Pigging Out on Early Medieval Animal Notions [12:23-26] (Latin)

Translation
Recordings
First Thoughts
On Connections
On Pigs
Closing

{A curious scene for a curious animal. Image from the Medieval Illuminated Manuscript Collection at the National Library of the Netherlands}

Translation

This week, Isidore’s focus is on names. Quite a bit more than usual:

[23] “The hare (lepus), from light-footed (levipes), are those that run quickly. And they are called from the Greek for running “Lagos”; truly, fast is this animal, and very timid.
[24] The rabbit is a type of wild animal as is the wild dog, that which dogs entrap to capture or that they draw out from their warrens.
[25] Sows they are called, which root in the pastures, they dig in the earth in search of food. Boars (verres), those that have power (vires) when older. Pigs (porcus), since they are as filth (spurcus). Truly they pour in their own filth, they immerse in mires, they cover themselves with mud. As per Horace (Letters 1.2.26):

And the friend of filth, pigs.

[26] This is also smut or foulness. Pigs’ hair is called bristly and hair of the sow: it is called this especially by shoemakers, the likes of which hair and hide they are used to, that is accustomed to, working with.”
(St Isidore of Seville, Etymologiae 12:23-26)

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Recordings

Latin:

Modern English:

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First Thoughts

So, what we have here is a quick write up about the hare and its habits, launching into the pig and its thorough association with filth. Knowing that these sorts of medieval encyclopedias were a mash-up of original and “borrowed” material does something to explain the order in which Isidore is treating animals, but it remains curious.

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On Connections

The connection between deer and rabbits is their timidity. This makes good sense, as the end of the passage on deer is indeed a quotation about that very quality.

But, then what’s the connection between the rabbit and the sow or pig? Is it that the pig roots around in the ground for food as the dog does for the rabbit? It seems like that’s the case – unless the connection (if there even is one) is based on the fact that both animals live quite a bit of their lives in the dirt.

What’s also curious is that only the pig’s skin is mentioned as something used by a profession. Rabbits would’ve been fairly plentiful in Isidore’s part of the world, but it seems the fur didn’t have much value. Certainly, no one was “accustomed to” (“suant” or “consuant” (12:26)) using it.

I guess pigskin wasn’t so much what was kicked in those days as it was that with which you kicked.

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On Pigs

The association between pigs and filth, mud, and smut is something that St. Isidore seems particularly intent on getting across. Why exactly is unclear. Though, if the animal itself is so filthy, then why is its skin so commonly used for leather?

Inhering in his entry on pigs is there some kind of commentary on the commoner’s choice of footwear material? Or is it just that St. Isidore is emphasizing the pig’s uncleanliness in order to make it more obvious that all creatures have a purpose when he reveals that the pig is what the shoemaker is used to using?

It’s a curious question, but one that can’t be grasped if we look only at the words of the Etymologiae. Nonetheless, a guess is that St. Isidore is just reporting what he’s found here, perhaps trying to make people remember their humble connections to this humble animal.

What’s most surprising, though, is that he doesn’t even mention how tasty the pig can be. Ah well, probably not a lot of room in the life of a bishop to have copious amounts of an animal sliced into strips and fried up to celebrate the birth of a savior.

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Closing

Check back here Thursday evening for the telling of Beowulf’s rousing the dragon (Ch.XXXV, ll.2542-2553).

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