Isidore of Seville was born in the latter half of the sixth century. "His most important achievement as an educator was the compilation of the Etymologies or Origins, an encyclopedia that brought together all knowledge of the time."
Think of Aesop Fables. Where did the animal "story lines" come from? The "Tortoise and the Hare", "The Fox and the Crow" (bottom), and more.
They originated many centuries ago. Refer to the study of Etymology with St Augustine, Pliny the Elder, St Isidore and others even further back than that. It's a fascinating subject.
We read the writings today and chuckle at the utter silliness of some of these. It's worth wondering about how much fun they were having in detailing these creatures. I've painted bestiaries (Aberdeen and Ashmolean are fantastic), but then there are others that you couldn't pay me enough to paint (for one reason or another.... oh my).
The Medieval Bestiary site has compiled the history of scholarly "teachings" on creatures. "There is very little that is original in the Etymologies. While Isidore was certainly well-read, his reading was not critical: he accepted most of what he read without question, only rarely expressing doubt about the information he appropriated. His main goal throughout the Etymologies is not only to record facts, but to assign meaning, usually, as the title suggests, through etymology."
"Etymology is the study of the histories of words, an attempt to trace their development back to their origins". Isidore believed that the names of things gave some insight into the properties of those things; he further believed that the original names were assigned in the "first language," Hebrew.
In the introduction the book on animals, Isidore says:
'Adam first named all living creatures, assigning a name to each in accordance with its purpose at that time, in view of the nature it was to be subject to. But the nations have named all animals in their own languages. But Adam did not give those names in the language of the Greeks or Romans or any barbaric people, but in that one of all languages which existed before the flood, and is called Hebrew.'"
"For the most part, Isidore's etymological analysis is fanciful at best, generally linking the names of things to unrelated words that merely have a similar sound or form, in order to get the meaning he wants. The derivations are based on Latin or Greek words; for example: "Bees [in Latin apes] are so called either because they bind themselves together with their feet [in Latin pes] or because they are born without feet [a-pes]..." or "The eagle [aquila] is so called from its sharpness [acumine] of sight." "
Take a look at some of his interesting descriptions and chuckle:
Aesop The Fox and The Crow
A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree.
"That's for me, as I am a Fox," said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree.
"Good day, Mistress Crow," he cried. "How well you are looking today: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds."
The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox.
"That will do," said he. "That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future: "Do not trust flatterers."
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Christine M. (CM) Jentz.
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