Ponce de Leon has translated the Greek name for this beast with the Latin word uro ("wild ox"), and the text says it is similar to a bull (Latin bos). However, the illustration and much of the text clearly represents the Physiologus chapter on the antelope, not the wild ox.

The Physiologus says of the antelope that is a subtle beast, so wary that the hunter cannot catch it. It has horns shaped like saws, with which it can cut down tall trees. When the antelope is thirsty it goes to the Euphrates river to drink. Near the river are bushes (herecine) with thin branches; the antelope, playfully attacking the branches with its horns, becomes entangled and cannot escape. The hunter, hearing its cries, comes and kills the animal. The interpretation is that the two horns are the two parts of the Bible (old and new testament), with which the Christian can attack sin; but the Christian must be careful not to become ensnared by sin, or the devil will slay him.

The Epiphanius text, while repeating most of this story, also says that the beast is like a bull, is the greatest of beasts, and has a terrible aspect. It says that the Euphrates bush is called tanus, and that it is like a grape vine with white branches. The interpretation given is similar to the standard text.

The beast in the van der Borcht copperplate engraving below appears to be an attempt to depict the confused description of the animal found in the text. The animal looks like a bull, but has the saw-like horns mentioned in the text for the antelope. The man attacking the beast looks more like a soldier than a hunter; this is a common convention.

  |   View in context

The woodcut below (from the Rome, 1577 edition) is clearly the basis for van der Borcht's engraving. The saw-like horns on this beast are obvious. The "hunter" is clearly a soldier in this image.


Properties of the Antelope
("Wild Ox")