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Physiologus, composed in or near Egypt in the 2d century a.d., was the most widely known animal book during the Middle Ages. The author had before him unidentified descriptions of creatures known to classical literature (the phoenix, the sirens, the fox) and others deriving from accounts from India, Africa, and Asia Minor. To the short descriptions of physical traits of animals and mystic stones, he added Christian moralizations, illustrated by quotations from the Bible. The elements are fused with true artistry, and each chapter is something of a creative masterpiece.

In his critical edition of 1936, which replaces all earlier ones, F. Sbordone divided the Greek MSS into four versions. His fontes actually are parallels in the writings of the early Fathers and in a few cases borrowings, the sources proper being unknown. He adds the version of MSS AEIII, from which are derived the Armenian and all Latin translations. The fixed contents of this version are best presented alphabetically according to the 37 chapters of the Latin versio B correlated with the 49 of versio Y (names common to both are preceded by , and those peculiar to Y are set in italics ): arbor peredixion; arbor psycomora (as "Amos" in B ); aquila; aspischeleon (cetus ); asida, i.e., struthiocamelon; autolops; caladrius (charadrius ); caprea (dorchon ); castor; cervus; columbae; elephas; formica; fulica (herodius ); herinacius; hyaena; hydrus (niluus ); hyrundo; ibis; ichneumon, as echinemon; lacerta (saura eliace ); lapis achatis; lapis adamas (lapis adamantinus in two separate chapters); lapis magnis; lapis margarita [l. sostoros (i.e., "ostrea") et margarita ]; lapis senditicos, i.e., "indicus"; lapides igniferi (l. piroboli ); leo; mirmicoleon; mustela et aspis (plus a vipera ); nycticorax; onager et simia (twice in Y ); panthera; pelicanus; perdix; phoenix; rana; salamandra (saura ); serpens; serra; sirenae et onocentauri; turtur (plus a cornicola ); unicornis (monoceros ); upupa (epops ); vulpis; vultur.

The importance of the influence of India is evident in the mystic stones, the elephant, the mandrake, and the whale. The presence of any creature other than those listed proves later interpolation. Shorter versions include versio L (in 27 chapters, extant in some 15 MSS) and De naturis duodecim animalium (extant in over 70 MSS; Patrologia Latina 171:121724).

Versio B was in circulation by 386, when St. Ambrose quoted from it (Hex. 6.13:3), and was expanded in several steps, using St. Isidore of Seville and Solinus, until its final form as De Bestiis et aliis rebus. The four old French translations, by Philippe de Thaon, Pierre le Picard, Guillaume le Normand, and Richard de Fournival, make few innovations, except that the last develops a concept of love.

Even in the French, the original doctrines remain essentially unchanged. In stereotyped form, typical of the 2d century, a fluid demonology of fallen gods is described; and Satan is usually merely a symbol of death, wicked but not ugly; the association with the monkey relates to a moral idea. The work is violently antifeminist, and eternal damnation often results from mere imprudence: good intentions are of no avail, and a superhuman vigilance is required to frustrate the legions of Evil and their leader Satan. Both main Latin versions, rich in quotations from pre-Vulgate Bibles, add important variants for the Afra and the Itala. They also contain bold Hellenisms in addition to the names, and rare morphological and syntactical forms. Christianity took many symbols from Physiologus, the most important being the phoenix and the pelican; many animals represented in medieval stone and glass have no symbolic value, however, or are related to sermons and the works of honorius of autun rather than to Physiologus.

Studies of Physiologus began with Ponce de León's edition (1587) of the Greek version attributed to St. Epiphanius of Constantia (Patrologia Graeca 43:517534), but there was little further interest in the work until the beginning of the 19th century, when fragments began to be collected and translations made from Semitic languages: Angelo Mai (Classici autores, v. 7, Rome 1835), J. B. Pitra (Spicilegium solesmense, Paris 1855). The most useful single collection of Latin and French versions appears in C. Cahier's Mélanges d'archéologie, d'histoire et de littérature, 4 v. (Paris 184756). One major Greek version was edited by F. Lauchert, Geschichte des Physiologus (Strasbourg 1889).

Bibliography: Physiologus, Greek ed., f. sbordone (Milan 1936); Versio B, ed. f. carmody (Paris 1939); Versio E, m. r. james, The Bestiary (London 1928); Versio L (in 27 chapters), g. heider, Archiv für Kunde österreichischer Geschichts-Quellen 5 (1850); Versio T (in 12 chapters, attributed to Theobald), Patrologia Latina, ed. j. p. migne, 217 v. (Paris 187890) 171:121723; Eng. tr. a. w. rendell (London 1928); Versio Y, f. carmody (Publications in Classical Philology 12.7; Berkeley 1941). k. ahrens, Zur Geschichte des sogenannlen Physiologus (Plön 1885). e. dinkler and v. schubert, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 5:364365. b. e. perry, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart 1893) 20:10741129.

[f. carmody]