On the Eagle
|Introduction by Juris Lidaka|
A Very Fascinating Bird
What is it about the eagle that captivates our attention so often? The American Bald Eagle is unique to North America and was chosen as the United States' emblem in 1782, but there are many kinds of eagles throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. There are cities, newspapers, companies, and stores named after the eagle, such as American Eagle Outfitters and the Giant Eagle grocery store. The eagle is also the symbol of St. John the Evangelist, so it is particularly significant to Christians.
Bartholomew gives three reasons why the eagle is so captivating: first, the eagle is noble, for it shares its prey with the less able. Second, it has sharp sight, and third, it can fly very high. No other animal can match these latter characteristics. In fact, as he notes following many authorities and as is repeated in the bestiary, the eagle can look directly at the sun without harm. It teaches its young to do so too, and any who cannot are thrust from the nest. Tough love!
In the Middle Ages, readers learned about animals from two parallel but separate traditions. First, beginning in Greece, is the physiologus tradition (the bestiary). One example of this tradition is the version by St. Epiphanius. In the Latin West, the bestiary soon included pictures, such as those found in the Aberdeen bestiary, and other bestiaries.
The other tradition was the encyclopedia, such as Bartholomew's, which included much more than animals.
The Eagle in Two Traditions
Although both traditions used many classical authors as sources and so often include the same information, they developed in different directions on their own.