CategoryTextual Form
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Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330)

The bestiary was a type of book popular during the Middle Ages that featured descriptions of beasts alongside illuminations of their appearances. These included real and imagined animals, and their descriptions often came with anecdotes and religious symbolisms to provide moral instruction to the reader.

Production of a bestiary was an arduous and costly process because its texts and illuminations were typically done entirely by hand with intricate details and vivid colouring (involving gold and silver decorations), and was not the work of a single person. 

The Aberdeen Bestiary (c. 1200) is considered one of the finest and most beautiful examples due to its particularly lavish, gilded illuminations. 


During the course on Real and Imagined Animals in Medieval Literature (YHU2330), a number in the class produced their own creative bestiary entries to better engage with and understand the characteristics of this textual form. Their works are compiled here in alphabetical order, with links to their full reflections on their projects and the bestiary in general:



The Capricornus-Xuanwu is a hybrid celestial beast of the northern summer skies and southern winter skies. Beheld in the west, it takes the shape of a goat with fish tail, coiling as a serpent round the form of a black monstrous turtle beheld in the east. The Xuanwu turtle is half-lion, half-dragon, half-snake, a fierce and mysterious guardian of the north with the power of water. The sea-goat shares this affinity, but it is also endowed with the abundance of earth, of which the infant Zeus once suckled upon through the horns. It is a confused creature at war with itself always, but alas, such is also the nature of the world.

~ TOH HONG JIN (’23)