Physiologus #

Introduction #


by Robert Bedrosian

The work known as Physiologus is a collection of tales taken from various sources. The stories, which are usually very short, describe the supposed characteristics of real and imaginary animals, precious stones, plants, and unusual places. Originally Physiologus was compiled in Greek, probably in the 2nd century A.D. Some time in the early fifth century it was translated into Ethiopic, Classical Armenian, Syriac, and Latin—and, subsequently, from Latin into all the major languages of Europe. Elements of some of these tales are known from the works of much earlier writers, such as Herodotus and Aristotle. Others probably were written by Church Fathers (or at least attributed to them). The stories in Physiologus served as a core and/or inspiration for many later medieval bestiaries, and they were often amplified and accompanied by lavish illustrations. This work, which today is known mostly to scholars, was second only to the Bible in popularity for more than a thousands years.

The present edition #

The Greek word “Physiologus” usually is translated “the Naturalist” or “the Natural Philosopher,” and many of the tales begin with the expression “Physiologus tells us…” If this compilation first appeared in the second century, then among “the Naturalist(s)” could have been Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), and/or Plutarch (A.D. 46-120). However, this was no cut-and-paste job by the Christian compiler. What characterize the stories as a collection are the moralizing remarks attached to them. It is unlikely that the original sources would have recognized the “treatments” that their tales later received. The present English translation omits the morals.

This translation is based on N. Marr’s edition. Translated from Classical Armenian into English by Robert Bedrosian in 2018. This edition presents the Classical Armenian and English texts in parallel format, along with morphological tags that can be used by scrolling over the Armenian text.

References #

  1. Marr, N. (1894). Sbornikipritch Vardana [Collections of Fables by Vardan]. Volume 3 (pp. 131-175). Saint Petersburg.

Additional resources #

  1. Muradyan, G. (2005). Physiologus, the Greek and Armenian Verions with a Study of Translation Technique. Leuven.