KAMEL – Lateinische Literatur

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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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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Kamel – C. – II.3 Gebrauchsschrifttum

Medizinisches Schrifttum: Many ancient beliefs in the medicinal powers of camels are recorded by Pliny (28,26). A camel’s brain, dried and taken in vinegar, cures epilepsy, as does its gall taken with honey, and its burnt dung applied with oil (the latter also cures dysentery and makes the hair curl). A camel’s urine, meanwhile, is a valuable purgative and remedy for ulcers, whereas its tail hairs, when plaited onto the left arm, can cure certain fevers.

Hildegard of Bingen also discusses the camel's medicinal uses (see PL 197, 1313f.). In particular, ground camel hump bones, taken in water, do wonders for the heart, the spleen, and various fevers; and Vincentius Bellovacensis provides some less ›standard‹ medical material, attributed to Avicenna, Dioscorides and Haly, rather than Pliny (a camel’s flesh is a diuretic, for example, its dung good for swellings and wounds, and its milk an antidote).

Nigel Harris

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Kamel – C. – III.1 Fabel

The camel is represented in four fables, two of them widely transmitted in Latin, two of them less so. The Aesopic fable of the camel and the → flea is common to Babrius and the Romulus traditions, and is also related by Ps. Dositheus and Alexander Neckam (see Grubmüller/Dicke no. 157, p. 169f.). A flea rides for some time on a camel’s back, before getting off and telling the camel that he is doing so to relieve the camel’s burden – to which the camel responds that he has at no point noticed the flea’s presence. If this fable acts above all as a warning to insignificant people (like the flea) against vaunting their own presumed importance, the comparably well known Avianic fable of the camel and Jupiter presents the camel itself in a morally negative light (see Grubmüller/Dicke no. 328, p. 381f.). The camel asks Jove for a pair of horns like those of a bull, only to be derided, told to be content with what nature has provided, and in several accounts denuded of his long ears. The camel is sometimes addressed as »livide«, thereby implying an association also with the deadly sin of envy. Meanwhile a fable from the Kalila wa-Dimna tradition (also in Baldo, Bono Stoppani, John of Capua, and Raymond of Béziers – see Grubmüller/Dicke no. 389, p. 449) casts the camel as a selfless servant who allows himself to be eaten by the sick → lion-king in order to save the latter’s life; and the Cyrillus fable of the camel 4 Tiere in der Literatur des Mittelalters. Ein interdisziplinäres Lexikonprojekt – Probeartikel »Kamel« and the → oxen (Grubmüller/Dicke no. 331, p. 386f.) presents the former as a prudent father-figure (he is addressed as ‘pater’), who mediates between two steers fighting each other over the same female calf. One suspects that most of these characterizations are based above all on the camel’s large size; and certainly they contain little to imply a connection with the encyclopaedic and patristic traditions described above.

Nigel Harris

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Kamel – C. – III.2 Tierepos

The camel has little to do in Latin beast epics, though it does appear in the Ecbasis cuiusdam captivi (l. 641), in which the → leopard gives the camel the task of providing the cloths for the celebratory breakfast (a veiled allusion to Matthew 19, 24? – Ziolkowski, p. 183). Meanwhile Leo of Vercelli’s mid-eleventh-century Metrum Leonis presents the camel as a scribe who records the proceedings of the → wolf’s trial (see Ziolkowski, pp. 124 and 254, who postulates a possible connection between this role and the camel’s association with the scribes and Pharisees in Mt 23).

Lit.: K. GRUBMÜLLER/ G. DICKE: Die Fabeln des Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit, 1987; J. M. ZIOLKOWSKI: Talking Animals, 1993.

Nigel Harris

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Kamel – C. – IV.1 Narrative Texte

In hagiographical literature, a camel intervenes in the story of Sts Cosmas and Damian, ordering in a human voice that the two martyr brothers be buried together (Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, no. 143). In the Ruodlieb, gifts from king to king are twice (ll. 82, 166) said to include camels. Finally, Walther’s collection of proverbs contains some thirteen involving camels. Most of these relate either to Christ’s eye of a needle (1129b, 1574, 1624, 7100, 18263, 21939, 23485), or to the swallowed camel and strained-out → gnat (8402, 10271, 24685) – testimony in itself to the importance of these two biblical passages for Latin literature on the animal.

Nigel Harris

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Kamel – C. – IV.3 Diskursive Texte

As we have seen, many medieval Latin interpretations of the camel reflect the insights of patristic exegesis. At least until about 1200, indeed, it is possible to speak of a consensus amongst religious authors that the camel was primarily a symbol of Christ – particularly on the basis of the two great parables discussed above (see the many examples from the Patrologia Latina listed in Harris 2007). Nevertheless the Fathers’ alternative interpretations of these and other passages also had an influence, as did comparisons between the treasure-bearing camels of the Queen of Sheba and the patriarchs and prophets (see Bruno of Segni PL 165, 1051), and between the camels mentioned in Is 21 and the multitudes who will follow the Antichrist (see Herveus Burgidolensis PL 181, 207).

Interesting summaries of the camel’s spiritual meanings in the earlier and high Middle Ages are provided not only by Rabanus Maurus (see above), but also in the Liber in distinctionibus dictionum theologicalium of Alanus ab Insulis (PL 210, 687–812, here 727) and the Allegoriae in universam sacram scripturam (also known as the Angelus, PL 112, 849–1088, here 882). In both of these Christ is mentioned first (though in relation to Mt 23 rather than Mc 10, whose camel Alan sees as a »peccator pondere peccatorum oneratus«); but the Angelus also associates the camel with »tortitudo vitiorum« (on the basis of Gn 24), »populus huius saeculi« (Is 60, 6) and »dispositiones rerum terrenarum« (the 3,000 camels of Iob 1, 3).

The large-scale exemplum collections of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries – based as they were on the relatively new encyclopaedias of authors like Thomas or Bartholomaeus – expanded considerably the previously rather limited range of characteristics of the camel submitted to spiritual interpretations. These were often still used to signify Christ, as for instance are all three camel exempla of Ulrich von Lilienfeld’s Concordantiae caritatis (c. 1351). Here, the camel’s (supposed) ability to restrain its anger until an opportunity for vengeance arises is compared to Christ’s reining in his anger until Doomsday (see Munscheck p. 338); the compassionate readiness of a group of camels to forswear food when one of them is ill is equated with his willingness to sacrifice himself for the Jews (Munscheck p. 342); and, still more implausibly, the ability of a young camel to eat greenery immediately after birth is linked with Christ’s instinctive bearing of our sins (Munscheck p. 354). Further examples of rather far-fetched christological interpretations can be found in the Reductorium morale of Petrus Berchorius (c. 1300; see 10, 17, pp. 359a–360b): Petrus states for instance that the camel’s desire for solitude in the mating season reflects the solitude of Christ’s life on earth, and that the hot-bloodedness, dryness, and leanness of a camel’s body is reminiscent of Our Lord’s charity, purity, and penitence.

The Reductorium morale, however, along with roughly contemporary works such as the Summa de exemplis et similitudinibus rerum of Joannes a San Geminiano (5, 20, 51, 63, 83, 104, 113) and the Proprietates rerum moralizate sometimes attributed to Marcus de Orvieto (Clm 8809, 102rb–vb, 106vb–107rb) were also responsible for expanding the range of spiritual meanings with which the camel was associated. Between them, for example, Petrus and Joannes interpret the camel as meaning spiritual fervour, obedience, chastity, pride, holy men, common sinners, the Christian soul, patience, and impatience; and the Proprietates rerum moralizate compares eight characteristics of the camel to a just man, and four of the dromedary to a good priest or monk. Such a wide spectrum of characteristics and meanings inevitably sometimes inspired these authors to exempla of ingenious, indeed bizarre intricacy: the camel’s four stomachs, for example, are compared in extraordinary detail by Joannes (5, 20) to the four ways in which (according to the four types of allegory) spiritual food must be ingested and digested, and by Petrus (p. 359a–b) both to the four stages of sin and to their four corresponding remedies.

Petrus Berchorius’s use of the camel as an image of pride (p. 359a, the two main sub-species of camel respectively signifying visible and invisible pride) can also be seen as typifying an increasingly prevalent later medieval trend towards interpreting the camel in malam partem as one of the Seven Deadly Sins – as often as not with anger or avarice, rather than pride. This is not particularly surprising given the contemporary fashion for using all manner of natural phenomena to connote sin, but one wonders whether a certain ›natural symbolism‹ may also have been at work, in that these are the three moral qualities with which Westerners increasingly familiar with real camels might instinctively have associated the beast. In any event, alongside occurrences in the visual arts, the dromedary is an emblem of pride and the camel of anger in the Etymachia treatise (Harris 1994, pp. 108, 124); and the camel represents avarice in, for example, a Palm Sunday sermon by Conrad Holtnicker (no. 99) and a complex textual and pictorial tradition, related to the Etymachia, from late-medieval Austria (see Harris/Newhauser).

Lit.: N. HARRIS: The Latin and German Etymachia. Textual History, Edition, Commentary, 1994; ID: The Camel in Medieval Literature: Perspectives and Meanings. In: S. HARTMANN (ed.): Fauna and Flora, 2007, 131–51; ID/ R. NEWHAUSER: Visuality and Moral Culture in the Late Middle Ages. In: R. NEWHAUSER (ed.): In the Garden of Evil, 2005, 234-76; H. MUNSCHECK: Die Concordantiae caritatis des Ulrich von Lilienfeld, 2000.

Nigel Harris

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