The entire premise of Bestiarum Vocabulum, as some of you might know, rests on the genre of the medieval bestiary ( or bestiarum vocabulum). It is therefore meet that we occasionaly visit the archives for entries, as part of an ongoing medievalist series.
Take, for example, the Ant-Lion, of whom Adhelm, abbot of Malmesbury (639-730) once wrote the following riddle:
Dudum compositis ego nomen gesto figuris :
Ut leo, sic formica vocor sermone Pelasgo
Tropica nominibus signans praesagia duplis,
Cum rostris avium nequeam resistere rostro.
Scrutetur sapiens, gemino cur nomine fingar !
I long have borne the name of hybrid form :
Both ant and lion I am called in Greek
A double metaphor, foreboding doom ;
My beak cannot ward off the beaks of birds.
Let wise men search out why my names are twain.
And why are the Ant-lion’s names twain? There are two possible answers. In the first, the Ant-lion is a large, fierce insect. This is likely Adhelm’s opinion, one shared by Gregory the Great ( Moralia in Iob, Book V, chapter 20, section 40), and Isidore of Seville (Etymologies, Book 12, 3:10), and other venerable medieval types.
But there is another possibility: that as the result of a mating between a lion and an ant, the Ant-lion has the face of a lion and and the body of an ant. And this, dear readers, is the interesting answer, made more interesting by its tragic ending.
Because the Ant-lion is at gustatory war with itself. Belying the Latin dictum “de gustibus non disputatem est,” the lion’s head will only eat meat, while the ant body can only digest grain. The ant-lion, divided against itself, inevitably starves.
… but the author of BV, as you might expect, is having a difficult time getting past the basic premise of this explanation, which is that an ant can mate with a lion. The mind. boggles. at that visual.
…and should any reader find him or herself with a bit of free time and a clever pen (ahem), renderings of said illicit act will be gladly posted in a future posting. But *try* to keep it PG13.