bestiary (bĕsˈchēĕrˌē) [key], a type of medieval book that was widely popular, particularly from the 12th to 14th cent. The bestiary presumed to describe the animals of the world and to show what human traits they severally exemplify. The bestiaries are the source of a bewildering array of fabulous beasts and of many misconceptions of real ones. They were the artist's guide to animal symbolism in religious building, painting, and sculpture. Physiologus (the naturalist), an ancient work of the type, was probably the chief source of the bestiaries. A Middle English version is translated in J. L. Weston, The Chief Middle English Poets (1914). Variations of the genre remain popular. Modern authors who have written bestiaries include Lewis Carroll, James Thurber, T. H. White, and Jorge Luis Borges.
See W. Clark and M. McMunn, Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages (1989).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.