The medieval bestiary was the culmination and apogee of allegorical functions for animals, assembling stories and pictures of beasts and birds for purposes of moral instruction and courtly entertainment. It is indisputable that the bestiaries were an important medieval contribution to didactic religious literature. But far from comprising an isolated, specialist's genre available only to the religious and literate elite, bestiaries addressed concerns central to virtually all walks of Christian life. Art historical and literary essays with consistent emphasis on text and image analysis explore a variety of important issues treated both in the bestiaries and in their fore-runner, the "physiologus". These issues include the Church, the monarchy, anti-semitism, fantastic beasts, classical thought, romance, sex and death. Together, the essays clearly demonstrate how bestiaries both address and further develop some of the most important concerns of the Middle Ages, ultimately playing a significant role in the creation of their own cultural milieu.
Debra Hassig Ph.D. is a Reader at the Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh