Strange Beasts

The caladrius was an all-white bird, which, when placed on the bed of a sick person, supposedly foretold if they would live or die. If the person were not going to recover, the caladrius looked away from them, but if they were to live, the bird looked directly into their face and drew the sickness into itself.

Medieval bestiaries, of which the digitized Aberdeen Bestiary is a fine example from the 12th century, were based on the Physiologus, an anonymous Greek-language book dating back to perhaps the 2nd century. On June 30, the BAV in Rome digitized and published online a 17th-century Greek manuscript of it, Ott.gr.354. Here is its caladrius giving a bearded man his doom on folio 64r:

All of the images in the Ottoboniani Physiologus are of great interest. Here is one of the sirens, from folio 45r:

This early Christian compendium contains 48 stories about the nature of real and mythical animals, plants and stones. In its mixture of fact and fiction, it is no more reproachable than the infotainment and "science documentaries" with half-truths, portentous voices and dramatic music which air on daytime television.

A Physiologus for TV with similar self-important commentary would be a great satire. Imagine the stock film clips which could be dug up for the elephant (folio 13r), of which we are told it cannot bend its legs, rarely has the desire to mate and practices water birth.

The Physiologus was once as well known as any TV series is today. It was translated into Latin and had enormous influence in the medieval world. Translations and adaptations from the Latin introduced the Physiologus into most languages of western Europe. Its magnificently bogus science shows up in most European literatures including the works of Shakespeare.

Below is the full list of 44 digitizations on June 30. For the Ottoboniani group, you can consult Pinakes or the old printed catalog at Archive.org for more details.
  1. Barb.gr.105, Aesop's Fables, 6th century, Pinakes
  2. Barb.gr.109, Epitome logica, Pinakes
  3. Barb.gr.113, Manuel Chrysoloras, Pinakes
  4. Ott.gr.174, Narrationes monachorum,
  5. Ott.gr.219, Gregorius, etc: homiliae, apologia, etc., 
  6. Ott.gr.223, Athanasius: vita, epistulae, etc. 
  7. Ott.gr.242, Michaelis Glycae Capita Theologica ad varios directa, praemisso indice, 
  8. Ott.gr.268, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum incl. Gregorii Nazianzeni, 
  9. Ott.gr.279, Alexandri Aphrodisiensis In Aristotelis Meteorologica, 
  10. Ott.gr.281, Miscellanea homiletica, incl. Gregorii Nysseni, 
  11. Ott.gr.282, Ioanis Tzetzi, 
  12. Ott.gr.283, Andreae Caesariensis Commentarius in Apocalypsin, 
  13. Ott.gr.296, Speculum beatitudinis humanae of 1581, 
  14. Ott.gr.302, Porphyrii In Aristotelis Categorias Commentarium, 
  15. Ott.gr.305, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum, incl. Eusebii Pamphili in Cantica Canticorum, 
  16. Ott.gr.320, Anatomia hominis, a.k.a. De partibus hominis, anon., 
  17. Ott.gr.327, Pindari Odae / Carmina, 
  18. Ott.gr.329, Arrianus super Epictetum, 
  19. Ott.gr.331, Theodori Gazae Grammatica
  20. Ott.gr.332, Platonis operae, plus Basilius Caesarensis, ad juvenes, 
  21. Ott.gr.333, Miscellanea praesertim Patrum Graecorum, incl. Gregrorii Nysseni, etc, 
  22. Ott.gr.334, Theoremata in Odyssaeam Homeri (on Homer), 
  23. Ott.gr.337, Opuscula varia diversorum, 
  24. Ott.gr.339, Miscellanea, 
  25. Ott.gr.341, Isidori Pelusiotae, letters, 
  26. Ott.gr.342, Homeri Ilias,  
  27. Ott.gr.345, Maximi Planudi, notationes variae, 
  28. Ott.gr.346, Miscellanea poetarum scaenicorum Graecorum, incl. Aristophanes, 
  29. Ott.gr.347, Theodori Gazae introductionis grammaticae libri quattuor, 
  30. Ott.gr.348, Ignatii et Polycarpi epistolae, 
  31. Ott.gr.349, Didymi Alexandrini De Trinitate, 
  32. Ott.gr.350, Niconis canones et decreta et constitutiones ad monachos spectantes 22, incl. Basilii canones poenitentiales, 
  33. Ott.gr.351, Euripidis opera, 
  34. Ott.gr.353, Gemini introductio in meteora, 
  35. Ott.gr.354, the Physiologus, an Alexandrian work of Christian allegory attributed to Epiphanius; this is one of the H manuscripts in Sbordone's edition. I haven't yet recognized the unicorn in this manuscript. (Who can help me?)
  36. Ott.gr.355, Miscellanea, incl. Aristophanes, 
  37. Ott.gr.357, Expositio in III librum Regnorum et in loca quaedam biblica, incl. catena, 
  38. Ott.gr.358, Miscellanea praesertim hagiographica, incl. Vita d. Theodori Studitae, 
  39. Ott.gr.364, Polyaeni militaria, 
  40. Ott.gr.368, Basilius in Isaiam, 
  41. Ott.gr.369, Isaaci Tzetzae opera (poetry), 
  42. Ott.gr.383, Isidori epistularum, 
  43. Ott.gr.386, Aristotelis Analytica priora, 
  44. Vat.ebr.16, a Targum Onkelos of the early 14th century, the translation of the Bible to Babylonian Aramaic (many thanks to Tuomas Levänen for pointing this out). This manuscript was used for variants in A. Berliner's edition of Targum Onkelos (Berlin 1884).
Below is a second rush of material digitized and placed online on July 1, which I will not blog about separately. The posted total on the Digita Vatica portal now stands at 2,321 items.
  1. Arch.Cap.S.Pietro.H.57,
  2. Barb.gr.443,
  3. Barb.gr.449, four gospels, 12th century, probably Cypriot, includes the dog and rooster at 5r (below) (Pinakes)
  4. Barb.gr.475, New Testament?
  5. Barb.lat.366, Jacobus de Cessolis (hat tip to Tuomas Levänen for pointing this out): The Book of Chess (Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium ac popularium super ludo scacchorum) was a Renaissance best-seller with its discussion of chess moves combined with moral commentary. A thesis by Alexander Bataller (big PDF) lists the main manuscripts at page 100 ff. This BAV manuscript in Latin (where some Philistine has sliced out all the miniatures) seems to date from 1418. There's also a translation to Italian online (Cappon.52) (see the earlier release). Wikipedia notes: The work was the basis for William Caxton's The Game and Playe of the Chesse (1474), one of the first books printed in English. Check Google Books for an 1879 German edition. Link here to a blogger on Spanish versions.
  6. Barb.lat.663, includes material on Four Articles of Prague, relevant to current commemorations of Jan Hus and Bohemian wars 600 years ago
  7. Borgh.219,14th-century Collationes sanctorales
  8. Cappon.80, Italian poetry (catalog)
  9. Cappon.144, on papal elections (catalog)
  10. Cappon.160,
  11. Cappon.217,
  12. Cappon.244,
  13. Cappon.248, burchiello poems (see catalog for numbered list)

If you can correct any of these entries, tell me via the comments box below. This is not an official or expert list and I simply copy what I can find online about these manuscripts. I do so as a public service. The best way to thank me is to follow me on Twitter (@JBPiggin), where I will keep providing news of manuscript digitizations. [This is Piggin's Unofficial List 18.]

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