chapter  4
27 Pages

Animals as human exemplars

The relationships between humans and animals I have discussed so far have been concrete. Animals serving as property, food, and even sexual partners belonged to the real world of human experience. These animals were the ones featured in medieval literature and were the ones medieval illustrators selected when they included animals in the central illustrations of their manuscripts. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, however, different sorts of animals also appeared in the literary sources. These were animals of the imagination, fable animals, fantastic animals. The appearance of these animals marked a growing emphasis on a new relationship with animals. Animals become important as metaphors, as guides to metaphysical truths, as human exemplars. These imaginary animals exerted an even more important influence over the relationship between humans and animals than did the ox pulling solidly before the plow or the sheep placidly providing milk or even the farm animals leading their keepers into sin.