in Medieval Literature
A Project for an Interdisciplinary Encyclopaedia
Aim of the Encyclopaedia
The long-term aim of the project is the compilation of the current knowledge
of animals in the literature of medieval Europe in form of an alphabetically
As a consequence, the encyclopaedia
aims to provide:
• Finding Aid
The encyclopaedia lists relevant text passages where the animal under
discussion plays a central role. Furthermore, it refers the reader to
already existing encyclopaedic articles and other relevant literature
• Research Overview
By summarizing publications on well-studied animals the encyclopaedia
compiles, revises and resumes the current research on animals in medieval
• Pioneering Work
The encyclopaedia serves as a pioneering work with respect to the less
studied animals. This will probably be the case for about half the animals
of the corpus.
• Impetus for further research on animals in literature
The encyclopaedia combines basic research with innovative approaches.
The encyclopaedia thus addresses not only medievalists and literary
scholars but also students of other fields of study, such as cultural
history, history of art, history of the book, cultural anthropology,
etc. The encyclopaedia is designed to give the reader a concise and
sound overview of the presentation, meaning and function of animals
in medieval literature.
an Encyclopaedia of Animals?
In medieval literature the
animal signifies with a special intensity and quality. The animal differs
fundamentally from other signifiers (such as, for instance, plants,
precious stones, numbers, and colours) as it is closest to humans in
the hierarchy of things. Unlike these other signifiers, animals have
the potential to interact with human protagonists or even replace them,
as can be seen in beast epics. This potential is characteristic of animals
not only in medieval literature. As numerous individual studies have
shown, the animal plays a major role for our understanding of medieval
At present, there exists no interdisciplinary scholarly encyclopaedia
which pools information on the presentation, meaning and function of animals
in medieval literature. Previously published animal encyclopaedias usually
cover only single aspects of the matter and aim at a general, non-academic
readership. Apart from these, articles about topics related to animals
as well as about individual animals can also be found in specialised encyclopaedias.
However, the choice of animals in these encyclopaedias is often very rigid,
the structure of the articles seldom unified and often of varying quality.
By contrast, the number of individual studies discussing single aspects
of the matter or individual animals is nearly endless. An informed overview
of these findings is thus highly desirable. and an interdisciplinary encyclopaedia
gathering information on the presentation, meaning and function of animals
in medieval literature as well as in the cultural memory is a desideratum.
The project on animals in medieval literature stands in the tradition
of the studies in medieval significs founded by Friedrich Ohly and is
thus a valuable addition to other encyclopaedia projects (on colours and
numbers) and catalogues (i.e. precious stones) realised in Münster.
of the Encyclopaedia
for the development of the animal encyclopaedia comprises two basic components:
a bibliographical database and the encyclopaedic articles.
(planned as a publication on the internet for the time being)
The encyclopaedic part will
comprise extensive articles dealing with the single animals, as well as
an introduction, a list of abbreviations, various indices, etc.
(in form of a database)
The bibliographical database will – if possible – cover the
complete body of criticism on the animal in the Middle Ages, in particular
the animal in medieval literature. A number of search functions will allow
easy access to this corpus.
of the Encyclopaedia
In order to
ensure the feasibility of the project, the encyclopaedia will initially
focus on a central core. If desired, this can later be extended by various
Hence, European literatures connected to the Latin inheritance are going
to be in the focus of our attention. Likewise, it appears to be necessary
to restrict the number of animals described to the “central”
ones (about 100 to 150 animals including mythical creatures). The time
frame is limited to the Middle Ages (i.e. the era from 500 to 1500 A.D.,
including an outlook for the 16th century).
Possible additional (optional) components are European literatures with
a closer connection to Greek culture (namely Byzantine and Slavonic literature),
as well as Oriental literature. An extension into the domain of Iconography
is also possible. Furthermore, it is desirable to include less studied
animals as well as to extend the time span into Early Modern Times (until
Principles for the Encyclopaedic Articles
General principles will be: alphabetical order, division of work and completeness.
The three working languages of the encyclopaedia are German, English and
of the Articles
Each article consists of three parts: head, text, and bibliography.
The head comprises:
• as lemma: the common name of the animal in Modern German, English and French
• references to existing articles
The text proper is subdivided according to subject areas and philological traditions.
A. The real animal (consisting of a sketch of the animal’s actual forms of existence during the Middle Ages)
B. Traditions of thought
B.1 – Zoological works of Antiquity
B.2 – The Bible and biblical exegesis
C. Latin literature
D. Romance literatures
D.1 – French and Occitan literatures
D.2 – Italian literature
D.3 – Spanish and Catalan literatures
D.4 – Portuguese literature
E. Germanic (and Celtic) literature(s)
E.1 – Nordic literature
E.2 – English literature
E.3 – Dutch literature
E.4 – German literature
(E.5 Celtic literature)
Option I: F. Byzantine, Slavic and Oriental literatures
F.1 – Byzantine literature
F.2 – Slavic literature
F.3 – Oriental literature
Option II: G. Iconography (this category needs to be subdivided further)
Each philological tradition is, if necessary, subdivided into:
II. Zoology and animal lore / animal allegory
1. Physiologus, bestiaries
2. Encyclopaedia studies, zoology and animal lore
3. Literature written for a particular purpose (‘Gebrauchsliteratur’) (i.e. hunting manuals, medical treatises etc.)
III. Animal poetry
2. Beast epic
3. (possibly animal fairy tales, animal comic tales)
IV. Animals in (non-animal centred) literature
1. Narrative texts
2. Lyrics and poetry
3. Discursive texts
4. (possibly drama)
(This section can be further subdivided if required, but the medieval genres are to remain the main structural categories.)
The bibliography lists the relevant literature at the end of every section and philological sub-section. Also, the author of each paragraph is indicated.
See also our examples "Elephant", "Dolphin", "Ant", "Crane", "Wolf" and "Camel".
A net-based publication is the primary aim of our project, although a
publication in print is not ruled out for a later date.