Jane Beal, PhD – English Department, University of La Verne: The Life of Christ in Medieval Bestiaries: Allegorical Interpretations of the Unicorn, Lamb, Pelican, Lion, and Phoenix


Medieval bestiaries are sometimes considered “scientific,” zoological treatises from an earlier age. Although epistemologically different from modern science, they nevertheless do have a literal, scientific sense. Rarely, if ever, are they considered mystical, devotional, contemplative, Christian writings that could keep company with elaborate, allegorical interpretations of the Song of Songs, such as can be found in Origen, Bernard of Clairvaux, and the Glossa ordinaria, and which influenced the mystical experiences of so many medieval men and women. Yet they can and should be interpreted in this light. Indeed, key creatures depicted in medieval bestiaries are interpreted allegorically in relationship to the life of Christ: the unicorn, lamb, pelican, lion, and phoenix. By contemplating these awesome animals (in ways that have been analyzed by such scholars as Mary Carruthers and Michelle Karnes), medieval contemplatives could immerse themselves in the life of Christ imaginatively and make progress towards the Divine spiritually. Specifically, the Unicorn was seen as a figure of Christ’s Incarnation; the Lamb and the Pelican as figures of Christ’s Crucifixion, and the Lion and the Phoenix as figures for Christ’s Resurrection. It is worthwhile to consider how these creatures came to be figurae so closely related to the life of Christ and to note how the allegorical interpretations of them interacted with defined imaginative processes to foster late-medieval devotion to Christ. Especially in the case of the unicorn, we can see a connection between medieval bestiaries and medieval mysticism, connected through the allegorical sense that relates the Song of Songs to Christ and the Virgin Mary. Equally important, however, are the stages of humility, purgation, illumination, maturation, and unification with God imaged by the five creatures, who act as both images and inspirations for the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual progress of devout medieval believers.


Albrecht Classen, The University of Arizona: The World of Hybrid Women in Medieval and Early Modern Literature

This paper focuses on the surprisingly large number of hybrid female figures in the pre-modern world, especially Melusine, but then also many fairy-like creatures (Marie de France, Lanval). The erotic element in all those projections is very obvious, but the interest in hybridity also reveals a strong subliminal urge to investigate alternative forms of human existence, combining magic with sexuality, political power with economic force. This paper will investigate relevant narratives from the twelfth through the sixteenth century (Paracelsus).


Tom Willard, The University of Arizona: The Dream World’s Map, Directions, and Visit in Thomas Vaughan’s Lumen de Lumine (1651)

Between 1648 and 1655, the Anglo-Welsh alchemist Thomas Vaughan wrote a half-dozen small books on the magical arts. In one of the last, he offered what he called “the only Clavis” to his earlier work. This “key” turned out to be an allegory, presented as a symbolic engraving, a Rosicrucian parable, and the narrative of a dream vision with a poem and a prose commentary. The map was labelled an image of the magical school (scholae magicae typus) engraved by the portrait artist Robert Vaughan, who prepared the famous illustrations for the Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1651). It included mythical beasts such as the cockatrice and ouroborous along with the invisible mountain of the magi (mons magorum invisibilis) described in the Rosicrucian text. 
This paper will offer an interpretation of the map, including all the features Vaughan sees there. A few of them are standards of alchemy: “The First Matter,” “The Philosophicall Fire,” “The Heavenly Luna,” and “The Green salt.” Others are farther fetched: “The River of Pearl,” “The Aether, or the Aire of Paradise,” “The Star-Soule,” and “The Diapasm, or Magicall Perfume.” Vaughan’s dream vision has symbolism in common with other visual works in the Rosicrucian tradition, including Heinrich Khunrath’s Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (1595) and the Geheimne Figuren der Rosenkreuzer aus dem 16. und 17. Jahrhundert (1785). The proposed paper will attempt to draw some connections and distinctions.