Kamel – C. – II.1 Physiologus, Bestiarien

The camel is not a Physiologus animal, though it does appear in some ›Second Family‹ bestiaries, including some well-known illustrated ones such as the Ashley and Harley Bestiaries. These, along with Ps. Hugh of St Victor’s De bestiis et aliis rebus (12th century) have no spiritual interpretations of the camel, and record only the stock zoological information (mostly from Pliny via Isidore; see PL 177, 90). We are told, for example, about its names, division into two types, enmity with → horses, mating habits, ability to endure thirst, preference for dirty drinking water, and life-span (100 years). Again following Isidore, these texts also have a short notice about the dromedary, focusing inevitably on its speed (PL 177, 91).

Rabanus Maurus, however, in his encyclopedia, is chiefly interested in interpreting the animal allegorically, and his elucidations confirm that, at least in the earlier Middle Ages, the camel was seen mainly as a symbol of Christ – because of its name, its willingness to bear burdens, and its ability to go through the eye of a needle. As in the patristic period, however, the camel of Mt 19, 24 is used also to signify Gentiles who have converted to the faith; the camels of Gn 24 are interpreted as sinners, from whose backs Rebekah symbolically dismounts; and the De universo also, very unusually, has an interpretation of the camels in Idc 7, 12: these are as »numerous as locusts«, and are equated with »peccatores moribus distorti«.

Nigel Harris

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