Bestiaries: Scorpions

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Animals in Medieval and Renaissance Art. It’s a seminar course (pretty much all graduate students) and aside from our extensive reading assignments, we have to write a 20+ original research paper. The whole reason I took this class was because of my love of bestiaries, so naturally that’s what I’m writing my research paper on!

What is a bestiary? Well, basically is is a medieval ‘book of beasts.’ It’s often described as "medieval zoology" or "medieval natural science" – which has a kernel of truth. However, it is much more complicated. The intricacies could fill multiple books (and sadly, I’ve read them), but basically the bestiary is a combination of theological and scientific explanations of animals. The end result is an often fantastically wrong account of the natural world, full of insightful morals, confusing contradictions, and hilarious pictures.
Apparently researching bestiaries pretty much EVERY DAY isn’t enough punishment for myself, because now I feel the urge to blog about them! So I’m going to do a few posts about various animals found in bestiaries.

For this post I’m going to focus on the scorpion, in honor of the dead one I found under my desk at work.

Scorpion attributes:
– it is a kind of worm
– to make a scorpion, one must bury the claws of crabs
– if one is stung by a scorpion, that person will become hydrophobic (afraid of water)
– scorpion stings are fatal to girls and women. Men only die if they are stung in the morning when the poison is strongest
– the scorpion will never strike the palm of your hand
– the south wind gives scorpions the ability to fly (they stretch out their arms like oars)

Some depictions of scorpions in bestiaries:
(as usual, click to enlarge)

British Library, Sloane MS 1975, Folio 13r

Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º, Folio 58v

Koninklijke Bibliotheek, KB, KA 16, Folio 126v

Information and images were taken from – an awesome site!


5 thoughts on “Bestiaries: Scorpions

  1. hey, I just came here from the Ebert article. You should check out librarything, as a booklover you would really like it.

    • I’ve been meaning to and just.. haven’t. I already have a account, so I was hesitant to get hooked on another book site! but I’ll give it a look 🙂

  2. No problem. To follow up on Emily’s comment– I belong to GoodReads and LibraryThing– I think of GoodReads as a site for social readers, LibraryThing as a site for book lovers who love both the reading and the messing about with their lists of books. I only have about 1/3 of my books in LibraryThing, but it’s much more useful for that kind of thing:

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