Eagles teaching an eaglet to look at the sun. CCCC MS 22, f. 166v
Summer has finally properly arrived in England, and the sun has made a stronger-than-usual appearance in Cambridge. While we humans need to dust off our sunglasses, the eagle, as described by Isidore of Seville in the early 7th century, is capable of staring directly into the sun.
In fact, the eagle tests its young by holding them up to the sun, and if they cannot look right at it, they are cast out of the nest. This brought about the medieval allegorical reading of the eagle’s ability to look directly into the sun as analogous to Christ’s ability to see the full glory of God. Only the most worthy souls can be lifted up by angels and perceive the whole power of God.
This illustration is from CCCC MS 22, a collection of Isidore of Seville’s works, which includes one of the oldest extant copies of an illustrated bestiary made in England. It probably dates from c. 1150-70, and may have been produced in the North of England.
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For several years, a pair of mallard ducks have nested in the New Court of Corpus, probably based on its academic credentials and excellent foliage. The annual sight of the Corpus ducklings and their subsequent herding to the Cam occurred yesterday to great fanfare, as the entire College stopped what they were doing to watch.
The medieval theory of the duck was that it was named ans in Latin after its constancy (assiduitate) in swimming (natandi). If you look closely, this is described in the first sentence of the section on ducks in the Peterborough bestiary (MS 53, 14th c.), starting with the historiated letter ‘A’:
CCCC MS 53, f. 203v
However, the name likely came from an Indo-European root word which was also visible in the Old English word for duck : enid. The Corpus Glossary (MS 144, early 9th c.) shows the translation of Latin aneta for Old English enid:
CCCC MS 144, f. 8v
The modern English word for duck came from the original Anglo-Saxon verb, dúcan, meaning to dive or duck in the modern sense. The word was already in use for the bird by the late Anglo-Saxon era, but continued in tandem with enid or ende through the 15th c.
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