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The Old English Physiologus Throughout literary history few works have enjoyed more popular success than bestiaries Bestiaries are encyclopedic compendiums with stories about real or mythical animals Many of these tomes have existed throughout the centuries dating back to the pre-Christian era but none has been more influential than Physiologus Manuscripts of Physiologus have been found in Latin Ethiopian Syrian Old High German Flemish Dutch Provencal Old French Middle English Italian Waldensian Rumanian Icelandic Medieval Greek Serbian Russian and Old English Cook lvii Sokoll states that With the exception of the Bible there is perhaps no other book in all of literature that has been current in every cultivated tongue and among every class of people Cook lvii Yet Physiologus remains a mystery no one is sure when it was first written no one knows the origin of the text the author is anonymous Examining some different ideas regarding the origins of this text might prove fruitful Origins and Influences Little doubt remains that a proto-Physiologus first appeared in pre-Christian times Also it was probably influenced by works like Aristotles Historia animalium and Plinys Naturalis historia Wirtjes lxviii Egypt seems the most likely origin of this proto-Physiologus The use of Phamenoth the coptic name for March coupled with the stories of the Crocodile Ibis and Phoenix creatures important in Egyptian literature and religion leave little doubt regarding this fact Cook lvii In fact Heliodorus third century Greek romance Theagenes and Chariclea includes an Egyptian character who makes reference to sacred Egyptian texts containing reference to the Charadrius a mythical bird also described in Physiologus Cook lvii This passage about the Charadrius mirrors the one in Physiologus by demonstrating the birds ability to cure disease by staring into the eyes of the afflicted More importantly this reference to an Egyptian proto-Physiologus predates the ear liest known Greek text by approximately two centuries Christian Version While the dating of the first
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