) describe it as an ordinary snake with a head excrescence, probably a king cobra. Killing at a glance may refer to the spitting cobra who has no need to bite. The mongoose, rather like a weasel, can kill cobras. Correction In margin, 'diabol' supplies omission. The word 'devil' is omitted from several 2nd-family manuscripts, but it is found in Isidore, the source (Clark, 1992, 195, n.341, 342). Prick marks on the page relate to the serpent on f.66v. Initial type 2.

Folio Attributes

  • Scribal Corrections

    Scribal Corrections

    Scribal Corrections
    The Bestiary scribe ends, the Lapidary scribe begins. Detail from f.94r

    When the ruling was complete the quires were ready to receive the text. At this point the scribe had a clear idea about the precise layout of each page. He had to leave the correct amount of space for the rubrics, capitals and illuminations to be added. The scribal hand is fairly uniform throughout, though Clark (2006, 223) observes the Gothic textura formata (the type of lettering) changes on f.19r, becoming ‘somewhat more compact and rounded’. There is a marked change of hand, below the illustration of the dove and hawk on f.26r, for only 5 lines. The quill is broader and the letters larger but less steady or uniform. Another scribe, with a later thirteenth-century hand, writes the lapidary section of the book, beginning on f.94r. Sometimes the scribe made mistakes or omissions which were picked up by a contemporary editor. On f.17r you can see corrections written lightly in the margin with part of the text erased and corrected accordingly. Most of the corrections occur in the Aviarium section, f.25r-f.63r.

  • 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

ta vocant, unde et dirivatum est in Latinum; ut draco diceretur.\ Qui sepe ab speluncis abstractus fertur in aerem, concitaturque\ propter eum aer. Est autem cristatus, ore parvo, et artis fistulis\ per quas trahit spiritum et linguam exerat. Vim autem non in dentibus\ set in cauda habet, et verbere pocius quam ictu nocet. Innoxius ta\men a venenis. Sed ideo huic ad mortem faciendam venena\ non esse necessaria dicunt, quia siquem ligaverit occidit. A quo\ nec elephans tutus est sui corporis magnitudine. Nam circa se\mitas delitescens, per quas elephantes soliti gradiuntur crura eorum\ nodis illigat, ac suffocatos perimit. Gignitur autem in Ethiopia\ et India, ubi in ipso incendio est iugis estus. Huic draconi assi\milatur diabolus qui est immanissimus serpens, sepe a spelun\ca in aerem concitatur, et lucet propter eum aer, quia diabolus ab\ imis se erigens transfigurat se in angelum lucis, et decipit stultos\ spe false glorie leticieque humane. Cristatus esse dicitur, quia ipse est rex\ superbie, vim non in dentibus sed in cauda habet, quia suis viribus perditis\ mendacio decipit quos ad se trahit. Circa semitas per quas elefan\tes gradiuntur delitescit, quia iter eorum ad celum nodis peccatorum\ illigat, ac suffocatos perimit, quia siquis criminum vinculo irretitus\ moritur, sine dubio in inferno dampnatur.\ De basilisco \Basiliscus Grece Latine\ interpretatur regulus\ eo quod sit rex serpentium\ adeo ut eum videntes fu\giant, quia olfactu suo eos\ necat. Nam et hominem\ si vel aspiciat interimit.\ Siquidem ab eius aspectu\ nulla avis volans illesa\ transit, sed quamvis sit procul, eius ore combusta devoratur.\

Translation

call it dracon, from this is derived its Latin name draco. The dragon, it is said, is often drawn forth from caves into the open air, causing the air to become turbulent. The dragon has a crest, a small mouth, and narrow blow-holes through which it breathes and puts forth its tongue. Its strength lies not in its teeth but in its tail, and it kills with a blow rather than a bite. It is free from poison. They say that it does not need poison to kill things, because it kills anything around which it wraps its tail. From the dragon not even the elephant, with its huge size, is safe. For lurking on paths along which elephants are accustomed to pass, the dragon knots its tail around their legs and kills them by suffocation. Dragons are born in Ethiopia and India, where it is hot all year round. The Devil is like the dragon; he is the most monstrous serpent of all; he is often aroused from his cave and causes the air to shine because, emerging from the depths, he transforms himself into the angel of light and deceives the foolish with hopes of vainglory and worldly pleasure. The dragon is said to be crested, as the Devil wears the crown of the king of pride. The dragon's strength lies not in its teeth but its tail, as the Devil, deprived of his strength, deceives with lies those whom he draws to him. The dragon lurks around paths along which elephants pass, as the Devil entangles with the knots of sin the way of those bound for heaven and, like the dragon, kills them by suffocation; because anyone who dies fettered in the chains of his offences is condemned without doubt to hell. Of the basilisk The basilisk's name in Greek, translated into Latin, regulus, means 'little king'. It is so called because it is the king of crawling things, who flee when they see it, because it kills them with its scent. It will even kill a man just by looking at him. Indeed, no bird can fly past unharmed by its gaze but, however far away, will be burnt up and devoured in its mouth.
  • Commentary

    Text

    The dragon kills by wrapping its tail around a victim and it can even kill elephants. The basilisk is the king of crawling things and can kill with a glance.

    Illustration

    This basilisk has a raptor's beak, a cockscomb, wings, a tail and claws. He is being attacked by a weasel.

    Comment

    Early accounts of the basilisk (Dioscorides, in the first century) describe it as an ordinary snake with a head excrescence, probably a king cobra. Killing at a glance may refer to the spitting cobra who has no need to bite. The mongoose, rather like a weasel, can kill cobras. Correction In margin, 'diabol' supplies omission. The word 'devil' is omitted from several 2nd-family manuscripts, but it is found in Isidore, the source (Clark, 1992, 195, n.341, 342). Prick marks on the page relate to the serpent on f.66v. Initial type 2.

    Folio Attributes

    • Scribal Corrections

      Scribal Corrections

      Scribal Corrections
      The Bestiary scribe ends, the Lapidary scribe begins. Detail from f.94r

      When the ruling was complete the quires were ready to receive the text. At this point the scribe had a clear idea about the precise layout of each page. He had to leave the correct amount of space for the rubrics, capitals and illuminations to be added. The scribal hand is fairly uniform throughout, though Clark (2006, 223) observes the Gothic textura formata (the type of lettering) changes on f.19r, becoming ‘somewhat more compact and rounded’. There is a marked change of hand, below the illustration of the dove and hawk on f.26r, for only 5 lines. The quill is broader and the letters larger but less steady or uniform. Another scribe, with a later thirteenth-century hand, writes the lapidary section of the book, beginning on f.94r. Sometimes the scribe made mistakes or omissions which were picked up by a contemporary editor. On f.17r you can see corrections written lightly in the margin with part of the text erased and corrected accordingly. Most of the corrections occur in the Aviarium section, f.25r-f.63r.

    • 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
    call it dracon, from this is derived its Latin name draco. The dragon, it is said, is often drawn forth from caves into the open air, causing the air to become turbulent. The dragon has a crest, a small mouth, and narrow blow-holes through which it breathes and puts forth its tongue. Its strength lies not in its teeth but in its tail, and it kills with a blow rather than a bite. It is free from poison. They say that it does not need poison to kill things, because it kills anything around which it wraps its tail. From the dragon not even the elephant, with its huge size, is safe. For lurking on paths along which elephants are accustomed to pass, the dragon knots its tail around their legs and kills them by suffocation. Dragons are born in Ethiopia and India, where it is hot all year round. The Devil is like the dragon; he is the most monstrous serpent of all; he is often aroused from his cave and causes the air to shine because, emerging from the depths, he transforms himself into the angel of light and deceives the foolish with hopes of vainglory and worldly pleasure. The dragon is said to be crested, as the Devil wears the crown of the king of pride. The dragon's strength lies not in its teeth but its tail, as the Devil, deprived of his strength, deceives with lies those whom he draws to him. The dragon lurks around paths along which elephants pass, as the Devil entangles with the knots of sin the way of those bound for heaven and, like the dragon, kills them by suffocation; because anyone who dies fettered in the chains of his offences is condemned without doubt to hell. Of the basilisk The basilisk's name in Greek, translated into Latin, regulus, means 'little king'. It is so called because it is the king of crawling things, who flee when they see it, because it kills them with its scent. It will even kill a man just by looking at him. Indeed, no bird can fly past unharmed by its gaze but, however far away, will be burnt up and devoured in its mouth.
  • Transcription
    ta vocant, unde et dirivatum est in Latinum; ut draco diceretur.\ Qui sepe ab speluncis abstractus fertur in aerem, concitaturque\ propter eum aer. Est autem cristatus, ore parvo, et artis fistulis\ per quas trahit spiritum et linguam exerat. Vim autem non in dentibus\ set in cauda habet, et verbere pocius quam ictu nocet. Innoxius ta\men a venenis. Sed ideo huic ad mortem faciendam venena\ non esse necessaria dicunt, quia siquem ligaverit occidit. A quo\ nec elephans tutus est sui corporis magnitudine. Nam circa se\mitas delitescens, per quas elephantes soliti gradiuntur crura eorum\ nodis illigat, ac suffocatos perimit. Gignitur autem in Ethiopia\ et India, ubi in ipso incendio est iugis estus. Huic draconi assi\milatur diabolus qui est immanissimus serpens, sepe a spelun\ca in aerem concitatur, et lucet propter eum aer, quia diabolus ab\ imis se erigens transfigurat se in angelum lucis, et decipit stultos\ spe false glorie leticieque humane. Cristatus esse dicitur, quia ipse est rex\ superbie, vim non in dentibus sed in cauda habet, quia suis viribus perditis\ mendacio decipit quos ad se trahit. Circa semitas per quas elefan\tes gradiuntur delitescit, quia iter eorum ad celum nodis peccatorum\ illigat, ac suffocatos perimit, quia siquis criminum vinculo irretitus\ moritur, sine dubio in inferno dampnatur.\ De basilisco \Basiliscus Grece Latine\ interpretatur regulus\ eo quod sit rex serpentium\ adeo ut eum videntes fu\giant, quia olfactu suo eos\ necat. Nam et hominem\ si vel aspiciat interimit.\ Siquidem ab eius aspectu\ nulla avis volans illesa\ transit, sed quamvis sit procul, eius ore combusta devoratur.\
Folio 66r - the dragon, continued. De basilisco; Of the basilisk | The Aberdeen Bestiary | The University of Aberdeen