The Grand Medieval Bestiary is one of the most epic and beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure to see. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is in the photo to illustrate just how large the Grand Medieval Bestiary is. This is a book on a monumental scale. The Grand Medieval Bestiary tells the stories of the animals that featured in illuminated manuscripts. It depicts real world animals, such as the elephant, and how they were seen by people in the medieval period.
In the case of the elephant it was believed that its primary natural enemy was the dragon. Additionally it was believed that elephants never lay down to sleep. They always leant against a tree and slept standing, but they had to be careful to choose the correct tree. If they didn’t choose correctly and the tree collapsed they couldn’t get up again. If this happened a smaller elephant would climb under a larger elephant and help it up.
The Grand Bestiary also includes mythical animals such as the hydra. The hydra was the mythical beast Hercules fought as one of his twelve labours. The authors of medieval bestiaries came up with logical explanations for the depiction of the hydra regrowing its heads after Hercules chops them off. However they did believe that the hydra was a creature who lived in the Nile and fought the crocodiles there by entering their jaws while they slept and tearing them apart from the inside. The hydra also apparently caused an edema of the legs, which was best treated with ox dung.
The Grand Medieval Bestiary is a fabulous book, full of life, colour and truly beautiful images. It brings the medieval world of bestiaries and animals wonderfully to life. It is also endlessly entertaining.
If you have the shelf space for a book this big, it’s worth it.
Title: The Grand Medieval Bestiary: Animals in Illuminated Manuscripts.
Authors: Christian Heck and Remy Cordonnier