Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
English Bestiary, 13th century (British Library, Harley 3244, f.39). All images by permission of the British Library. These images are made available by the British Library under a Creative Commons licence.

This page is from a 13th century volume of mixed contents. This is the beginning of the description of the elephant from a bestiary. As is usual, the section is headed with a picture of the animal, or at least, the artist's conception of the animal. This is a standard text for the elephant, and begins with some dubious etymology, proceeds to some equally dubious natural history description, and concludes with moral conclusions from the supposed behaviour of the elephant. A male and female elephant represent Adam and Eve, because they do not know how to mate until they have eaten a special fruit. The small elephant which can rescue a large elephant stuck on the ground is a Christ-like figure.

The script is a small, simplified and compact Gothic textura, utilised in the 13th century to pack more writing into smaller pages. Such scripts were much used for Bibles at this time. They predate the development of cursive book hands, which later provided a more elegant solution to the problem of writing rapidly and compactly.

English versions of the text of specific bestiary manuscripts can be found in Barber 1993 and in White 1954. The former has exquisite facsimiles of the illuminations. The Latin text, translation and commentary of a bestiary can be found at The Aberdeen Bestiary website. Their text for the elephant is essentially the same as this, but unfortunately, the folio with the beginning of the elephant description is missing.

| overview | image | text | alphabet | abbreviations | exercises | transcript | translation |

Click on each of the above to walk your way through the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
Index of Exercises
Index of Scripts

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This site is created and maintained by Dr Dianne Tillotson, freelance researcher and compulsive multimedia and web author. Comments are welcome Material on this web site is copyright, but some parts more so than others. Please check here for copyright status and usage before you start making free with it. This page last modified 21/6/2014.