Animal Chapters

The Physiologus is a Christian text. Even though it describes the properties of animals both real and fabulous, it is not a "natural history." Its purpose is the teaching of Christian values and dogma, and it uses the animal stories as a source for allegory: the properties of the beasts explicitly have meaning. Each beast is not only described; it is also interpreted, sometimes in more than one way. The Physiologus is a moralized text that takes animal stories, many already old when the work was written, and gives them a new purpose within an early-Christian context.

The Epiphanius version of the Physiologus has 25 chapters, in which 20 beasts are described. Three beasts have more than one chapter: the lion and the ant have two each, and the serpent has four. Each chapter starts with a description of one property of the beast. These descriptions have little or nothing to do with the "real" attributes of "real" beasts; they are a hook on which to hang the interpretation, the allegory that follows. Some beast properties have alternate interpretations; it was not uncommon for beasts to have more than one meaning, and to even have contradictory meanings. Some beasts get only a few words; others get many. In all cases the descriptions and interpretations are short. The interpretations often have references to Biblical texts; the descriptions of the beast attributes sometimes refer to texts from classical Greece to validate their authenticity

The Epiphanius version of the Physiologus text is in many cases different from the "standard" text. These differences are noted in the following pages. The "standard" text is taken from translations by Curley (1979) and Grant (1999).

For each chapter Ponce de Leon has provided commentary, which is usually many times longer than the Physiologus text itself. In this commentary Ponce de Leon notes references to Biblical texts, early church writers, and Classical Greek works. He also comments on the text itself, and on the translation from Greek to Latin. This commentary has not yet been transcribed and so is not yet discussed in the pages that follow.

The Plantin edition of 1588 was not the first edition of this text; it was previously published in Rome in 1587. The earlier edition had woodcut illustrations, reproductions of which are included here for comparison. The woodcuts are from Curley (1979). The text of the 1587 edition has not been examined.