Do you love animals? If you do, check out this lesson. In it, we learn about Medieval Bestiaries, which are old books documenting real and mythical animals. We will explore their characteristics, a few famous examples, and wrap up with a quiz.
Did you ever use a dictionary or an encyclopedia to find information when you were younger for a school report or a project? If so, you used something similar to a medieval bestiary. A medieval bestiary is a special type of encyclopedia that was popular in medieval Europe. In a way, it was the (exclusively animal-related) Wikipedia of the Middle Ages!
A medieval bestiary, also known as a ‘book of beasts,’ is a book that is filled with descriptions, stories, and illustrations of both real and mythical animals. While some bestiaries were more factual, and similar to the type of encyclopedia you might find in a library today, most bestiaries included fables about the animals. The difference between a story and a fable is that a fable includes a specific moral lesson for the reader.
Bestiaries, or ‘books of beasts,’ were illustrated books with Christian fables. They originated during the second century and became increasingly popular until they reached their peak of popularity in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.
People lost interest in them in favor of books of hours. But bestiaries remain an important part of medieval European life; through the study of animals and their characteristics, people were taught important lessons about how to live their lives.