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18 February 2013

The Tale of the Errant Archbishop

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Initial 'Q'(ui) of St Thomas Becket, wearing the mitre of his rank as Archbishop, defrocking a priest for only knowing how to sing one form of the mass; the rubric below reads 'sein tomas le erceveske le suspendi' ('St Thomas the Archbishop suspended him'); from the De Brailes Hours, England (Oxford), c. 1240, Add. MS 49999, f. 45v.

Books of Hours, a common type of manuscript in the late Middle Ages, contain the cycle of Psalms and other prayers that would be recited for the monastic hours, at set times during the day.  They are tools for meditation, as well as for the recitation of the liturgy, and are often gloriously illustrated.  While the prayers in these manuscripts are not narrative, the pictures sometimes can be, and the stories that they tell can create a second 'text', a visible spur to pious contemplation layered alongside the aural experience of listening to the service.


Detail of an initial 'C'(once) of William de Brailes receiving a blessing from God; from the De Brailes Hours, England (Oxford), c. 1240, Add. MS 49999, f. 43r.

The De Brailes Hours (now fully available online!) is a very early example of a Book of Hours, and already shows some of the important characteristics of the form.  It is a small manuscript, only about the size of an open hand, a jewel sized for close examination and portability.  And its appearance is dominated by its many historiated initials on religious subjects.  The artist of these pictures is known, and has actually provided his idealized portrait.  Alongside the picture of a cleric at prayer, receiving a blessing from the hand of God reaching down from heaven, a small rubric in red ink (here partly obscured by the edge of the facing page) labels it as 'W de brailes qui me depeint' ('W[illiam] de Brailes who painted me').


Detail of a miniature of the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, killed by Henry II's men-at-arms; the image is marred by a large X crossing it out, no doubt made after the Reformation, when it became politically dangerous to revere Becket as a symbol of ecclesiastical resistance to royal authority; from the Luttrell Psalter, England (Lincoln), 1325-1335, Add. MS 42130, f. 52r.

The Hours of the Virgin – the section of the manuscript with prayers specifically dedicated to honouring Mary – includes, near the end, images of Miracles of the Virgin, colourful tales about Mary's intervention on behalf of sinners.  One such story features a perhaps unlikely villain: St Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered on the orders of King Henry II.  In later years, Becket became a problematic figure.  The struggle between secular and ecclesiastical power encapsulated in his story made him a particular target for Henry VIII after the king broke with the Catholic church.  But in the Middle Ages, Becket was a very popular saint, and his tomb at Canterbury was an important shrine (as well as the destination for Geoffrey Chaucer and his fictional travelling companions).


Detail of an initial 'N'(isi) of the Virgin Mary giving St Thomas a hair shirt to wear; the rubric above reads 'nr dame vest un here a sceint tomas' ('Our Lady puts a hair shirt on St Thomas'); from the De Brailes Hours, England (Oxford), c. 1240, Add. MS 49999, f. 49r.

Here, however, Becket represents an ecclesiastical hierarchy at odds with a devout but unlettered piety.  There once was a priest, the story goes, who only knew one version of the mass, dedicated to Mary.  The Archbishop disapproved of such incompetence and ordered him defrocked, refusing to relent even when his unfortunate subordinate begged for mercy.  Finally, the priest prayed to his patroness.  Mary appeared to Becket, ordering him to wear a hair shirt under his clothes as a private penance.  Then she revealed her secret command to the priest, instructing him to take his knowledge to Becket as a sign of her favour – how could the priest know of the shirt if the Virgin herself had not told him?  In the end, we see a reversal of roles, with Becket, rather than the priest, the one begging forgiveness, as he reinstates his pious underling.  Even a saint sometimes goes astray!


Initial 'Q'(ui) of St Thomas begging for mercy after reinstating the priest, while the hand of God offers blessing; the rubric above reads 'scein tomas lu crie merci e le relest' ('St Thomas cries mercy of him and [he] forgives him'), inverting earlier images (not shown) of the priest kneeling before Thomas, with a rubric 'ne poet aver reles' ('He cannot have forgiveness'); from the De Brailes Hours, England (Oxford), c. 1240, Add. MS 49999, f. 55v.

Nicole Eddy

14 February 2013

Be My Valentine

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Detail of a miniature of the allegorical personifications of Friendly Expression and Courteous Manner, catching flighty hearts in their net; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 13r

Once you've picked out a Valentine's Day gift for your sweetheart, why not give yourself a Valentine's present, with a closer look at the Petit Livre d'Amour ('Little Book of Love')?  Over the weekend, we announced the availability of six new manuscripts as full digital reproductions on the Digitised Manuscripts website.  Among them, the Petit Livre d'Amour is an appropriate Valentine's Day celebration, having been a gift between lovers, from the author Pierre Sala (b. 1457, d. 1529) to his mistress Marguerite Builloud.


The manuscript's original, custom-made case, made of wood covered in leather; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955

References to the relationship between Pierre and Marguerite are all over the book.  The initials M and P appear often in decorative borders, and are even carved into the intricate patterns adorning the book's carrying case.  The small volume could be slipped inside this protective box for Marguerite to carry it with her.  The rings on the side of the box attached to chains, by which she could suspend it from her girdle.


Detail of a miniature of Pierre Sala dropping his heart into a daisy; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 6r

Inside, diminutive illustrations, filling the book's small pages, transform the object into a sumptuous jewel, while also illustrating the love between author and reader.  In one particularly striking picture, a man – representing Pierre Sala himself – drops his heart into the cup of a large, red-and-white flower.  The flower is a daisy, a 'marguerite' in French, and so an allegorical representation of Pierre's beloved.  Close inspection of Pierre's face in this miniature reveals hints of a plan for the picture that was never fully realized.  The man's face is unfinished, showing only the rough sketch of facial features to be added later.  The illuminator left the face blank so that another artist – most likely Jean Perréal, a friend of Pierre's – could complete the allegory with a likeness of Pierre himself.  We can imagine how this would have looked by referring to the larger, full-page portrait of Pierre that Perréal did provide, at the end of the volume.  What do you think – a candidate for most eligible bachelor, c. 1500?

Sorry, ladies -- he's taken!  Detail of a portrait of Pierre Sala, made by his friend Jean Perréal; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 17r

Across from each of the manuscript's miniatures is a brief love poem in French, of Pierre's own composition.  These poems participate in a lyric tradition lamenting love's hardships and uncertainties.  On the page facing the image of two women capturing winged hearts with a net (shown at the top of the post), we read a brief verse about fickle, flighty hearts: 'Friendly Expression and Courteous Manner' (two personification allegories) 'have stretched out their snares at the corner of the wood, until the best time for an unstable, flying heart to pass by there'.  The word 'heart' in the middle of the last line is not written out, but indicated with a little drawing.


A verse on flighty hearts: 'chiere amyable & cortoyse maniere / au coing du boys ont tendu leur pantiere / en atendant leure plus atreable / que par la passe <3 vollant peu estable'; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 12v

Other poems direct their critique, if still obscurely, toward the lover himself: 'I have no support but this branch, nor hope of having any other help, but by folly, I cut it, and so will fall under the water'.  These sweet words – and their elegant package – must have pleased Marguerite; their relationship prospered, and she and Pierre eventually married.


Disaster in 3...2...1...: detail of a miniature of a man cutting off the branch on which he is standing; from Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d'Amour, France (Paris and Lyon), c. 1500, Stowe MS 955, f. 15r

13 February 2013

Naked Came the Werewolf

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Detail of a miniature of Dante conversing with Virgil (right) and Dante being attacked by a wolf representing Greed (left); from Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, Italy (Siena?), 1444-c. 1450, Yates Thompson MS 36, f. 2r

We have already taken a brief look at wolves as gluttonous threats to flocks and the enemies of sheepdogs.  But if wolves represent greed and savagery, they can also be savagery tamed.  When the retainers of the slain King Edmund searched the forest for his severed head, the king's sanctity (and natural dominion over man and beast) was demonstrated when a wild wolf did not desecrate the head, but protected it.


Detail of a miniature of the discovery of the head of St Edmund, guarded by a wolf; the head has called out to the searchers, crying 'Heer, heer, heer!'; from John Lydgate, Life of St Edmund and St Fremund, England (Bury St Edmunds?), 1461-c. 1475, Yates Thompson MS 47, f. 54r

This is not to discount the threat of the wolf, however.  In one of the more bizarre bestiary stories, the reader is warned of the dangers of encountering wolves in the wild.  If you see the wolf before he sees you, you are safe.  But if the wolf catches sight of you unawares, you will be, not attacked, but instead rendered mute.  There is only one cure for this condition.  You must quickly take off all your clothes, throw them on the ground and trample them.  Then you must pick up two stones and bang them together to make a loud noise – only then will your power of speech be restored!  A valuable tip for public speakers struck dumb by stage fright.


Detail of a miniature of wolves and (below) the man they have struck dumb, effecting his cure by stripping out of his clothes and striking rocks together; from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, f. 29r

Stripping off clothes seems to be a recurring theme in stories about wolves, and even more in tales about werewolves. There, clothes symbolize civilization, cast aside to take on the appearance as well as the habits of the wolf.  Pliny's Natural History tells of a people who leave their clothes hanging in a tree and transform into wolves.  If, after nine years, they have abstained from eating human flesh, they can return, retrieve their clothes, and become human again.


Miniature of Pliny writing in his study, overlooking a vista that comprises the whole of creation, including land, sea and heavens, as well as animals and human habitation; from Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, Italy (Rome), c. 1457-1458, Harley MS 2677, f. 1r

Marie de France tells a similar tale about Bisclavret, a knight with the power to change into a wolf by taking off his clothes.  But his unfaithful wife learned the secret and stole his clothes, trapping him in werewolf form.  While hunting, the king encountered his transformed retainer, who lay down before him and made a show of submission, convincing the king to adopt the loyal animal as a pet.  But when the knight's treacherous lady came to court one day, the usually placid wolf attacked her, biting off her nose.  Only then did the king realized the wolf's identity and give him back his clothes, changing him once more into a human being.


The first page of Bisclavret, beginning 'Quant de lais faire mentremet...', and headed by the added title 'bisclaueret'; from Marie de France, Lais, England, 3rd quarter of the 13th century, Harley MS 978, f. 131v

Nor is Bisclavret the only werewolf to show signs of humanity.  An Irish story tells about a priest who became lost on the road and encountered a werewolf.  The wolf spoke to him, asking him to perform last rites for his dying wife (also a werewolf).  The priest complied, and the grateful werewolf then directed him on his way.  Was the priest right, the story wonders, to assume that the soul of a good Christian might reside in the cursed and savage form of a wolf?


The next time you see a wolf, therefore, remember the lessons of the werewolf.  There is only a thin separation between man and beast.  And always remember where you left your trousers!


Detail of a miniature of two werewolves: the cursed husband on the left, and the priest administering last rites to the dying wife on the right; from Gerald of Wales, Topographica Hibernica, England (perhaps Lincoln), c. 1196-1223, Royal MS 13 B. viii, f. 18r

11 February 2013

Hwæt! Beowulf Online

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The manuscript of Beowulf, the greatest poem in the Old English language, can now be viewed online for the first time. Made around the year 1000, most likely during the reign of King Æthelred the Unready (978-1016), this manuscript committed to parchment a tale that (in some modern scholars' opinions) had been passed down for centuries, between generations of storytellers.


The opening words of Beowulf, beginning "Hwæt" ("Listen!"): London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius A XV, f. 132r.

In its present state, the poem, named after its hero Beowulf, contains more than 3,000 lines, and divides conventionally into three comparatively equal sections: Beowulf's struggle with the monster, Grendel; the revenge of Grendel's mother; and Beowulf's final contest with a dragon, which was guarding a hoard of treasure. What marks out Beowulf is the gripping and highly developed story, and the richness of its language.

The Beowulf-manuscript was damaged by fire in 1731, but much of its text remains readable. Here the poem recounts Beowulf's preparations for battle with Grendel: London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius A XV, f. 147r.

Known sometimes as the "Nowell Codex", after its erstwhile owner Laurence Nowell (d. c. 1570), the Beowulf-manuscript entered the library of Sir Robert Cotton (d. 1631), and still retains his pressmark of Cotton MS Vitellius A XV (the 15th item on the 1st shelf of a bookpress named after the Roman emperor Vitellius). Cotton's collection was bequeathed to the nation in 1702, and formed one of the foundation collections of the British Museum in 1753. Beowulf is now in the safe-keeping of the British Library; and we are hugely proud to be able to bring it to new audiences through our Digitised Manuscripts site.

More posts about the contents and history of the Beowulf-manuscript will be featured on this blog in the coming weeks.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @blmedieval.

09 February 2013

Treasures Wonderful To Behold

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Over the past few years, we've had great pleasure in making many of our books available to view in their entirety on our Digitised Manuscripts site. Periodic announcements have been made on this blog, relating notably to the digitisation of our Greek and Royal manuscripts and to our Harley Science Project. But nothing quite compares to the new treasures now added to Digitised Manuscripts, encompassing the fields of art, literature and science.

And when we say "treasures", we really mean it! The six books in question are none other than (drumroll, please) the Harley Golden Gospels, the Silos Apocalypse, the Golf Book, the Petit Livre d'Amour ... and, um, two others. What were they again? Oh yes, remember now. Only Beowulf and Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook. How could we forget?

The Harley Golden Gospels (London, British Library, MS Harley 2788, f. 71v).

Each of these six manuscripts is a true splendour, and has immense significance in its respective field, whether that be Anglo-Saxon literature, Carolingian or Flemish art, or Renaissance science and learning. On Digitised Manuscripts you'll be able to view every page in full and in colour, and to see the finer details using the deep zoom facility. You can read more about the chosen six in a special feature in the Financial Times Weekend magazine, published on 9 February 2013.

Harley Golden Gospels (Harley MS 2788): this beautiful gospelbook was made in early-9th-century Germany, perhaps at Aachen. The text is written entirely in gold ink, which even today glistens in the light; the sheer wealth of its decoration lends this manuscript its association with the Carolingian royal court.

Beowulf (Cotton MS Vitellius A XV): contains the longest epic poem in Old English, and arguably one of the greatest works of world literature. The manuscript was made around the year AD 1000, and escaped destruction by fire in 1731: the scorch marks are still visible on its pages.

Beowulf (London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius A XV. f. 132r).

Silos Apocalypse (Additional MS 11695): this commentary on the Apocalypse was made by monks at the Spanish abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos, being started in AD 1091 and completed in 1109. The decoration leaps out from every page, remaining as vivid as the day it was painted.

The Silos Apocalypse (London, British Library, MS Additional 11695, f. 5v).

Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook (Arundel MS 263): compiled between the years c. 1478 and 1518, this notebook deals with many of the subjects close to Leonardo's heart: mechanics, geometry, hydraulics, optics, astronomy and architecture. Written in his characteristic mirror script, one scholar has described Leonardo's book as an "explosion of ideas".

Leonardo da Vinci's Notebook ("Codex Arundel") (London, British Library, MS Arundel 263, ff. 84v + 88r).

Petit Livre d'Amour (Stowe MS 955): Pierre Sala (d. 1529), a valet de chambre of Louis XII of France, made his "Little Book of Love" for his mistress (and subsequently wife) Marguerite Builloud. Who could not have been bowled over by such a gift? The manuscript is still preserved in its original carrying case, inscribed with the letters P and M.

Petit Livre d'Amour (London, British Library, MS Stowe 955, f. 17r).

Golf Book (Additional MS 24098): famous for its depiction of a game resembling golf, this Book of Hours contains a series of miniatures attributable to Simon Bening (d. 1561), one of the greatest Flemish artists.

The Golf Book (London, British Library, MS Additional 24098, f. 20v).

We are delighted to be able to share these six glorious manuscripts with our readers around the world; and we hope in turn that you share them with your friends too. You can also currently see Beowulf, the Harley Golden Gospels and select pages from Leonardo da Vinci's notebook in the British Library's Sir John Ritblat Gallery.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter @blmedieval.

07 February 2013

Gospels of Tsar Ivan Alexander on YouTube

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We recently announced that the magnificent gospelbook commissioned by Tsar Ivan Alexander, British Library Additional MS 36927, is available in full on our Digitised Manuscripts site. Readers of this blog may also be interested to learn that a video describing this manuscript's history is also now available on YouTube. "Portrait of a Masterpiece" is narrated by manuscript expert Ekaterina Dimitrova, and includes footage shot at the British Library, including an interview with Dr Scot McKendrick, Head of History and Classics.

Royal portraits: f. 2v: Constantine, the son-in-law of Ivan Alexander, flanked by three daughters of the tsar: Kerathamar (Constantine's wife), Keratsa and Desislava; f. 3r: Ivan Alexander in imperial garb, accompanied by his wife Theodora, his son Ivan Shishnan in imperial garb, and another son Ivan Asen. Above, two hands emerge from a cloud, making gestures of blessing over the Tsar and his wife, from the Gospels of Ivan Alexander, Bulgaria, 1355-1356, Add MS 39627, ff. 2v-3r

The manuscript can also currently be viewed by visitors to the British Library, in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library. Meanwhile, we are grateful to Ekaterina Dimitrova for sharing this video with us. We hope that you too can join us in our mutual affection for this wonderful book.

05 February 2013

Extra! Extra!: Richard III Lyth Buryd at Lecitor

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Detail of a miniature of Richard III (b. 1452, d. 1485); from the Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Edward VI, England (London or Westminster), c. 1511, with additions before 1557, King's MS 395, f. 33r

By this point, you have probably heard the big news out of Leicester: the skeleton found in the Greyfriars car park is indeed that of Richard III.  It is not very often that the world of medieval studies enjoys the thrill of 'breaking news'.  Of course, as has been well reported, it is not precisely news that Richard was buried in Leicester.  Those of us who were standing by to hear from the University of Leicester team can remember that it was not journalists but chroniclers who got the scoop. To name one example, a genealogical chronicle of the Tudor period includes Richard in the illustrated tree of succession, with the explanatory note: 'Richard that was sonne to Richard Dewke of Yorke & brother unto Kyng Edward the iiiith, was kyng after hys brother & raynyd ii yeres & lyth buryd at Lecitor [lies buried at Leicester]'.  A statement we now know is true!


A tangled line of succession, culminating in (on the lower page, in roundels marked with coats of arms)  Edward IV, Richard III, and Henry VII; from the Biblical and genealogical chronicle from Adam and Eve to Edward VI, England (London or Westminster), c. 1511, with additions before 1557, King's MS 395, ff. 32v-33r

This genealogy handles Richard's demise and the subsequent succession in a way usual for medieval family trees: it visually erases the discontinuity.  Richard was killed in battle against the forces of his rival, Henry Tudor (Henry VII).  But here we see no great divide between the Plantagenet and Tudor dynasties.  Rather, Henry VII sits directly under Richard on the family tree, his lines of descent snaking up to join the main tree some generations in the past.


Detail of the genealogy of Edward IV, on (below) trees sprouting from Edward I (right) and Peter of Castile (left), and including the severing of Richard II from the tree by a sword-wielding Henry IV (center); from the typological life and genealogy of Edward IV, England, 1460-c. 1470, Harley MS 7353

This is perhaps not surprising in a document originating during the reign of Henry's own grandson, Edward VI.  But at least one genealogy takes a different approach to the death and deposition of another Richard, King Richard II.  Richard II was overthrown by Henry IV, the first of England's Lancastrian kings, whose grandson Henry VI was, in turn, overthrown by Edward IV to restore Yorkist rule.  For this manuscript made during Edward's reign, therefore, Richard II would have been the rightful king unjustly deposed by a usurper.  And in this image, we can see the cutting of the line of succession made literal by a sword-wielding Henry IV, the violence of the dynastic discontinuity perhaps also suggesting violence against Richard II's own person – he died while in Edward's custody.


The autograph of Richard III (as Duke of Gloucester, before 1483); from Chroniques de France ou St Denis, France (Paris), last quarter of the 14th century, after 1380, Royal MS 20 C. vii, f. 134r

While Richard III's untimely end is one of the most colourful aspects of his story, it is also possible to reach out to the living king.  Richard owned a number of books during his life, a few of which still survive today, some in the British Library.  We know from signatures contained in its pages that Richard owned a copy of the French romance Tristan – a delightful tale of love and adventure.  And another book, on the 'Dedes of Knyghthode', holds the coats of arms both of Richard (as king of England) and of his wife, Anne Neville.  This volume was perhaps made for their young son Edward, who predeceased his father in 1484.  When we look at these books, they help bring back to life the hands that held them, a controversial monarch at a turbulent period in England's past.


Initial 'H'(ere) of the arms of Richard III; from Vegetius, De re militari (The Book of Vegecy of Dedes of Knyghthode), England (London?), c. 1483-1485, Royal MS 18 A. ii, f. 1r

Nicole Eddy

04 February 2013

Nothin' but a Hound Dog

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Detail of a miniature of King Garamantes, being rescued by his dogs; from the Rochester Bestiary, England (Rochester?), c. 1230, Royal MS 12 F. xiii, f. 30v

Recently we examined cats in medieval manuscripts.  But what about man's best friend, the dog?  Dogs were, then as now, renowned for their loyalty.  Medieval tomb effigies sometimes included a dog resting at the feat of the deceased, indicating the loyalty of the dead man himself, a faithful retainer to his lord.


Miniatures of a sheepdog, a hunting dog in pursuit of a stag, a hunting dog in pursuit of a hare, and (bottom) the story of the dog mourning by the body of his murdered master and identifying the killer; from a bestiary, England, 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century (after 1236), Harley MS 3244, f. 45r

This quality of loyalty works its way into many of the stories told about dogs in bestiaries.  A king named Garamantes was once captured by his enemies.  He was freed, however, when his hundreds of dogs spontaneously charged, attacking the men who held him prisoner, and leading him back to safety.  In another story, a man was murdered by his enemy.  His faithful dog was inconsolable, and stood beside the corpse, howling and drawing a crowd of onlookers.  When the murderer saw this crowd gathering, he thought to allay suspicion by mingling with the throng.  But the dog was not fooled.  He attacked the murderer, biting him and continuing to howl in mourning.  Faced with such a clear accusation, the murderer confessed.


Detail of a miniature of Sir Lancelot, in conversation with a lady holding a small dog on her lap; from Morte Artu, France (St Omer or Tournai?), c. 1315-1325, Royal MS 14 E. iii, f. 146r

Dogs in medieval manuscripts are most often hunting hounds, chasing down hares, or dogs fierce in defence of their masters.  But lap dogs also appear in medieval texts: small, aristocratic animals who were the companions of fashionable ladies.  Sir Tristan, so the story goes, sailed to France, where the king's daughter fell in love with him.  But Tristan was already in love with Isolde, the wife of his uncle King Mark, and refused the princess's advances.  She sent to him love letters, though, as well as a small dog, named Husdent.  While the affair with the French princess was one-sided and short-lived, Husdent himself would go on to become an important part of Tristan's story.  Devastated that he could not be with the married Isolde, Tristan lost his senses and ran into the forest to live as a wild man.  On returning to civilization some time later, he was so altered from his ordeal that Isolde did not recognize him.  But the faithful Husdent immediately knew his master, and Tristan's true identity was revealed.


Miniature of the personification of Gluttony, riding on the back of a wolf; from the Dunois Hours, France (Paris), c. 1440-c. 1450 (after 1436), Yates Thompson MS 3, f. 168v

Man's faithful companion also had a more wild and threatening counterpart. If dogs were symbols of loyalty, wolves were personifications of greed.  Isidore of Seville observed, correctly, that the Latin word for wolf (lupus) gave rise to a slang term for prostitute (lupa).  These women were said to be greedy for financial gain, and so were termed 'she-wolves'.


A she-wolf from mythology: detail of a miniature of (foreground) two men digging a grave for the Rhea Silvia, the princess and Vestal Virgin sentenced to death for bearing Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the god Mars, who are shown behind with the she-wolf (lupa) that raised them after their usurping great-uncle cast them out to die; from a French translation of Giovanni Boccacio, De claribus mulieribus, France (Rouen), c. 1440, Royal MS 16 G. v, f. 55r

Just as dogs were shown as helpful working animals, the protectors of the flock, wolves were the greedy thieves who ran off with the sheep.  But a wolf needed to be careful lest he be caught in the act, since he shared one of his cousin's major weaknesses: dog breath.  The smelly breath of a wolf could, the bestiaries claimed, give him away as he crept up on his prey, alerting the watching sheepdogs.  A canny wolf would plan for this, however, and always approach a flock from downwind. 


Detail of a miniature of a wolf, sneaking up on sheep from downwind; from a bestiary, England, c. 1200-c. 1210, Royal MS 12 C. xix, f. 19r

Nicole Eddy