Kamel – C. – II.2 Tierkunde, Enzyklopädik

The relatively early encyclopaedia of Rabanus Maurus, De universo libri 22, contains only a small amount of zoological information about the camel (see PL 111, 211). This work confirms for example that it ruminates, and transmits Isidore’s mistaken distinction between dromedaries, two-humped Arabian camels, and single-humped ones »from other regions«.

Hildegard of Bingen, in her idiosyncratic Physica, devotes herself to similarities between the camel and other animals (its hump has the strength of a → lion, a → pard, and a → horse, whereas the rest of its body is like a → donkey’s; PL 197, 1313f.).

The principal conveyors of camel lore to the high and later Middle Ages were, however, the vast thirteenth-century encyclopaedias of Thomas Cantimpratensis (4, 12, p. 113f.), Albertus Magnus (espec. 22, 15, p. 1361f.), Bartholomaeus Anglicus (18, 18 and 18, 35), and Vincentius Bellovacensis (18, 22–26 (cols 1337–40) and 18, 45 (col. 1351) – Bartholomaeus and Vincentius give the dromedary its own chapter, the others do not. All four authors bring together and re-order the material provided by the canonical ancient and early-medieval naturalists, but occasionally also offer fascinating glimpses of less familiar material. Basilius Magnus (via Eustathius) is for example quoted as saying that the camel holds grudges for a long time, and always eventually wreaks revenge – a proprietas found very useful by later moralists. Finally, and most fascinatingly, there is some material of relatively recent vintage from the Historia orientalis of Jacques de Vitry (ch. 88, p. 177). This includes references to the camel’s ugliness and laziness (it is »deforme«, »turpis aspectus«, and »pigrum«), to the fact that it walks slowly (»lentus incessus«), and to its unpleasant shrieks when angered (»horribiliter strident«). These additions, minor though they are in extent, carry a tantalizing ring of truth which suggests an increased personal familarity with camels on the part of Jacques (and doubtless of many other crusaders and inhabitants of Outremer since the end of the 11th century).

Nigel Harris

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