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date: 20 October 2019

Physiologuslocked

  • Debra Higgs Strickland

Extract

Early Christian allegorical and moralizing text about animals originally composed in Greek by an unknown author, probably during the 2nd century ad in Alexandria. The precise meaning of the name, Physiologus, is unclear, but it has been translated as ‘The Naturalist’ or ‘Natural Philosopher’. The text’s narrator discourses on the natural world, combining ancient animal myth and lore with biblical references in order to draw allegorical parallels between animal and human behaviour with references to Christ, the Devil and the Jews. For example, the hoopoe chicks’ diligent and loving care of their ageing parents is held up as an admirable example of obeying God’s commandment to ‘honour thy father and mother’. The panther, whose sweet breath attracts all animals except the dragon, is likened to the sweetness of Christ, which attracts everyone but the Devil. The unclean hyena, known to change its sex from male to female and back again, is compared to ‘the duplicitous Jews, who first worshiped the true God but were later given over to idolatry’. As testimony to its wide popularity, the Greek ...

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