Byzantine science – Zoology

Timotheus of Gaza.  A grammarian who lived in the reign of Anastasius at the end of the 5th century.  He was a student of the Egyptian philosopher Horapollo (so the Cyrillus Lexicon).  Tzetzes (Historiae 4.166- 69) remarks that Timotheos, along with Aelian and Oppian, represents the best zoology.  The Suda (T 621) describes him thus:

Of Gaza. Grammarian. He lived under the emperor Anastasius, for whom he wrote a tragedy on the public tax known as the chrysargyros. He also wrote in epic verse On the four-footed animals in India, Arabia and Egypt, and the creatures of Libya; also on unusual foreign birds and snakes in 4 books.

The 4 books in epic verse on animals (De animalibus, peri zoon) seem to be entirely lost.  But a manuscript from Augsburg (now in Munich) preserves an 11th century prose paraphrase of the work, but without indicating the author.  The date of this paraphrase is clear from the section recording the arrival of a giraffe in the time of Anastasius, and the same “in our own time” under Constantine Monomachus.  The creation of a prose paraphrase indicates the popularity of the work.  The editio princeps was printed by Matthaei in Moscow in 1811, but most of the edition was destroyed by Napoleon’s attack on the city. Portions of the text in an Oxford manuscript were published by Cramer, and these give the name of the author.  Older catalogues suggest that an incomplete copy of this work – or perhaps even of the original – may be found on Mount Athos, in the library of the Great Laura.

In addition some fragments of grammatical work Peri Syntaxeos were published by Cramer from a Paris manuscript (Coislin 387).  The “tragedy” – probably, at this date, merely a speech or dramatization, was perhaps written at the request of his fellow townsmen as a petition against the hated chrysargyron tax.  Seitz’s suggestion that the catalogue published by K.N.Satha indicates an “incomplete” copy of the tragedy on Mount Athos probably in fact refers to a copy of the De animalibus, as the title is only “to the emperor Anastasius; incomplete”.

Editions: F.C.Matthaei, Breuis historia animalium scriptoris anonymi qui seculo XI, Moscow (1811). Online here. J.A.Cramer, Anecdota Graeca Oxoniensis IV, p.263. Online here. M. Haupt, “Excerpta ex Timothei Gazaei libris de animalibus,” Hermes 3 (1869), 1-30+174 (online here).  J.A. Cramer, Anecdota Graeca e codd. manuscriptis Bibliothecae regiae parisienses, IV (1843), p.239-244.  Online here.
Translation: F.S. Bodenheimer, A. Rabinowitz, Timotheus of Gaza: On Animals. (Peri Zoon): Fragments of a Byzantine Paraphrase…, Paris/Leiden, 1949.
Studies: Seitz, Die Schule von Gaza, (1892). Online here. P.30 quotes Codex Vallicellianus E 11, a manuscript of the Cyrillus gloss/lexicon for Horapollo; On this see also P. Egenolff, Die Orthographischen Stücke der byzantinischen Litteratur … zu dem Programm des Gr. Gymnasiums Heidelberg für das Schuljahr 1887/88. Online here; R. Kruk, “Timotheus of Gaza’s On Animals in the Arabic Tradition”, in: Museon 114 (2001), 355-387. Online here.  Alain Touwaide, A census of Greek medical manuscripts, 2016, here, discusses the possible Athos manuscript of De animalibus.  G.-A. Costomiris, «Etudes sur les écrits inédits des anciens médecins grecs. Troisième série : Alexandre, Timothée, Léon le philosophe, Théophane, Nonnos, les Ephodes », Revue des etudes grecques 4 [1891], p.99, here, says the work Πρὸς τὸν αὐτοκράτορα Ἀναστάσιον περ Ζώων is “incomplete”.  K. N. Satha, Mesaionike Bibliotheke, vol. 1 (1872), p.271 has the entry “Τιμοθέου Γραμματικοῦ, πρὸς τὸν αὐτοκράτορα Ἀναστάσιον· ἀτελές”.  Online here.

Cosmas Indicopleustes. The mad monk who sailed to India in the 6th century and left us a weird book on the layout of the world. Book 9 contains descriptions of the animals of Ethiopia, India and Sri Lanka.

Manuscript online: Vatican gr. 699.
Edition: E.O. Winstedt, The Christian Topography. 1909. Online here.
Translation: J.W. McCrindle, Christian Topography, 1897.  Online here.

The zoological handbook of Constantine VII Porpyrogenitus (Excerpta Constantini de natura animalium) is perhaps one of the most important Byzantine zoological works.  It included excerpts from Timotheus of Gaza, Aristotle, Aelian and others, based mainly on the epitome of Aristophanes of Byzantium.  Two books (out of four) survive under the title Συλλογὴ τῆς περὶ ζῴων ἱστορίας, χερσαίων πτηνῶν τε και θαλαττίων.

Edition: S. Lambros “Excerptorum Constantini de natura animalium libri duo. Aristophanis historiae animalium epitome subjunctis Aeliani Timothei aliorumque eclogis”, Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca (Supplementum Aristotelicum, 1/1, Berlin, 1885). Online here.
Studies: Hunger, p.429f.  A. Zucker, “L’encyclopédie zoologique de Constantin VII vel Epitomé d’Aristophane de Byzance”, Rursus 7 (2012).  Online here.

Geoponica.  The 10th century farming handbook in 20 books contains a lot on animals.  It is compiled from earlier sources, named at the head of each book.

Edition: H. Bechk, Geoponica sive Cassiani Bassi scholastici de re rustica eclogae, Leipzig 1895. Online here.
Translation: A. Dalby, Geoponika: Farm Work. Totnes, 2011.

Michael of Ephesus.  12th century, in the circle of Anna Comnena.  He wrote commentaries on the works of Aristotle, including the zoological ones.

Edition: On Parts of Animals, Movement of Animals, Progression of Animals: Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca XXII.2
Translation: Aristotle and Michael of Ephesus on the Movement and Progression of Animals, trans. Anthony Preus, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1981.

Manuel Philes.  Byzantine poet.  Around 1320 he wrote a poem on the characteristics of animals De animalium proprietate, based on Aelian; also one on the elephant, De elephantis, and De plantis.

Edition: F.S. Lehrs & F. Duebner (edd.), Poetae bucolici et didactici, Paris: Didot series, 1862.  Greek w/ Latin translation. Online here.

Demetrius Pepagomenus.  Fl. Early 15th century. He wrote treatises on hunting dogs and falconry, and medical works in autograph in Codex Paris gr. 2256; also Ms. 60 of the Medical Society of London.  Also a work, De podagra; 3 works on hawks and hounds, misattributed to one Demetrius of Constantinople since 1545.

Edition: R. Hercher, Claudii Aeliani varia historia etc, Leipzig: Teubner 1866. Contains 4 opuscula on p.333-599, Greek only.
Translation: (Lat.) P. Gilles, Aeliani de historia animalium, Lyons, 1562. P.527-668. Earlier translations exist.
Study: A. Diller, Byzantion 48 (1978) p.35-42. Online.

Anonymous.  A handbook on falcons has been published with German translation based on a manuscript from Vienna.  The publication was of three such works from various sources.  The title of the little text is Ἱ ερακοσόφιν εἰς ιἀ τρείαν ορ0 νέων και  εις κοπας και  χρωμᾶ οιὁ ν ζαγάνων, φαλκονίων, πετριτῶν, ἱερακίων, τζουρακίων καὶ ὀξυπτερύγων.

Edition/Translation: J. Hammer-Purgstall, Falkner-Klee, bestehend in drey ungedruckten Werken über die Falknerey, Pesth (1840). Online here.

Anonymous.  There are other treatises on birds. I was unable to locate any details however.

Hippiatrica. The ancient Greek veterinary treatises were compiled in four different recensions, the most ancient of the 9-10th century.  Two of the manuscripts are illustrated.

Translation: A. McCabe, A Byzantine Encyclopaedia of Horse Medicine: The Sources, Compilation, and Transmission of the Hippiatrica. Oxford, 2007.

From Manuel Philes, De animalium proprietate, BL Burney Ms. 97.  Here.

2 thoughts on “Byzantine science – Zoology

  1. P.S. A quick glance through Lindberg 2007 2nd ed. just revealed a translation of Albert Magnus’ On Animals by Kitchell Jr. and Resnick in 1999. Perhaps also of interest.

Leave a Reply