Medieval Menagerie: Bats

While today we recognize bats as mammals, Medieval thinkers categorized bats as birds.  The Latin word for bat is vespertilio which is derived from vesper meaning evening.  This is a reference to the time of day when bats emerge for their nocturnal activities.  The medieval Cornish word for bat is Hihsommet (from ff. 7r-10r of Cotton MS. Vespasian A. XIV).

The bat, unlike other birds, is a flying quadruped, resembling a mouse. It has its name (vespertilio) from the time when it flies, after twilight. It flies about driven by precipitate motion, hangs from frgile branchs, and makes a sound like a squeak.

~ Isidore de Seville, Etymologiae c. 600 – 625 A.D.

This hairy bat

‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506. BL, Add 18852, fol. 150r

‘Hours of Joanna the Mad’, Bruges 1486-1506. BL, Add 18852, fol. 150r

This happy little bat

Harley 3244 fol 55v, 3rd quarter of the 13th century, after c. 1236

Harley 3244 fol 55v, 3rd quarter of the 13th century, after c. 1236

Sideways bat

Galeno, De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis ac facultatibus, nella traduzione di Niccolò da Reggio. Urb.lat.248 f. 105v

Galeno, De simplicium medicamentorum temperamentis ac facultatibus, nella traduzione di Niccolò da Reggio. Urb.lat.248 f. 105v 1375-1425 CE.

This spread-eagle bat

Add-42310-f-164r

Add-42310-f-164r

Bat from the Aberdeen Bestiary – MS 24

The bat, a lowly animal, gets its name from vesper, the evening, when it emerges. It is a winged creature but also a four-footed one, and it has teeth, which you would not usually find in birds. It gives birth like a quadruped, not to eggs but to live young. It flies, but not on wings; it supports itself by making a rowing motion with its skin, and, suspended just as on wings, it darts around.

Translation from the Aberdeen Bestiary

Aberdeen Bestiary, MS 24, F. 51v, C. 1200 CE

Aberdeen Bestiary, MS 24, F. 51v, C. 1200 CE

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