January 16th, 2012

triangle, bizarre

Review: Physiologus, translated by Michael Curley

PhysiologusPhysiologus by Michael J. Curley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an odd little book. I read it for research for a fiction project I'm working on in order to a) get a general sense of what actual bestiaries were like and b) to pick up some ideas for magical creatures that I might incorporate into my story. I certainly got a), although this book is crammed with Christian allegory that really isn't appropriate to my fictional setting. I'm not so sure about b), simply because many of the best stories in this book are about relatively mundane animals like antelopes, owls, pelicans, and elephants. Although the author believes any number of outlandish things about these animals.

Reading this takes me back to an early high-school English class where the teacher's only notion of getting us to do any kind of literary interpretation was to encourage us to look for Christ imagery. Every animal is either Jesus or Satan. If you don't end up giggling about the Tiny Elephant Jesus, you're a better person than I am.

Then you get passages like this, "Formerly, Isaiah the Prophet pointed out that the sirens and ass-centaurs and hedgehogs will come into Babylon and dance [cf. Is. 13:21 and 34:14]." No translation of Isaiah that I possess seems to say any such thing, confirming my suspicions that the Bible was more fun back in the day.

The book has an extensive introduction and notes (which taken together are longer than the actual text), which helps make the whole thing make more sense. It's not the kind of thing most people would read for fun, but if you need a good dose of medieval natural history and religious allegory, this is a great place to start.

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