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White, T.H. (ed.) / The book of beasts

Frazier, Kenneth L.
Introduction,   pp. [3]-[4]

Page [4]

conquered his personal demons. He died, probably of heart
failure, aboard ship at the Greek port of Piraeus in January
1964 and was buried in Athens. He had just completed a
successful lecture tour of the United States, an account of
which was published posthumously in 1965 under the title
America at Last.
White's Book of Beasts was the first and, for a time, the only
English translation of a medieval bestiary. Bestiaries were
second only to the Bible in their popularity and wide
distribution during the Middle Ages. They were catalogs of
animal stories, combining zoological information, myths,
and legends. Great attention was given to bizarre, exotic, and
monstrous creatures. Much of the content of bestiaries was
drawn from much older sources including Aristotle, early
English literature, and oral traditions. White provides an
excellent Appendix that explains how the creatures of the
bestiary influenced the development of allegory and
symbolism in art and literature.
White reminds us that the bestiary was taken seriously in its
time, both as factual scholarship and as moral instruction.
However, his commentary encourages us to smile and
occasionally laugh aloud. Readers should be alert to the
possibility that the bestiary contain fanciful interpretations
of real phenomena. The pictures are delightful and help us to
envision the bestiary as a beautiful original manuscript. The
remarkable fact is that it survived to be enjoyed by modern
readers. As White observes, "When we reflect on how far it
has come and through what perils, how lovingly it was
treated and with what innocent enthusiasm for learning, it
seems impertinent in us to treat it with any other attitude
than affection."
Kenneth L. Frazier
University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries

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