The Physiologus is a collection of moralized beast tales. It was one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages, appearing in most of the vernacular languages of Europe, as well as Greek (its original language) and Latin. Its popularity is shown by the hundreds of manuscript copies of it still in existence. It was the basis of the later bestiaries, which added to the stock of stories and to the moralizations. Many versions of it were written by a variety of authors, both in prose and in verse; some left off the moralizations, while others expanded on them.

Since the true author of the original Greek Physiologus was unknown, several Greek and Latin Christian church writers received credit for it in the Middle Ages, including Epiphanius, Peter of Alexandria, Basil, John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Ambrose, Theobaldus, and Jerome; even pre-Christian authors like Solomon and Aristotle were said to have written parts of it - [Curley, p. xvi].

When and where it was written is also uncertain, though the general consensus is that it was probably produced in Alexandria, sometime in the third or fourth century. The date is based on evidence in the text itself and on references to the text by other writers by the fifth century at the latest; the place is suggested by the animals described, several of which were known primarily in Egypt. For an extensive discussion of the dating and origin of the first Greek Physiologus, see Vermeille, Physiologus : De l’Orient à l’Occident : Un patchwork multiculturel au service de l’Écriture (page 15-24).

The original Greek text contained between 40 and 48 chapters. No manuscript copies of the original Greek text survive; the earliest versions of the text are Latin translations. Through the centuries the number of chapters was expanded. The animals described also changed as some were added and others discarded. The works of later authors, such as the sixth-seventh century bishop Isidore of Seville and the work of other authors of the encyclopedic texts that were popular in the Middle Ages, were merged with the Physiologus; the result was the medieval bestiary of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

"Physiologus" is often translated as "the naturalist," but this is somewhat misleading. The Physiologus is not "natural history" in the same way that, for example, Pliny the Elder's first century work Natural History or Aristotle's De animalium is. The intent of those authors was to describe what was known about "nature" at the time; to disseminate objective knowledge. The author of the Physiologus used some of the descriptions of animals found in the earlier works, but his intent was different: the stories were there to illustrate the deeper meaning, the explicitly Christian religious, dogmatic, allegorical meaning, that was thought to be embedded in nature.

"Physiologus was never intended to be a treatise on natural history. ... Nor did the word ... ever mean simply "the naturalist" as we understand the term, ... but one who interpreted metaphysically, morally, and, finally, mystically the transcendent significance of the natural world." - [Curley, p. xv].

The Name "Physiologus"

The name "Physiologus" appears in several languages with non-Latin alphabets.

  • Armenian : ֆիզիոլոգ
  • Bulgarian : физиолог
  • Ethiopic (Ge'ez): ፊሳልጎስ
  • Georgian : ფიზიოლოგი
  • Greek : Φυσιολόγος
  • Icelandic : lífeðlisfræðingur
  • Russian : физиолог
  • Serbian : физиолог
  • Ukrainian : фізіолог


There are hundreds of Physiologus manuscripts still in existence. Most are in western Europe, but there are a many in eastern Europe and elsewhere as well. There are relatively few manuscripts that include only the Physiologus texts; most are miscellanies, containing other texts. A common combination is Hugh of Fouilloy's De avibus, a moralized book on birds, along with one of the Latin versions of the Physiologus. In many manuscripts the Physiologus is embedded in other texts, sometimes more or less complete, but often only extracts describing a few animals. Manuscript copies continued to be produced into the 19th century, mostly in Greek and Slavic.

See the list under the Manuscripts tab above for a list of all Physiologus manuscripts currently located. See the Bestiary Families - Physiologus page for a categorized list of Physiologus manuscripts.


Illustrated Physiologus manuscripts are relatively uncommon. Most illustrated manuscript are in the Latin versions, but some of the Greek and German manuscripts also have illustrations. Over all, about 13% of Physiologus manuscripts are at least partly illustrated. The Physiologus is often embedded in manuscripts containing other texts that are not themselves usually illustrated (sermons, Biblical commentary, lives of saints, etc.). Images from illustrated Physiologus manuscript can be viewed under the Gallery tab. In the complete list of manuscripts shown under the Manuscripts tab, the illustrated ones are marked with .

Physiologus or Bestiary?

There is no clear boundary defining whether a manuscript is a "Physiologus" or a "Bestiary". As Baxter (page 29) says, "...the earliest surviving Bestiaries are almost indistinguishable from the Physiologus without close textual analysis". At the early and late extremes the distinction is usually more clear, but in the "transition" the differences are not obvious. There was actually no real "transition"; while the Bestiaries did "evolve" from the Physiologus, the Physiologus did not stop appearing in manuscripts when the Bestiaries started. There were Physiologus manuscripts (and printed books) still being produced during the 16th to 19th centuries. In some cases the classification of a manuscript as Physiologus or Bestiary is a matter of opinion.

Latin Physiologus Versions

There are several versions of the Latin Physiologus text, containing different texts, animals, and chapter orders. These have been grouped into Versions A, B, C [X] and Y, as well as the Dicta Chrysostomi and Theobaldus versions. The manuscripts listed here for each version are only a sample of those that exist; see the Bestiary Families - Physiologus page for a more complete list.

The Latin Version A Physiologus text is found in only one 10th century manuscript, Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België, Ms. 10066-77 (often cited as Ms. 10074). It is unusual in that the animal characteristics and the moralization of the animal are often illustrated separately, with drawings of the animal followed by drawings of (mostly) people showing the meaning. The text has some similarities to that of version Y. The Latin Version A Physiologus text covers 33 animals in 36 chapters.

The chapters listed here of the Latin Physiologus A Version are based on manuscript Koninklijke Bibliotheek van België, Ms. 10066-77 (10th century), with additions from McCulloch (page 26). Some animals are in more than one chapter.

  1. Leo (lion, 3 chapters)
  2. Autalops (antelope)
  3. Lapides Igniferi (fire stones)
  4. Serra (sawfish)
  5. Caladrius (caladrius)
  6. Pelicanus (pelican)
  7. Nycticorax (octopus)
  8. Aquila (eagle)
  9. Phoenix (phoenix)
  10. Formica (ant, 2 chapters)
  11. Sirens et Onocentauri (siren and onocentaur)
  12. Vulpis (fox)
  13. Unicornis (unicorn)
  14. Castor (beaver)
  15. Hyaena (hyena)
  16. Dorcas (goat)
  17. Onager (onager)
  18. Hydrus (hydrus)
  19. Simia (ape)
  20. Perdix (partridge)
  21. Structocamleon (ostrich)
  22. Salamandra (salamander)
  23. Turtur (turtledove)
  24. Columba (dove)
  25. Epopus (hoopoe)
  26. Onager (onager)
  27. Vipera (viper)
  28. Serpens (snake)
  29. Herinatius (hedgehog)
  30. Arbor Perindex (peridexion tree)
  31. Elephans (elephant)
  32. Lapide Agaten (agate)
  33. Adamas Lapide (diamond)
  34. Lapide Sindico (Indian stone)
  35. Herodius (falcon)
  36. Panthera (panther)

Version B is derived from Version Y, with the oldest manuscript dating from the eighth or ninth century. It has 36 or 37 chapters. When combined with text from the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, it became the First Family B-Is bestiary and is said to be the basis of the other family bestiaries. Most manuscripts begin with Etenim Iacob, benedicens filium suum Iudam, ait: Catulus leonis Iudas, filius de germine meo, quis suscitabit eum? (For Jacob, blessing his son Judah, said: Judah is a lion's cub, a son of my offspring, who will raise him up?) [Genesis 49:9].

There are at least seven B version manuscripts.

An edition of the B version was produced Francis J. Carmody in 1939 (Carmody, Physiologus Latinus: Éditions préliminaires versio B).

The chapters listed here of the Latin Physiologus B Version are based on the Carmody edition with reference to Baxter (page 30-31).

  1. Leo (lion)
  2. Autolops (antelope)
  3. Lapides Igniferi (fire stones)
  4. Serra (sawfish)
  5. Caladrius (caladrius)
  6. Pelicanus (pelican)
  7. Nycticorax (owl)
  8. Aquila (eagle)
  9. Phoenix (phoenix)
  10. Upupa (hoopoe)
  11. Formica (ant)
  12. Sirenae et Onocentauri (siren and onocentaur)
  13. Herinacius (hedgehog)
  14. Ibis (ibis)
  15. Vulpis (fox)
  16. Unicornis (unicorn)
  17. Castor (beaver)
  18. Hyaena (hyena)
  19. Hydrus (hydrus)
  20. Caprea (goat)
  21. Onager et Simia (onager and ape)
  22. Fulica (coot)
  23. Panther (panther)
  24. Aspischelone (whale)
  25. Perdix (partridge)
  26. Mustela et Aspis (weasel and asp)
  27. Asida (ostrich)
  28. Turtur (turtledove)
  29. Cervus (stag)
  30. Salamandra (salamander)
  31. Columba (dove)
  32. Arbor Peredixion (peridexion tree)
  33. Elephas (elephant)
  34. Amos (Amos and the goats)
  35. Adamas (diamond)
  36. Margarita (pearl-oyster)
  37. Lacerta (lizard) [1]

[1] The lizard chapter is not included by Baxter.

While the B version chapter order may seem random, Baxter (page 35-62) shows that there is a structure, with eight groups of chapters all relating to attributes of Christ. His groups are:

  1. Christ's divinity: chapters 1-4
  2. Christ's rejection by the Jews: chapters 5-8
  3. Christ as fulfillment of the law: chapters 9-15
  4. Christ's renunciation of the Devil: chapters 16-18
  5. Christ's harrowing of hell: chapters 19-22
  6. Christ's redeeming mission: chapters 23-28
  7. Christ and the saints: chapters 29-34
  8. The incarnation of Christ: chapters 35-36

Version C of the Physiologus is found in two 9th and 10th centuries manuscripts. Version C is called Version X by some authors. "C represents another translation, quite corrupt, from the Greek with 24 of its 26 chapters resembling the Ethiopic text. ... This manuscript [Cod. 318] is of importance artistically as the first illustrated Physiologus, its miniatures showing traces of Alexandrian influence stylistic affinities with the Ultrecht Psalter." (McCulloch, page 24).

The C manuscripts are:

The chapters of Version C listed here are based on the Burgerbibliothek Bern manuscript, with additions from McCulloch (page 27).

  1. Leo (lion)
  2. Aesaura (lizard)
  3. Calatrius (caladrius)
  4. Pelicanus (pelican)
  5. Nocticoracos (owl)
  6. Aquila (eagle)
  7. Yppopus (hoopoe)
  8. Vipera (viper)
  9. Serpens (snake)
  10. Formica (ant)
  11. Serina et Honocentarus (siren and onocentaur)
  12. Yricius (hedgehog)
  13. Vulpis (fox)
  14. Panther (panther)
  15. Aspidohelunes (whale)
  16. Unicornium (unicorn)
  17. Cervus (stag)
  18. Salamandra (salamander)
  19. Peredexion (peridexion tree)
  20. Antelups (antelope)
  21. Serra (sawfish)
  22. Elephas (elephant)
  23. Lapis Acatus et Margarita (agate and pearl-oyster)
  24. Lapide Indicus (Indian stone)
  25. Galli Cantus (cock)
  26. Caballus (horse)

The Latin Physiologus Y Version has 48 or 49 chapters. The earliest manuscript is from the ninth century..

An edition of the Version Y text was produced by Francis J. Carmody in 1944 (Carmody, Physiologus Latinus Versio Y), available here in the Digital Text Library .

Carmody lists three manuscripts containing Version Y (1, 2, 3); Kuhry lists three more (4, 5, 6):

The chapters listed here of the Latin Physiologus Y Version are based on the Carmody edition, page 101.

  1. Leo (lion)
  2. Autolops (antelope)
  3. Piroboli Lapides (fire stones)
  4. Serra Marina (sawfish)
  5. Charadrius (caladrius)
  6. Pelicanus (pelican)
  7. Nycticorax (owl)
  8. Aquila (eagle)
  9. Phenix (phoenix)
  10. Epops (hoopoe)
  11. Onager (onager)
  12. Vipera (viper)
  13. Serpens (snake)
  14. Formica (ant)
  15. Syrena et Onocentaurus (siren and onocentaur)
  16. Herinacius (hedgehog)
  17. Ibis (ibis)
  18. Vulpis (fox)
  19. Arbor Peridexion (peridexion tree)
  20. Elephas (elephant)
  21. Dorchon [Caprea] (goat)
  22. Achatis Lapis (agate)
  23. [Ostrea] Sostoros Lapis et Margarita (pearl-oyster)
  24. Adamantinus Lapis (diamond)
  25. Onager et Simius (onager and ape)
  26. [Indicus] Senditicos Lapis (Indian stone)
  27. Herodius id est Fulica (coot)
  28. Psycomora (Amos and the goats)
  29. Panther (panther)
  30. Cetus id est Aspisceleon (whale)
  31. Perdix (partridge)
  32. Vultur (vulture)
  33. Mirmicoleon (ant-lion)
  34. Mustela et Aspis (weasel and asp)
  35. Monoceras (monocerus)
  36. Castor (beaver)
  37. Hyena hoc est Belua (hyena)
  38. [Hydrus] Niluus (hydrus)
  39. [Ichneumon| Echinemon (ichneumon)
  40. Cornicola (cornica)
  41. Turtur (turtledove)
  42. Hyrundo (swallow)
  43. Cervus (stag)
  44. Rana (frog)
  45. Saura id est Salamandra (salamander)
  46. Magnis Lapis (magnet)
  47. Adamantinus Lapis (diamond)
  48. Columbae (dove)
  49. Saura Eliace hoc est Anguilla Solis (sun lizard)

It is thought that the Dicta Chrysostomi text originated in France around 1000 CE though some say it is earlier. It is based on the "B" version of the Physiologus, but differs in some details and in the chapter order. There is some uncertainty on whether to call this text the Physiologus or a bestiary, but since it does not include any material from Isidore of Seville as the earliest bestiaries do, it is more like the other Physiologus texts. It was called the Dicta Chrysostomi because of its medieval attribution to John Chrysostom, a fifth century Patriarch of Constantinople. The text usually begins: "Incipiunt dicta Johannis Crisostomi de naturis bestiarium". The chapters are divided into Animals, beginning with the lion, and Birds, beginning with the eagle. There are generally 27 chapters, though some manuscripts have additional material. The manuscripts date from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, with most produced in Germany. A selection of the manuscripts is shown below; there are many more.

This list of the chapters of the Dicta Chrysostomi version are taken from McCulloch, page 43.

  1. Leone (lion)
  2. Panthera (panther)
  3. Unicorni (unicorn)
  4. Ydro (hydrus)
  5. Syrenis et Onocentauris (siren and onocentaur)
  6. Hyena (hyena)
  7. Onagro et Simia (onager and ape)
  8. Elephante (elephant)
  9. Autula (antelope)
  10. Serra (sawfish)
  11. Vipera (viper)
  12. Lacerta (lizard)
  13. Cervo (stag)
  14. Caprea (goat)
  15. Vulpe (fox)
  16. Castore (beaver)
  17. Formica (ant)
  18. Ericeo (hedgehog)
  19. Aquila (eagle)
  20. Pelicano (pelican)
  21. Nictorace (owl)
  22. Fulica (coot)
  23. Perdice (partridge)
  24. Assida (ostrich)
  25. Upupa (hoopoe)
  26. Caladrio (caladrius)
  27. Fenice (phoenix)

The metrical (rhymed verse) moralized Latin Physiologus version attributed to Theobaldus Episcopus has 12 chapters. The identity of Theobaldus is uncertain; he may have been an eleventh century abbot of Monte Cassino. There are two versions of the text. Both have the verse lines, but one also has blocks of prose commentary after variable numbers of verse lines. The manuscripts with the commentary are later copies, 14th to 15th century.

The manuscripts date from the early eleventh century to the fifteenth century. The oldest of these is the eleventh century British Library, Harley MS 3093. This is a selection of the existing manuscripts; there are many more.

The chapters listed here of the Latin Theobaldus Physiologus Version are based on the Rendell edition. Rendell lists three versions of the text. The first two have the same chapters. The first is from a printed edition of 1492, and the second is titled "Codex No. 5, Archives Chapter of Fanum" (an unknown manuscript). Rendell's third source is J-P. Migne's Patrologica Latina, volume 171 (Hildeberti Cenomanensis Episcopi Physiologus from an unknown manuscript "E ms. Regio 274, olim Elnonensi"). The chapters are the same, with some variations in the headings (chapter 3 Serpente is titled Colubro, chapter 5 Syrene is titled Sirenis et Homocentauro).

  1. Leo (lion)
  2. Aquila (eagle)
  3. Serpente (snake)
  4. Formica (ant)
  5. Vulpe (fox)
  6. Cervo (stag)
  7. Aranea (spider)
  8. Ceto (whale)
  9. Syrene (siren)
  10. Elephante (elephant)
  11. Turture (turtledove)
  12. Panthera (panther)

The Abbreviatio physologi is an abbreviated form of the Latin verse Physiologus attributed to Theobaldus (see above). The text includes only the animal descriptions, with the moralizations and allegories omitted. There are 45 lines of verse describing 12 animals, with each animal described in one to four lines. The chapters are in the same order as in the Theobaldus Physiologus.

The Dictamen de naturis animalium is an abbreviated form of the Dicta Chrysostomi version of the Physiologus (see above) There are 39 lines of verse describing 19 animals; each description is two lines. It includes only chapters that do not appear in the Abbreviatio physologi text.

Both texts appear together in two manuscripts, with tthe Abbreviatio appearing on its own in two more. "The author is not known, but, as tradition shows, he could have come from the area around Melk Abbey. This is what the Clm 19037 suggests: this manuscript from Tegernsee was written by Johannes Schlitpacher. Schlitpacher (1403-1482), who was prior and subprior in Melk several times and taught at the University of Vienna, was a monastery visitor in the ecclesiastical province of Salzburg under Nikolaus von Cues, and particularly maintained the connection between Melk and Tegernsee and sent many of his own writings to Tegernsee" (Henkel, page 48). One or both texts are found in four manuscripts.

See Henkel, Studien zum Physiologus im Mittelalter (page 47-53) for more information, and a transcript of both texts.

This list of the Abbreviatio physologi chapters is derived from Henkel (page 50-51) and the Melk manuscript.

  1. Leo (lion)
  2. Aquila (eagle)
  3. Serpens (snake)
  4. Formica (ant)
  5. Vulpes (fox)
  6. Cervus (stag)
  7. Aranea (spider)
  8. Cetus (whale)
  9. Siren / Onocenthaurus (siren / onocentaur)
  10. Elephante (elephant)
  11. Turtur (turtledove)
  12. Panther (panther)

This list of the Dictamen de naturis animalium chapters is derived from Henkel (page 52-53) and the Melk manuscript.

  1. Monoceros (unicorn)
  2. Idris / Cocodrilli (hydrus / crocodile)
  3. Hiena (hyena)
  4. Onager (onager)
  5. Simia (ape)
  6. Autula (antelope)
  7. Serra (sawfish)
  8. Vipera (viper)
  9. Lacerta (lizard)
  10. Caprea (goat)
  11. Castor (beaver)
  12. Ericius (hedgehog)
  13. Pelliquecanus (pelican)
  14. Nicticorax (owl)
  15. Fulica (coot)
  16. Perdix (partridge)
  17. Strucio (ostrich)
  18. Caradius (caladrius)
  19. Fenix (phoenix)

The Novus Phisiologus is a Latin verse version of the text. It has 32 chapters and does not does not match any other Latin Physiologus version, The author is unknown. The text includes some animals not usually found in the Latin Physiologus (e.g. basilisk), leaves out some that are (e.g. siren, onocentaur, whale), and omits stones (e.g. diamond and trees (e.g. peridexion tree). Both the animal description and the allegory is more detailed than in other versions.

The text is found in only one 14th century manuscript, Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt, Hs 2780. An edition and transcription of the text was produced in 1989 by Orban.

This list of the Novus Physiologus chapters is derived from Orban (page 1-3).

  1. Homine (humans)
  2. Leone (lion)
  3. Elephante (elephant)
  4. Panthere (panther)
  5. Cervo (stag)
  6. Urso (bear)
  7. Castore (beaver)
  8. Symea (ape)
  9. Cane (dog)
  10. Vulpe (fox)
  11. Equo (horse)
  12. Asino (ass)
  13. Unicornu (unicorn)
  14. Aquila (eagle)
  15. Phenice (phoenix)
  16. Pellicano (pelican)
  17. Cyconia ()stork
  18. Strucione (ostrich)
  19. Ardea (heron)
  20. Grue (crane)
  21. Corvo (raven)
  22. Perdice (partridge)
  23. Turture (turtledove)
  24. Gallo (cock)
  25. Dracone (dragon)
  26. Basilisco (basilisk)
  27. Aspide (asp)
  28. Vipera (viper)
  29. Lacerta (lizard)
  30. Ape (bee)
  31. Formica (ant)
  32. Anima (soul)

Other Languages

The Physiologus was available throughout the middle ages in several European, Asian and North African languages. The manuscripts listed here for each language are only a sample of those that exist; see the Bestiary Families - Physiologus page for a more complete list.

The Arabic text is found in several manuscripts, such as Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Arabe 68 (14th century) and Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Arabe 258 (14th century).

This list of animal chapters in the Arabic text comes from Pitra (1852, page LIII).

  1. Lion
  2. Snake
  3. Ant
  4. Hoopoe
  5. Ostrich
  6. Elephant
  7. Peridexion Tree
  8. Fox
  9. Urinatores [1]
  10. Dolphin
  11. Goat

[1] Pitra "Urinatores", diver, possibly Mergus

This list of animal chapters in the Arabic text comes from Cicade (2021).

  1. Lion
  2. Snake
  3. Ant
  4. Hoopoe
  5. Pelican
  6. Elephant
  7. Peridexion Tree
  8. Beaver
  9. Agate
  10. Dolphin
  11. Antelope
  12. Phoenix

The Armenian translation is thought to derive from the original Greek text of the Physiologus. A transcription of the Armenian text was produced by Pitra in 1852 (Volume 3, page 374). Editions were produced by Marr (1904) and Muradyan (2005). There are at least eight manuscripts containing the Armenian Physiologus. They are all held by monasteries in Greece and no information on them has yet been obtained.

This list of animal chapters in the Armenian text comes from Pitra (1852, volume 3, page LII and page 374-390), Cahier (1874, volume 5, page 117) and Cicade (2017).

  1. Lion
  2. Antelope [Hydrops]
  3. Fire Stones
  4. Sawfish
  5. Caladrius
  6. Pelican
  7. Owl [Nycticorax]
  8. Eagle
  9. Phoenix
  10. Hoopoe
  11. Onager
  12. Viper
  13. Snake
  14. Ant
  15. Siren and Onocentaur
  16. Hedgehog
  17. Fox
  18. Panther
  19. Whale
  20. Vulture
  21. Partridge
  22. Ant-Lion
  23. Weasel
  24. Hydrus and Crocodile
  25. Unicorn
  26. Beaver
  27. Ichneumon
  28. Peridexion Tree
  29. Crow
  30. Turtledove
  31. Swallow
  32. Stag
  33. Zerahav
  34. Bee
  35. Tiger

Middle English

The Middle English text is found in one manuscript, British Library, Arundel MS 292 (13th century). It includes 13 animals. This text was composed in East Midlands, during the first half of the thirteenth century, and is based on the metrical Latin Physiologus of Theobaldus. An edition was produced by Wirtjes (1991): A transcription and translation into modern English was produced by Armistead (2001), from which this list is taken.

  1. Leun (lion)
  2. Ernes (eagle)
  3. Neddre (snake)
  4. Mire (ant)
  5. Hert (stag)
  6. Fox (fox)
  7. Spinnere (spider)
  8. Cethegrande (whale)
  9. Mereman (siren)
  10. Elpes (elephant)
  11. Turtre (turtledove)
  12. Panter (panther)
  13. Coluer (dove)

Old English

The Old English text is found in one manuscript, Exeter Cathedral Library, Exeter Dean and Chapter MS 3501 (Exeter Book, 10th century). An edition of the manuscript was produced by Thorpe (1842), and an edition and translation was produced by Cook (1919).

It includes only three animals. The inclusion of the third one, a bird, is controversial. The manuscript also has an account of the phoenix which is usually considered to not be part of the OE Physiologus.

  1. Pandher (panther)
  2. Fastitocalon (whale)
  3. Bird, name missing, usually taken to be the partridge or the phoenix (Drout)

The Ethiopian version of the Physiologus is found in at least four manuscripts, written in Ethiopian characters. There are 49 animal chapters. An edition and German translation of the text was produced by Hommel (1877), who dates the text to the 4th - 7th century, and most likely the early 5th century. Hommel used three manuscripts in his edition, and gave two of them letter designations.

This list of the Ethiopian chapters is based on Hommel, 1889 (page 13-36).

  1. Lion
  2. Sun Lizard [Sonneneidechse]
  3. Caladrius [Kâradjôn]
  4. Pelican [Palkân]
  5. Owl [Nîkîtikô, Nicticorax]
  6. Eagle
  7. Phoenix [Fîneks]
  8. Hoopoe [Hêpôpas]
  9. Onager
  10. Snake [Akadnâ]
  11. Snake
  12. Ant
  13. Siren and Onocentaur
  14. Hedgehog
  15. Fox
  16. Panther
  17. Whale [Aspadaklônî]
  18. Partridge
  19. Vulture [Gîpôs]
  20. Ant-lion [Marmêrlôlêwôs]
  21. Weasel
  22. Unicorn
  23. Beaver [Kartârjôs]
  24. Hyena
  25. Hydrus and Crocodile
  26. Ichneumon
  27. Crow
  28. Turtledove
  29. Land and water Frog
  30. Stag [Bergbock]
  31. Salamander
  32. Diamond [Admás]
  33. Swallow [Kalîdîn]
  34. Peridexion Tree [Epîdîksjô]
  35. Dove
  36. Antelope [Endrápôs]
  37. Fire Stones [Parpalô]
  38. Magnet
  39. Sawfish
  40. Daniel in the lion's den
  41. Ibis [Abîsôr]
  42. Mountain Goat [Derkôdes, Hommel says "Gazelle"]
  43. Diamond [Dêmantes]
  44. Elephant [Êlbas]
  45. Agate [Akûtîs]
  46. Onager and Ape
  47. Indian Stone
  48. Heron [Arôdjôn]
  49. Sycamore Fig or Mulberry Tree [Sakamerôs/Maulbeerfeigenbaum]

The "French" Physiologus manuscripts were not written in modern French, which did not exist at the time. They are instead in several "proto-French" or Old French languages and dialects, including Anglo-Norman, Langues d'oïl and langues d'oc (Occitan). Some of the French Bestiaire texts are actually more or less direct translations of Latin Physiologus texts; whether these are "real" Physiologus texts is open to debate.


The Bestiaire of Philippe de Thaon is a translation in Anglo-Norman verse of a Latin Physiologus, with some additions from the Etymologies of Isidore of Seville. There are 38 animal chapters.


The Bestiaire of Gervaise is a verse translation in the Norman French dialect of a Latin Physiologus, possibly of the Dicta Chrysostomi type; Gervaise says his source was Chrysostom. There are 29 animal chapters.

The Bestiaire of Guillaume le Clerc is also a verse translation in the Norman French dialect of a Latin Physiologus, with additions from Isidore and other sources. There are 29 animal chapters.


The short-form Bestiaire of Pierre de Beauvais (also called Pierre le Picard) is a translation of a Latin Physiologus into the northern France Picard dialect of Langues d'oïl, in which Pierre calls himself a translator. It has 38 animal chapters. The source of Pierre's long-form Bestiaire is less clear.


The Waldensian Physiologus text is found in two manuscripts (the letter in [ ] brackets is the standard manuscript designation).

There are 54 animal chapters. It is It is written in the Waldensian dialect of the Occitan language, which was used by the "heretical" Christian community the Waldensians. The dialect is similar to Occitan, but there are differences in spelling and vocabulary. Waldensian is also called Valdese or Vaudois.

An edition and transcription of the text was produced in 1889 by Mayer. An edition and analysis of both manuscripts was produced in 1984 by Raugei.A closely related text was published as Libellus de Natura Animalium (ca. 1508); a facsimile of this book (with commentary) was produced by Davis in 1958.

This chapter list is derived from the transcription by Mayer (page 394-395), the Dublin catalog by Todd (page 45), and the Dublin manuscript itself.

  1. Aygla (eagle)
  2. Pelican (pelican)
  3. Fenis (phoenix)
  4. Pavon (peacock)
  5. Grua (crane)
  6. Gal (cock)
  7. Galina (hen)
  8. Corp (crow)
  9. Cing (swan)
  10. Pic (woodpecker)
  11. Randola (swallow)
  12. Tortora (turtledove)
  13. Perdiç (partridge)
  14. Colomba (dove)
  15. Voutor (vulture)
  16. Falcun (falcon)
  17. Papagal (parrot)
  18. Merlo (blackbird)
  19. Rosignol (nightingale)
  20. Abelhas (bee)
  21. Chicala (cicada)
  22. Caladri (caladrius)
  23. Leon (lion)
  24. Simia (ape)
  25. Lop (wolf)
  26. Mostela (weasel)
  27. Salamandia (salamander)
  28. Darbon (mole)
  29. Unicorn (unicorn)
  30. Cerf (stag)
  31. Chamos (camel)
  32. Pantera (panther)
  33. Castor (beaver)
  34. Riçz (hedgehog)
  35. Alifant (elephant)
  36. Caval (horse)
  37. Griffon (griffin)
  38. Buo (ox)
  39. Volp (fox)
  40. Can (dog)
  41. Andolap (antelope)
  42. Furnicz (ant)
  43. Serena (siren)
  44. Balena (whale)
  45. Vipra (viper)
  46. Aspi (asp)
  47. Cocodril (crocodile)
  48. Idria (hydrus)
  49. Serpent (snake)
  50. Recan [1]
  51. Tigre (tiger)
  52. Aragna (spider)
  53. Scorpion (scorpion)
  54. Pridex (peridexion tree)

[1] Recan or racan: Unidentified. The text equates the recan with the devil, who holds man by force.

The Georgian text is thought to derive from the Armenian text. There are 34 animal chapters. It is found in one manuscript of the tenth century, Korneli Kekelidze Georgian National Centre of Manuscripts, S-1141, from which this chapter list is taken.

  1. Lizard
  2. Lion
  3. Antelope
  4. Sawfish
  5. Caladrius
  6. Pelican
  7. Owl
  8. Eagle
  9. Phoenix
  10. Hoopoe
  11. Onager
  12. Viper
  13. Snake
  14. Ant
  15. Siren
  16. Hedgehog
  17. Fox
  18. Panther
  19. Sea-turtle
  20. Partridge
  21. Vulture
  22. Ant-lion
  23. Polecat
  24. Unicorn
  25. Beaver
  26. Hyena
  27. Otter
  28. Ichneumon
  29. Peridexion Tree
  30. Raven
  31. Turtledove
  32. Swallow
  33. Stag

Middle Bavarian

The Middle Bavarian text is found in manuscript Stiftsbibliothek Melk, Cod. 867. An edition was produced by Stammler (1965, page 44-46, 102-133).

This list is derived from the difficult to read manuscript and may not be entirely correct or complete.

  1. Aingehürn (unicorn)
  2. Cocodrillus (crocodile)
  3. Welff (wolf?)
  4. Sira (siren?)
  5. Pellican (pelican)
  6. ?
  7. Anager (onager)
  8. Serra (sawfish)
  9. Piber (beaver)
  10. Halffant (elephant)
  11. Onocentaurus (onocentaur)
  12. Paradrius (caladrius)
  13. Pantal (panther)
  14. Fenix (phoenix)
  15. Salamander (salamander)
  16. Adler (eagle)
  17. ?
  18. Capra (goat)
  19. Fuchs (fox)
  20. ?

Middle High German

There is both a verse and prose version of the Middle High German text. The verse version is found in manuscript Kärntner Landesarchiv, 6/19; the prose version is in manuscript Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 2721. There are 29 chapters. The chapter order is similar to that of the Latin Dicta Chrysostomi version. An edition was produced by by Maurer (1967, verse and prose versions), and by Lauchert (1889, prose version), from which this list of animals is taken.

  1. Lewen (lion)
  2. Panthera (panther)
  3. Einhurno (unicorn)
  4. Ydris (hydrus)
  5. Sirenes and Onocentauri (siren and onocentaur)
  6. Hînam (hyena)
  7. Onager (onager)
  8. Affine (ape)
  9. Helphant (elephant)
  10. Autula (antelope)
  11. Sarra (sawfish)
  12. Viperra (viper)
  13. Nâtra (snake)
  14. Lacerta (lizard)
  15. Harte (stag)
  16. Dorcon (goat)
  17. Vohe (fox)
  18. Castor (beaver)
  19. Ameize (ant)
  20. Igil (hedgehog)
  21. Aran (eagle)
  22. Sisegoum (pelican)
  23. Nathram (owl [night-raven])
  24. Fulica (coot)
  25. Perdix (partridge)
  26. Strûz/Asida (ostrich)
  27. Witehopfun (hoopoe)
  28. Caradrius (caladrius)
  29. Fênix (phoenix)

Old High German

The Old High German text is found in manuscript Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 223. It includes 12 animals. An edition was produced by Steinmeyer (1916). The chapter order is similar to that of the Latin Dicta Chrysostomi version. This list is taken from the Steinmeyer edition.

  1. Leo (lion)
  2. Pantera (panther)
  3. Einhurno (unicorn)
  4. Hidris and Korcodrillo (hydrus and crocodile)
  5. Sirene and Onocentauri (siren and onocentaur)
  6. Igena (hyena)
  7. Onager (onager)
  8. Eleuas/Hélfant (elephant)
  9. Autula (antelope)
  10. Serra (sawfish)
  11. Naderôn/Uipera ((viper)
  12. Lacerta/Zorftel/Sunna ([sun] lizard)

The Greek version of the text is not the original Greek text, which has been lost. The medieval Greek text was often attributed to Epiphanius, the fourth century Bishop of Constantia in Cyprus, though there is no real evidence of his involvement. It is found in many manuscripts, such as Universitätsbibliothek Leipzig, Cod. gr. 35 (14th century) and Biblioteca Ambrosiana, E 16 sup. (14th century). It includes about 20 to 60 animals in its various versions.

There four groups (called "collections" or "redactions") of the Greek Physiologus.

This list of animals in the Greek text is taken from the 1588 edition by Ponce de Leon. Other versions have more animal chapters.

  1. Lion
  2. Lion [Altera propietas]
  3. Antelope [1]
  4. Elephant
  5. Stag
  6. Eagle
  7. Vulture
  8. Pelican
  9. Partridge
  10. Turtledove
  11. Phoenix
  12. Peacock
  13. Snake
  14. Snake [Seconda proprietas]
  15. Snake [Tertia proprietas]
  16. Snake [Quarta proprietas]
  17. Ant
  18. Ant [Seconda proprietas]
  19. Fox
  20. Owl [Noctua]
  21. Bee
  22. Frog
  23. Caladrius
  24. Woodpecker
  25. Stork

[1] The text says Urus, Ox, but describes the antelope

The Icelandic text is found in one manuscript, Arnamagnæanske Institut, AM 673 a 4º (13th century). It includes 24 animals. Editions were produced by Dahlerup (1889) and Hermannsson (1938). The text is in two "fragments", labeled A and B. The list of animals was taken from the Dahlerup edition. The Old Icelandic name is used where it can be identified in the text, otherwise the Latin name is used.

Fragment A

  1. Fenix (phoenix)
  2. Unnamed (hoopoe)
  3. Sirena (siren)
  4. Unnamed (ant)
  5. Fingalkn (onocentaur)

Fragment B

  1. Hidris / Kocodrillum (hydrus / crocodile)
  2. Gat (goat)
  3. Onager (onager)
  4. Api (ape)
  5. Erodius (heron)
  6. Fulica (coot)
  7. Pantera (panther)
  8. Hualr (whale)
  9. Perdice (Partridge)
  10. Honocentaurus (onocentaur)
  11. Secauttr (weasel)
  12. Aspides (asp)
  13. Turture (turtledove)
  14. Ceruus (stag)
  15. Salamandra (salamander)
  16. Gleþa (kite)
  17. Glataþe (boar)
  18. Nicticorax (owl)
  19. Elepans (elephant)

The Italian (Tuscan) text is found in at least one manuscript, Biblioteca Riccardiana, Cod. 1357 P. III. 4.

The Romanian text is found in one 18th century manuscript (location unknown), though there may have been earlier copies. There are 25 chapters. It is thought to derive from the Slavic versions (Stoykova). See Gaster, Il Physiologus Rumeno for more information.

The Slavic group of Physiologus manuscripts are written in Bulgarian [BUL], Russian [RUS], Serbian [SRP] and other Slavic languages. The texts are written in various Cyrillic scripts. The manuscripts are mostly later copies, from the 16th to 18th century, with a few earlier. A selection of the Slavic manuscripts is shown here; see the Bestiary Families - Physiologus page for more.

For more information on the Physiologus in Slavic language translations, see Stoykova, Comparative Study of the Medieval South Slavic Physiologus, Byzantine Recension.

This list of the Bulgarian Physiologus chapters is taken from Stoykova. It is presented in alphabetical order rather than manuscript order because the order is not consistent across manuscripts. It is primarily based on manuscript Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. Slav. 149, with additions from other manuscripts. (Excerpts from the English translation found on the Stoykova website are included on some of the Beasts pages.)

  1. Asp
  2. Antelope [1]
  3. Bee
  4. Crane
  5. Eagle
  6. Elephant
  7. Fox
  8. Frog
  9. Gorgon [2]
  10. Griffin
  11. Hoopoe
  12. Lion
  13. Nightingale
  14. Ox
  15. Partridge
  16. Peacock
  17. Pelican
  18. Phoenix
  19. Dove
  20. Sea-urchin
  21. Sea-horse
  22. Snake
  23. Stag
  24. Stork
  25. Ostrich [3]
  26. Swallow
  27. Turtledove
  28. Unicorn
  29. Viper
  30. Vulture
  31. Wolf
  32. Woodpecker

[1] Bulgarian зубъра, translated as aurochs or bison, but the text gives the usual bestiary/Physiologus description of the antelope.
[2] The Gorgon is from Greek mythology and is not found in other versions of the Physiologus,
[3] Bulgarian Стрькокамиль, translated as struthiocamelon, one of the names of the ostrich.

The only extant Slavic (Serbian) copy of the Pseudo-Basilian recension is manuscript Moní Agíou Panteleímonos (St. Panteleimon Monastery), 22. "The Pseudo-Basilian recension of the Physiologus is its third, most recent Greek recension ... It is so named because of the explanation in each chapter ascribed to St. Basil the Great. Its copies are not numerous and its text versions are neither as many nor as varied as are copies of the Byzantine recension." (Stoykova)

The Pseudo-Basilian recension has 43 chapters. This list is taken from Polivka (1896, page 524) and Stoykova.

  1. Lion
  2. Caladrius
  3. Lizard
  4. Stork
  5. Owl
  6. Onager
  7. Viper
  8. Snake
  9. Onocentaur
  10. Siren
  11. Hedgehog
  12. Panther
  13. Partridge
  14. Fox
  15. Whale
  16. Asp
  17. Vulture
  18. Ant-lion
  19. Ant
  20. Weasel
  21. Unicorn
  22. Wolf
  23. Boar
  24. Beaver
  25. Bear
  26. Crocodile
  27. Hydrus
  28. Ichneumon
  29. Crow
  30. Raven
  31. Turtledove
  32. Frog
  33. Stag
  34. Salamander
  35. Diamond
  36. Swallow
  37. Peridexion Tree
  38. Dove
  39. Antelope
  40. Hare
  41. Woodpecker
  42. Eagle
  43. Elephant
  44. Fire Stones
  45. Sawfish
  46. Ostrich

The Syriac text is found in at least three medieval manuscripts. There are also manuscript copies of a later date (16th-19th century). There are three versions of the Syriac text: a short one of 32 chapters (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. sir. 555), a longer one of 81 chapters (Universiteitsbibliotheek Leiden, Or. 66), and an even longer one of 125 chapters (Das Buch der Naturgegenstände, 19th century). Editions in Syriac and Latin were produced by Tychsen (1795) and Land (1875). An edition and German translation of Das Buch der Naturgegenstände was produced by Ahrens (1892).

This list of animal chapters in the Syriac text comes from Pitra (1852, volume 3, page LIII), based on manuscript Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Vat. sir. 555.

  1. Hyena
  2. Beaver
  3. Stag or Doe [Cervus dama]
  4. Fox
  5. Viverra Ichneumon
  6. Viper
  7. Snake
  8. Sun Lizard [Salamandra solis]
  9. Salamander [Salamandra vulgaris]
  10. Hedgehog
  11. Weasel
  12. Ant-Lion
  13. Ant
  14. Eagle
  15. Caladrius
  16. Phoenix
  17. Kite [Falco milvus
  18. Ibis [Ardea ibis]
  19. Vulture barbatus
  20. Pelican graculus
  21. Owl [Strix oto]
  22. Hoopoe
  23. Partridge [1]
  24. Raven
  25. Turtledove [Columba tutur]
  26. Dove [Columba vulgaris]
  27. Swallow
  28. Siren
  29. Ostrich [Struthiocamelus]
  30. Whale
  31. Hydrus
  32. Dolphin

[1] Merops apiaster or Bee-eater, but Pitra says this is the partridge.