The Byzantine recension of Physiologus in Ana Stoykova's Modern Bulgarian translation was first published in Стойкова 1992: 230-243, 452-455 (commentary). The stories about the elephant, phoenix, viper, pelican, and gorgon, for which there was no previous translation, are published here for the first time.
The Modern Bulgarian translation of the Old Bulgarian text aims to present accurately both the content and, as far as possible, the specific style of the original. Thus, the translation is very concise, with frequent repetitions and elliptic sentences. These are characteristic features of many literary texts of the Slavic Middle Ages. Whenever missing words and phrases render the text incomprehensible, they have been added in square brackets based on (a version of) the Greek text.
The English translation here was made by Olga M. Mladenova and Vesselin Stoykov. It follows closely the translation into Modern Bulgarian.
In Bulgarian, the generic names of animals may be of any gender (feminine, masculine, or neuter). In texts like Physiologus, where animals are personified, the grammatical gender of names plays a significant role in the perception of the literary text. Thus, the original gender of the animal names has been preserved in this English translation.
The translation offered here is based mostly on MS Cod. slav. 149 (f. 7r-26r), a sixteenth-century manuscript that is preserved at the National Library of Austria in Vienna. Other manuscripts were used for accounts either missing from that manuscript or displaying significant differences: for the story about the aurochs, MS
No. 433 from the National Library "Cyril and Methodius" in Sofia (date: 1500s); for the struthiocamelon, MS I 26054 from the Vienna University Library (date: 1566); for the snake, MS No. 38 from the National Library of Serbia in Belgrade (date: 1580s); for the nightingale and the swallow, MS III.a.20 from the Library of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb (date: 1500-30). The stories about the viper, the pelican, and the phoenix were translated from MS No. 1700 from Mazurin's collection in the Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts in Moscow (date: 1350-99). Small additions have been made in compliance with MS No. 371 from Tsarskii's collection in the State Historical Museum in Moscow (currently Uvarov's collection, MS No. 515; date: 1500s), which has a printed edition by Карнеев 1890: ііі-хvі. This edition is the source of the translation of the entire story about the gorgon.
The edition of the Greek text Sbordone 1936 has been used for clarification when the text was obscure because of omitted portions.
Biblical citations are usually not direct quotations of the canonical text but paraphrases or reminiscences of it. The Holy Scriptures are cited according to the 1992 edition of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church: Свещено писание. Издание на Българската православна църква. София, 1992 (online edition). The following Bible versions were consulted for the English translation: The Holy Bible, New International Version, Biblica, Inc., 2010 (online edition) and A New English Translation of the Septuagint and the Other Greek Translations Traditionally Included Under that Title, Oxford University Press, 2009 (online edition). •
The aspide1 has a wonderful beauty. The male lives in the east and the female in the west. When it is time for breeding, the female comes from the west and the male from the east, and they come to the centre of the earth. [And the female opens her mouth, and the male places his head inside] and the female eats the head of her husband and he dies [and so she conceives]. When she gives birth to her offspring and brings them up, [they] eat their mother's head and she dies. When the offspring grow up, the males go eastward [and the females westward], as their parents did, until their breeding time comes.
An area as big as a threshing floor burns from the breath of the female, where she lies. The ground burns three sazhens2 deep and whatever she looks at, it burns. And how does the enchanter3 catch her? The enchanter comes to the place, where [the aspide] lies and covers himself with green grass, and pours vinegar on the grass for seven days, until the grass goes mouldy from the vinegar. He takes a stick ten elbows [long] and appears before her eyes from the direction of the wind, so as not to be affected by her [fiery] breath. And shouting from afar, he approaches her. He throws mistletoe at her. [The mistletoe] catches fire and burns. The second throwing drains it. By the fourth throwing, it is burned. And by the seventh throwing, [the aspide] has no more fire. Thus, [the enchanter] approaches her. And she covers herself with [her] tail and, to prevent hearing the enchanter's voice, clogs her ears [because] if she hears, she will die. That is why man has eyes and ears. As the prophet said: "I heard your voice, and I was afraid."4
Having taken his stick, the enchanter removes the tail [of the aspide] from her eyes and ears, and shouts out loud. And as soon as she has heard, she dies. Then he takes what he needs from her.
This is how Jews used to talk in those times about our Lord Jesus Christ as the aspide during breeding time dies from her offspring. Moses preached to the Jews but they disbelieved God our Lord, born by the Virgin Mary. Thus, all Jews clog their ears and eyes so as not to hear the voice of God, our Lord Jesus Christ. As the enchanter was throwing mistletoe to extinguish the aspide, so the Christian folk find in the Holy Gospel words to address the Jews and subdue them. In the same way, vinegar subdues the aspide. And the Jews feel great hatred toward the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, [what was predicted] in the words of the prophet Moses came into being. •
The aurochs is a great beast amongst beasts, and he has quite a dreadful beauty. His mane is wondrous; the forehead is fearful; he is the strangest and most notable of all animals. In a duel, he would press against [some] tree and, striking at the tree with his horns, he would lop off the tree branches. Not a single beast rules over him. He endures his craving for water. When standing beside water, he sniffs the earth. After he has drunk enough, he gets drunk and makes merry. Then he bows to the earth as an ox. When he finds sturdy clematis, he joyfully wraps his head and horns. But the hunter comes, finds him wrapped and thus catches him.
Same with you, foolish man; understand that God provided you with help and handed everything over to you. He gave you two horns - the two Laws - the old and the new one. The horns are a help to you in hardship, and God's cross, so that the enemy would not approach you.
The prophet David said: ["We will pierce with horns our enemies and in your name will trample on those rebelling against us."]2 The earth is for your peace, the animal's water is your treasure. The wrapping of the beast [is your human laziness]. When the hunter comes, and the hunter is the devil, he finds you wrapped in secular life, without fear of God, not having done anything good for the soul, and he seduces you. •
The bee is a wondrous creature. For the prophet Ezekiel said: "She is the smallest of all flying creatures but her produce is the sweetest of all."1 No one understands her labour. Her looks are wondrous. Her labour enlightens the holy churches and is devoted to the salvation of the Christian soul. [God] neither grazes nor dresses her but gives her more than anyone else because everything is for the sake of man, for whom [the bee] lives.
Man, remember the posthumous account-giving. How will you answer? Renounce evil and catch hold of good. So that the doors do not close while you remain outside. •
The crane is a bird with a very loud voice. They gather at nightfall when they prepare for sleep, and they post a sentry to guard them. And [the guardian] takes a stone in one of his feet and keeps it raised while standing on the other. When [he] dozes off, the stone falls out of his foot and he cries in a loud voice. His mates wake up and guard themselves.
Same with you, man; when you hear the voice of the church, be brave and beware of the devil. For the church is your guardian.
The clappers shout: "I was a tree in the mountain, covered by bark, dressed with branches and decorated with leaves. A man came and felled me, and [mastered me] for church service, to summon sinners for penance and righteous people for salvation. Yes, fellows and brothers, when you hear my voice, do not hold back, but rush to the holy church and you will be released from sin." •
The eagle is the king of flying creatures. The eagle is good and lives without sorrow for one hundred years. When he gets old, he weakens and his eyes overflow and he cannot hunt. And he soars into the sky and drops onto a sharp stone, and the entire disease remains on the stone.1 Then he bathes in the paradise lake and stays in the sun for eight days. When he warms up from the sun, his eyes are cleared and he is rejuvenated.
Same with you, foolish man; when your sins multiply, hurry to the church, for the
church for you is the stone, your sun is the church prayers, paradise lake is the orders of your spiritual Father, your heights is orthodox fasting, and old age is the sins. •
There is a beast named elephant, a very large one. He possesses a great strength. Both his eating and drinking are more wondrous than those of other animals. All beasts honour him for his strength. He has no joints in his bones and cannot bend them. His leg bones are of one piece. He goes to the female and stands. When they come together, the female animal finds an herb [called mandragora] and tastes it and is aroused. And she comes to the male, dancing, and she moves; and he, having tasted the herb, gets aroused and so he pairs with her. When the day to give birth approaches, she comes near great water and measures the water to reach her belly. Then she delivers the calf. If she delivers on the ground, she cannot get up, as she has no knees. And when she delivers in the water, she embraces the calf with her trunk and swims in the water; she supports him and holds him under his belly with her tail and breastfeeds him. And when [the calf] stands on the ground, he walks away with his parents. When the elephant needs a rest, he comes to a stooping tree and has a rest. How does the hunter catch him? The hunter comes earlier and finds the tree where he rests. And he cuts under it, and [the elephant] leans on it and collapses together with the tree. And the hunter comes and finds him.
Question: Who is the elephant? Answer: Adam. Who is the female elephant? Answer: Eve. As Eve ate and gave to Adam, so did the female elephant and got aroused. The way he leaned and fell, he will not be able to rise. And the hunter comes and catches him. Had the hunter not done so, he would never have caught the elephant. And if the hunter does not come on time, [the elephant] shouts and a great elephant hears him and comes to raise him up. But he cannot, so they both shout. Four elephants came to raise him and could not. All shouted and twelve elephants came and could not raise him. And they all shouted and a small elephant came who raised him. Interpretation: [First was] the birth of Adam and Eve. As Eve first ate from the tree and gave from the tree to Adam, God took them out of Paradise, [for] the devil seduced them when he spoke to Eve in the snake language. Who was the elephant that fell and could not rise? Answer: Adam. Who is the elephant to come first? Moses. Who are the four elephants? The four evangelists. Who are the twelve elephants? The twelve apostles. Who is the small elephant? Jesus Christ, who led Adam out of hell. •
The fox is a very cunning creature. When she finds nothing to eat, this is how she feeds. She goes to a sunny place and pretends to be dead, holding her breath. When she slows her breathing down, she swells as if she were dead. Flying creatures come and bend over her to peck at her, thinking she is dead. But getting up, she quickly catches some of them and eats [them].
The devil, too, when he wants to seduce a man and to subject him to his power, first makes him lazy so that he does not go to church. Second, [he teaches him] to go to fortune-tellers and sorcerers for divination. [Then the enemy assumes power over him.] Man, four archangels hold God's throne and say: "Holy, holy, holy is God!" [And they still] do not know what God's intention for man is. And you, man, this is
your seduction, which is your favourite. As the prophet said: "Do not be like a mule but be as innocent as doves."1. Man, you who judge according to the bribe, to whom will you give a bribe again so as not to go into the [eternal] darkness? Gold and silver are dust, and in the dust they will remain. But [live] without deceit so that our Lord sends you to the heavenly kingdom. •
The land frog gets dry in the sun and in the cold, in the wind and in the snow. And she endures everything and gets very tired. But the water frog cannot endure so much, and in the winter, she flees into the depths. When the sun shines, she goes out to a well-lit place, and when the sun scorches her, she again enters the water.
Same with the people [who] take monastic vows. [Someone] cannot endure hunger and thirst, and nakedness, and abstention, and submission, and unlaundered clothes, and uncooked food, and offense. And he cannot hold back [his] tears.
[They are called angels for people's sake but have no fear of God. Because if] you endure [this], you will really be so. There is no greater pursuit than that of monks except for the martyrs. [But] before the term of fasting has come to an end, [someone] indeed said: "I have done a lot of good." So he too looked for food, which is not right; so the water frog chooses a place that suits the body better. If you want real monastic life, be like the land frog. [The water frog] gratifies her body and does not constrain her soul, but cries incessantly like an evil monk. •
The gorgon1 looks like a beautiful woman and [is] a whore. The hairs on her head are snakes; her glance is death. She plays and laughs all the time. She lives in the western mountains. And when her time for mating comes, she gets up and starts to summon. Beginning with the lion and the other beasts, from man to animals to birds and snakes, she calls out: "Come to me!" And hearing her voice, they go to her. And when they see her, they die. And she knows all animals' languages.
And how does the enchanter catch her? Using his skills, he determines by the stars when her mating day is. And he goes to her location, casting magic from far away. She begins to call, starting with the lion and the other beasts. When she comes to the enchanter's language, the enchanter answers her, saying: "Dig here a pit and put your head into it so that I do not see it and die. And I will come to lie down with you." And so [she] does. Then the enchanter beheads her from behind without looking at her head, so as not to die. And he puts it in [some kind of] a
vessel. And, when he sees a snake or a man or a beast, he shows them the gorgon's head and they instantly go numb. [King] Alexander2 also had it and [this is how] he triumphed over all peoples.
You too, man, set your mind on God and you will easily defeat the hostile forces. •
The griffin1 is the largest of all flying birds. He [lives] in the eastern land in the River Ocean.2 When the sun rises out of the water depths and the sun dawn breaks, he, having spread his wings, welcomes the sun dawn. Another griffin comes to him and, standing by his side, welcomes [the dawn], and they speak so: "Come, enlightener, give the world light."3 Like the two griffins assist the deity, so Archangel Michael and the Holy Mother of God [appease the man-loving God's anger] at the Christian world.
That is why, man, grasp who will come to help you. What you give to [your] soul and
[the fact that] you honour the saints will be helpful to you and to those who are poor, praying, and loving. And do not call for help to anyone but God. •
The hoopoe is a motley bird. When he builds a nest, he raises his brood, brings them food, and feeds them. When they fly out and go to feed [themselves on their own], then their parents enter the nest and moult their plumage, and become young. Then their youngsters bring them food and feed them, until their feathers grow back and become as before.
Same with you, foolish man; protect your parent, until you turn him over to death. By not protecting [your] parent, you renounce God1 because the parent is your second god. Man, receive the parental prayer, and you will get grace from God. Man, at night
[your] parent should be at your side, you should
cater to him in the evenings and in the mornings in order to receive from them their
prayer, until the angel arrives [to take their souls].2. If you are disagreeable
to them, pity on you, man; what will Jerusalem do for you! •
The Physiologus said about the lion: the lion has three great properties in resemblance to the Holy Trinity. The first property of the lion is this: When the lioness gives birth to the cubs, she delivers them [dead] and stays over them for three days. And the lion comes and blows at them three times, and they revive. Thus also, the unbelieving folk on the third day, on our Lord Jesus Christ's resurrection, recovered their sight thanks to the baptism. They are called blind and dead, but in the name of God, they will recover their sight for resurrection. The lioness is the Holy Spirit. As the lion came and blew, thus the Holy Spirit too inspired life, and they revived, and all of them came out of hell.
The second property of the lion: when he sleeps, his eyes look in seven directions, and he understands and keeps safe from the hunter. Thus our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified by Jews, but he overcame the devil. That is why he said through the prophets: "I was asleep but my eyes were looking."1.
The third property of the lion: when running away from the hunter, he erases his
trail with his tail so that the hunter cannot follow him. Same with you, foolish man; why [do you boast]? You kill justice but you will not please your soul. But if you give with your right hand, do not let the left one know,2, so that the devil does not seduce you. For the hunter is the devil, and the lion tail is your good deeds. The path of the lion is human charity. Keep coming to church, man, so that the enemy does not seduce you. For the prophet David said: "I will not die but will be alive."3 If you do good to the soul, you will never die, for the righteous man does not ever die. Amen.
Brothers, Archangel Uriel told John the Theologian about these things. •
The nightingale is a bird. He gets together with his mate. One sleeps until midnight, and the other guards him and praises God twelve times over him. At midnight, he falls asleep, and the other one guards him from midnight on. At daybreak, [they all] praise God in one voice.
Same with you, foolish man: whether you sleep or lie, or whatever you do, always praise God. And what you wish will not be diminished. Glory to our God forever and ever. Amen. •
The ox is in man's service. In his heart, [he] is a kind creature. He wishes only good things; that is why he is called ox.1. He is of a stubborn disposition and has a great boisterousness. When he comes across a place where there is oxen blood, he exclaims from the bottom of his heart and cries to God as he sniffs the dust and says: "Glory to You, Master, who has made us out of dust. We will go back to dust."2
And others who hear his voice hurry one after another, crying from the bottom of their hearts and glorifying God. •
The partridge is a creature with many children. Having made her nest, the partridge lays her eggs. And as her [eggs] are not enough for her, she goes to steal eggs from another nest. [And she makes merry in her nest that it happens so.] That is why she is called partridge, because she is never content with her own eggs, but she takes others' eggs with her.2.
Same with you, foolish man; when you dispense alms, go to another person, make a confession, and fill in your heart. But do not boast, for a boasting man is like an inflated skin. The inflated skin seems full but if you loosen it, you do not find it full.
Thus, a boasting man pleases neither the people nor himself, and God does not love him. •
The peacock is the most gorgeous of all creatures. The peacock has great beauty. When he walks with his beauty, delighting1 in his beauty, he struts in his magnificence and gets quite conceited. [But] whenever he sees his legs, he sighs very sadly, for he takes pity on his legs and he says: "My God, why are not my legs like [my] body?"
Same with you, man; you keep everything nice that God gave you, and your mind whirls, but you do not remember where [it] has come from. You see yourself in gold and silver but do not remember about the poor. But draw from God's multiple gifts and provide eternal life for your soul.2Man, if you get wounded, you look for a healer
to cure you from the injury. Cure the wound of your soul. For healers for the soul are the church and the alms. Man, have in your heart God, who is light for you. Man, God gave you six days [for] work, but on the holy Sunday, stand with fear before God and your sins will be remitted. •
The pelican is a child-loving bird. And he hatches his brood and feeds them. But they, flapping their wings, hit him on the face. And he, angered, pecks at them and kills them pecking at them. And they lie dead. And he cries over them in grief. And he pierces his breast and pours his blood over his brood. [They] are immediately revived.
In the same way, our Lord Jesus Christ's breast was pierced with a spear by the
Jews. And blood and water flowed out, and [thus] revived the Universe, namely the dead. That is why the prophet said: "I resembled a desert pelican."1 •
The phoenix is the most beautiful bird of all. He is even more beautiful than the peacock. For the peacock is golden and silvery in appearance, while the phoenix is like royal purple1 and precious stones. He wears a wreath on his head and boots on his feet like a king. [He lives] near India, by the Sunny town. He lies for five hundred years on the cedars of Lebanon with no food, and the Holy Spirit feeds him. And after five hundred years, he scents his wings with fragrance. The priest of the Sunny town calls out and this bird goes to the priest. And they both enter the temple and the priest sits on the altar step2 with the bird. And all of it turns to ashes. In the morning the priest comes and finds a young bird. And in two days, he finds it as perfect as it was before. And the priest kisses it and [it] returns to its place.
So how could the foolish Jews not accept the faith in the three-day resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! As this bird revives by itself, would he not have risen himself? That is why the prophet David says: "A righteous one will prosper as a phoenix; as a cedar of Lebanon abundance will overflow in the house of the Lord."3 •
The pigeon is the best of all birds. They all fly together to keep safe from the hawk, so that he does not catch them. When they encounter the hawk, they fly off and escape from him.
Same with you, man; go to church so that the enemy does not find you helpless and catch you, and thus subdue you to his will. Man, see how the wild beast is wary of the hunter. Protect yourself from the enemy in the same way. For the enemy has no other concern but catching the man. Man, endure human offence and you will get a wreath from God. And entrust it to God, for God will be your helper. What the pigeon is, you be the same. Do not be niggardly with God's gift because you will
leave it where you have hoarded it. The miser's home is like a dark night; one cannot see what is there. So one cannot understand where [everything] goes.
Man, the peacock resembles gold and silver, and [has] the gait of an angel. And his mind whirls, but when he looks at the ground and sees that the earth produces everything, he descends from the heights. Same with you, man; do not let your mind whirl because of wealth, for you are made of dust and back to the dust you will go. And the wealth will remain where it was before. Do not try to read bird signs, and do not visit sorcerers, you man. Four angels hold God's throne, but even they are not privy to God's thoughts. •
The sea urchin1 lives in the sea. He has neither legs, nor feathers, but looks like a coil. His pelt is like that of a hedgehog. He stays at one place but when he realizes that the sea will roil, he gathers stones and covers himself so that the sea does not throw him out. For it is difficult for him to go back to his place.
Same with you, man: be good to your associates and kind in your life. So that when you are overcome by misery from your master or from something else, your mates would cover you to prevent you from perishing. Brother, do not say: "I am rich and
I have the great mercy of my master." Do not look haughtily at those smaller than you; you do not know when you will come to grief. Man, welcome as guests both the small and the great one. •
This seahorse [lives] in the sea. He is like a horse in front, very beautiful, and from the waist to the tail he is like a fish. He has a sombre beauty because he goes to the sea and is the sea chieftain of all fish. His glance is like that of a fish. In a certain land, there is a fish, golden in appearance, for everything in it is of gold, and it lies somewhere. The seahorse goes to it, and all fish follow him to that gold fish. The seahorse goes once a year and bows before it as before a king.
All fish [do] the same after him and return to their places. The males go forward
and [cast] their semen. The females go behind, take up the semen, and are thus inseminated.
[...] The seahorse is the church teacher and the fish are the people. The gold fish is the faith in Christian baptism. [Those who] are bowing are the ones who come to church. Man, honour the king during the day and pray to God during the night. For the king judges the body, but God judges the souls. If you have pleased God, the king will honour you too. •
The snake is a creature more ferocious than all creatures, one that has more poison and cruelty than anyone else. God brought about enmity between snake and man. When the snake goes to drink water, she spits her poison on the bank so as not to enter the water with her poison, for the water will be poisoned. And whoever would drink water would die. That is why [the snake] spits her poison on the bank.
Same with you, foolish man; when you have poison in your heart, leave it, do not enter the holy church with the poison so that you do not poison the saints or yourself, or chase your angel away from you. But forgive everyone and set your heart at peace. Then enter the church.
Man, when the snake encounters a man, she runs away hoping to escape. If she saves her head, her body will heal from her head. If [man] damages her head, then death will befall the entire body.
Same with you, foolish man; preserve your soul. If your entire body is afflicted1 but your soul is intact and righteous to God, your soul will heal your entire body. If you ruin your soul, you will be ruined as a whole. And where will your shelter be? •
The snake is a creature, the most ferocious of all creatures. [She] prays to God to see a man, to feast her eyes on the image of a human being because God bears a human image.2 When she walks, she prays to God that man does not see her and runs away to hide. If man catches up with her, she shrinks her whole body and covers up her head in order to hide [her] head. If [man] wounds her entire body but [her] head remains intact, she will again heal her body with her head.
Same with you, foolish man; protect your soul. If your body is afflicted3, but your soul [remains] righteous, you will again heal [your] body with your soul. If [your] soul is destroyed and your body [remains] intact, the body cannot heal the soul and everything will be ruined.
And again the snake says: "I have sinned before God because of the devil's seduction. And God told man to kill me. I do not do harm to man, for God bears a human image. If I had wished him evil, where would he have hidden from me? I would have come and spit my poison in the springs, and everybody would have died - men and their cattle. [When I want to drink water] I spit my poison on a stone so that it does not flow down into the water, so that I do not harm man. And when I come out of the water, I will then collect my poison as I do not wish evil to man."
To our God [glory forever. Amen.] •
The stag is beautiful with his wondrous appearance, and his horns are annual. He lives for fifty years. Then he runs very fast through forests, caves, and gullies, sniffing at the dens of all animals. If somewhere he finds a snake that has shed its skin three times, he recognizes it and is aware [of it]. He cries out loud three times, places his nose at her lair, and inhales the smell. He catches the snake in his nostrils and swallows it. That is why he is called a stag, because he pulls out the snake from the stones.1. But if the snake is in the stones and he cannot catch it, he looks for water. Even if it is far away, he carries [water] in his mouth, floods the snake's den, and catches it and swallows it with his nostrils. If he does not soon find water to drink, he dies. If he finds and drinks water, he lives for another fifty years. That is why the prophet David says: "Just as the stag longs for the springs of water …"2
Same with you, foolish man; God gave you three great things: baptism, enlightenment and God's belovedness, and repentance. Like the stag runs towards the water, [so you too] run for penance, to the teacher for teaching. The water is God's words and the drinking [of water] is the man dedicated to good. Thirst is the thoughts about the church. If you run to the church as the stag to the water, you will purge your soul from sin, not just you but also your offspring. As the stag dies without water, so will you if you are not frightened with the fear of God. •
The stork, called pelargos,1, loves his children very much. He is thin from the waist down and thick from the waist up. And he does not leave his nest [empty but sits there], sometimes the male and sometimes the female.
So too our Lord Jesus Christ is absent neither up nor down; he is missing neither from heaven nor from the earth. Same with you, foolish man; you commit sins, you never cease. Don't you know that you will not hide in lawlessness [from God]? What answer will you give, man? Our Lord created all the good things for you: beasts and animals, flying and walking, and fruit of the earth; he created everything for your
habitation. You should also do good to your soul; for whatever you give to your soul, it is yours. Man, you carry on your person gold and silver and offend the poor. Don't you know that everything is dust? And our Lord is poor. What you give to the poor, you give to God.2 •
The struthiocamelon is a large bird. When he lays an egg, he lays it in water. Then he stands in the water and looks at his eggs. If he turns his eyes away [from the eggs], they will become addled. When he wants to sleep, he sleeps with one eye and looks with the other. Because there is another creature that resembles a snake and is fifty elbows long. When it sees that the struthiocamelon has laid eggs, this snake comes and watches. The moment the struthiocamelon turns his eyes away [from his eggs] to fall asleep over them, the eggs will become addled.
The aspide stays here for forty days until the struthiocamelon raises [his brood].
Same with you, foolish man; when the devil sees the good deeds of a man, he stands there and [contemplates] how to destroy his good deed. [For] the aspide does not come to eat his eggs but to breathe at the eggs so that they become addled. That is why, man, let your thought be always about the church, so that the enemy cannot harm you. •
The swallow is a gentle bird. She stays half a year in the desert. She comes to the world for the sake of her offspring. When she has bred them [and if some of them go blind], the mother goes to the desert and brings back an herb, lays it on their eyes and they recover their sight.
Same with you, man; seek with your eyes a space in our Lord God when your sins multiply. For your sins are your blindness. But visit the teacher and you will purge your sins with punishment and will enlighten your eyes. Do not be as a barbarian,1, who encapsulates all the evil of the soul but bravely go to the healer to get free from diseases of the soul. Love those who detest you2, and they will be yours.
The swallow is an enemy of the snake because of humans. And that is why she goes to the people. •
The swallow is a tender bird. She goes to Jerusalem for food and comes back to the people because of [her] offspring. When she makes her nest, she [makes it] over people or over water, for she has an oath and hostility with the snake. And the snake has a boast on the swallow.
When all of them were in Noah's ark, the snake sent the hornet and told him: "Go and see whose blood is the sweetest." The swallow overheard and was on guard. And when the hornet came back to tell the snake, the swallow intercepted him and asked him [what he had found out]. And she realized that the hornet would say human blood. Then [the swallow] tore his head off so he would not tell. The snake then boasted to the swallow that she would not let her build a nest. The swallow said: "I will build a nest over [the houses of] people, where it is bad for you to come."
That is why people love the swallow. •
The turtle dove is filled with love for her husband. They both walk around together and build themselves a nest. When one of them happens to die, the second one honours his mate, grieves for him until his death, and does not drink clean water.
Same with you, foolish man; go to penance when your sins multiply. Do not say "I have committed many sins; I will not get absolution," but repent wholeheartedly and
you will find absolution. Man, the nightingale praises God twelve times a night; [you mention] him three times a day and night, and you will be called righteous. Man, do not crave female beauty. Remember that no woman has ever brought her husband to paradise but rather has ruined him. You too, foolish man, emulate the turtle dove. •
The unicorn is an animal [that] has a large body. His nose passes through his mouth and reaches beneath his chin. Standing, he grazes grass and reaches it with his tongue. When he encounters [an] animal, he catches up with it and pierces it, and carries it on his horn. And when [it] taints and rots, then it decays and drips, and he takes it with his tongue and eats. But do you understand, brothers, what suffering he endures with his food! So he stands three times a day facing east and
praises God with a sigh. And he again mocks all creatures [and] praises himself. Same with you, foolish man; grasp that God has made you good, and throughout your life, do not lose your mind in wealth but remember God and let all your praises be of God. Rely neither on your great strength nor on your grandeur, [nor on your numerous kinfolk] but rejoice in justice. God is the helper of justice. •
The viper has a human appearance from the waist up and a crocodile appearance from the waist down. Both man and woman go together. And when the woman is aroused and wants to mate, she goes to the man, eats up his entrails, and conceives. And the man dies instantly. And when the woman delivers, her children eat up her womb. And she also dies. And then the father-killers and mother-killers get out. As the Jews, too, are father-killers and mother-killers. They killed the father:
that is, Christ. They killed the mother: that is, the church. That is why John condemns them, saying: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?"1 •
The vulture is full of deceit. He is ravenous and huge, more so than any other creature. Such is his nature: he fasts for forty days if he finds no food. When he finds it again, he eats up as much as he would need for forty [days], and so he makes up for a forty[-day] fast.
Same with you, foolish man; you fast for forty days waiting for the resurrection of God, but you are being deceptive, you exert yourself to lose the forty-day fast, to balance with evil the good you have done.
The vulture sits in a fixed spot, on a stone, staring at the north wind. When carrion appears anywhere, his right foot's claws are tinged with the animal's blood, so he makes out that there is carrion [and] soars up. That is why he is called vulture, because from the earth he soars into the sky,2 and another mark appears in front of him, as a big star. A feather on his head moves ahead of him and brings him to the carrion. Likewise, the female vulture, when the day to give birth approaches, she sits in the nest and cannot bring forth. The vulture goes to a land. There is a deep abyss there. And [he] enters the abyss, gets a stone from the depths and
takes it to the nest. Then the female vulture drops. Afterwards, the vulture carries the stone back. Same with you, foolish man, when you fall into sin, you will go into sheer darkness. But beware and hurry to the healer to heal your wounds. For the teacher is a healer and the sins a wound. The vulture sits on the stone awaiting carrion. And you, man, await death. The vulture gets the stone for his offspring, and you exert yourself for the sake of your soul. Because the church prayers and [the alms] for orphans are stones for you. Man, [when] a poor one and a rich one litigate, help the poor one. For God was poor. •
The wolf is a predatory beast. If he finds no carrion to eat, he goes to an open space and [looks up] at the sky, and cries out to God in a loud voice, saying: "My Lord, you have created me, you have told me to live so. You have let me neither to graze grass nor to gnaw wood but to feed on living creatures. Provide for us, Lord, provide!" His younger fellows hear him and all summon with one accord: "Provide for us, Lord, provide!" Then God sends them food and [they] do not perish.
You too, man, listen to the church's voice and summon God, our Lord. God will not deprive you of his mercy and will send you food for your soul. Because the church
prayers, your voice and secret sigh are food for the soul. Because God said: "Everyone who asks receives, to the one who knocks it will be opened." Man, do not say "I have sinned too much and I will get no absolution" but strive for repentance and you will get absolution. For a repenting sinner will always get forgiveness. Thus, you too do not cease, but keep trying and God will forgive you. •
The woodpecker is [a bird] that loves his little ones more than any other creature. The male comes to the female and they both build up a nest. The woodpecker goes to look for paradise food. The female remains in the nest, for she loves her brood. She hugs them with love and digs holes in their ribs and [they] die. On the third day, the male comes back and finds them dead. His heart aches for them, so he digs a hole in his own ribs and lets his blood drip on their wounds and [they] revive.1
This is how our Lord Jesus Christ also dug holes in his ribs for us. And his blood poured out and we revived. And he granted us life, having risen from the dead on the third day.2. Same with you, foolish man; God was crucified for us and his side was pierced.3. Remember it and do not judge the poor man and do not take from the poor man. That is why one should not do evil. Give alms from your property, for wealth is dust and in the dust it will remain. But the good that you do for your soul, it will be yours. You know that God has firmly set everything up. Everything on earth should be food for your body. The sun, the moon, and the stars are created for you, [and alms are created for the soul]. And do not misdirect the path of your soul because of much [yearning] to arrange [your] life.
The woodpecker is a motley bird. He flies from one tree to another, pecks with his beak, and listens with his ear. And if the tree is hollow, he pecks into it and makes
it a home. And there he lives. But if the tree is solid, he runs away from it.
The devil also goes from one human being to another. He pecks with his beak and listens with his ear. And if a person does not fear God and does not give alms, he possesses him and in him he lives. If a person fears God and wholeheartedly goes to church, [the devil] runs away, not only from him but also from his neighbours. •