'Nature has given such power of understanding to animals that in addition to the perception of what is to their own advantage they know what is to the disadvantage of the enemy.'
LOVE OF VIRTUE
The lark is a bird of which it is told that if it is taken into the presence of anyone who is ill, then if the sick person is going to die the bird turns away its head and does not look at him. But if the sick person is going to recover, the bird never takes its eyes off him, and is the cause of all his sickness leaving him. Similarly the love of virtue never regards a mean or bad thing, but always rather dwells among things honest and virtuous, and repatriates itself in noble hearts like birds in green forests upon flowery branches. And this love reveals itself more in adversity than in prosperity, acting as does light which shines most where it finds the darkest spot. 1 h 5 r.
Of the kite one reads that when it sees that its children in the nest are too fat it pecks their sides out of envy and keeps them without food.
Cheerfulness is characteristic of the cock, for it rejoices over every little thing and sings with varied and joyous movements.
1 The allegories about animals in this Manuscript are derived from early bestiaries. The extent of Leonardo's debt to his sources is set forth by Gerolamo Calvi in // Manoscritto H di L da V. Il 'Fiore di Virtu' e L'Acerba di Cecco d'Ascoli. Archivio Storico Lombardo Anno XXV Fasc. XIX 1898.
Sadness may be compared to the raven, which on seeing its newborn children white, departs with great grief and abandons them with sad lamentations, and does not give them any food until it discerns a few black feathers. h 5 v.
Of the beaver one reads that when it is pursued, knowing this to be on account of the virtue of its testicles for medicinal uses, not being able to flee any farther it stops, and in order to be at peace with its pursuers bites off its testicles with its sharp teeth and leaves them to its enemies.
It is said of the bear that when he goes to the beehives to take the
honey from them, the bees commence to sting him, so that he leaves
the honey and rushes to avenge himself; and wishing to take venge-
ance upon all those who are biting him he fails to take vengeance
on any, with result that his course becomes changed to frenzy, and in
his exasperation he throws himself upon the ground, vainly trying to
defend himself with his hands and feet. h 6 r.
The virtue of gratitude is said to be found especially in the birds
called hoopoes, which being conscious of the benefits they have re-
ceived from father and mother in life and nourishment, when they
see these becoming old make a nest for them and cherish them and
feed them, plucking out their old and shabby feathers with their beaks,
and by means of certain herbs restoring their sight, so that they return
to a state of prosperity.
The toad feeds on earth and always remains lean because it never satisfies itself, so great is its fear lest the supply of earth should fail. h 6 v.
The pigeons serve as a symbol of ingratitude; for when they are of
an age no longer to have need of being fed, they commence to fight
with their father, and the combat does not end until the young one
has driven his father out and taken his wife and made her his own.
The basilisk is so exceedingly cruel that when it cannot kill animals
with the venom of its gaze it turns towards the herbs and plants, and
looking fixedly upon them makes them wither up. h 7 r.
Of the eagle it is said that it never has so great a hunger that it does
not leave of its prey to those birds which are round about; and as these
are not able to forage for themselves it is necessary that they pay court
to the eagle, since by this means they are fed.
If the wolf while prowling warily round some cattle-stall should
chance to set his foot in a trap so that he makes a noise, he bites his
foot ofif in order to punish himself for his mistake. h 7 v.
The siren sings so sweetly as to lull the mariners to sleep, and then
she climbs upon the ships and kills the sleeping mariners.
The ant from its natural sagacity provides in the summer for the
winter, killing the seeds after having gathered them, in order that they
may not germinate, and then in time it eats them.
A BESTIARY 1077
As the wild bull hates the colour red the hunters drape in red the
trunk of a tree, and the bull charges it furiously and gets his horns
fixed in it, and then the huntsmen kill him. h 8 r.
We may compare the virtue of justice to the king of the bees, who
orders and arranges everything on a system, because some bees are
ordered to go among the flowers, others are ordered to work, others to
fight with the wasps, others to take away the dirt, others to accompany
and attend the king. And when he becomes old and has no wings
they carry him, and if any one of them fail in his duty he is punished
without any forgiveness.
Although partridges steal each other's eggs nevertheless the children
born from these eggs always return to their true mother. h 8 v.
FIDELITY OR LOYALTY
The cranes are so faithful and loyal to their king that at night when
he is asleep some pace up and down the meadow to keep guard over
him from a distance; others stand near at hand, and each holds a stone
in his foot, so that if sleep should overcome them the stone would fall
and make such a noise that they would be wakened up. There are
others who sleep together around the king, and they do this every
night taking it in turn so that their king may not come to find them
The fox when he sees a flock of magpies or jackdaws or birds of this
kind, instantly throws himself on the ground with mouth open in such
a way as to seem dead: the birds think to peck at his tongue and he
bites off their heads. h 9 r.
1078 A BESTIARY
The mole has very small eyes and always remains underground; it
lives as long as it stays in concealment, and as soon as ever it comes to
the light it instantly dies, because it becomes known — So it is with
The lion never feels fear; on the contrary it fights with a stout heart
in fierce combat against the crowd of hunters, always seeking to injure
the first who has injured him.
FEAR OR COWARDICE
The hare is always timid, and the leaves that fall from the trees in
autumn keep it always in fear and often cause it to flee. h 9 v.
The falcon only preys on large birds, and it would let itself die before
it would feed on the young or eat putrid flesh.
As regards this vice we read of the peacock being more subject to it
than any other creature, because it is always contemplating the beauty
of its tail, spreading it out in the form of a wheel and attracting to
itself by its cries the attention of the surrounding animals.
And this is the last vice that can be conquered. h 10 r.
For constancy the phoenix serves as a type; for understanding by
nature its renewal it is steadfast to endure the burning flames which
consume it, and then it is reborn anew.
The swift is put for inconstancy, for it is always in movement, since
it cannot endure the slightest discomfort.
A BESTIARY 1079
The camel is the most lustful animal that there is, and it will follow
the female a thousand miles, but if it lived continually with its mother
or sister it would never touch them, so well does it know how to
control itself. hiov.
The unicorn through its lack of temperance, and because it does not
know how to control itself for the delight that it has for young maidens,
forgets its ferocity and wildness; and laying aside all fear it goes up to
the seated maiden and goes to sleep in her lap, and in this way the
hunters take it.
Of humility one sees the supreme instance in the lamb, which sub-
mits itself to every animal. And when they are given as food to lions
in captivity they submit themselves to them as to their own mothers,
in such a way that it has often been seen that the lions are unwilling
to kill them. h n r.
The falcon from its haughtiness and pride thinks to overcome and
lord it over all the other birds of prey, because it wishes to reign alone:
and many times the falcon has been seen to attack the eagle the queen
The wild ass if when going to the spring to drink it should find the
water muddy, has never so great a thirst as to cause it not to abstain
from drinking and wait until the water grows clear.
The vulture is so given up to gluttony that it would go a thousand
miles in order to feed on carrion, and this is why it follows armies.
:o8o A BESTIARY
The turtle-dove never wrongs its mate; and if the one dies the other
observes perpetual chastity, and never rests upon a green branch or
drinks of clear water.
The bat by reason of its unbridled lewdness does not follow any
natural law in pairing, but male goes with male, female with female,
as they chance to find themselves together.
The ermine because of its moderation eats only once a day, and it
allows itself to be captured by the hunters rather than take refuge in a
muddy lair, in order not to stain its purity. h 12 r.
The eagle when it is old flies so high that it scorches its feathers;
and nature consents that it renews its youth by falling into shallow
And if its young ones cannot bear to gaze at the sun it does not feed
them. No bird that does not wish to die should approach its nest. The
animals go much in fear of it but it does not harm them. It always
leaves them a portion of its prey.
THE LUMERPA. FAME
This is born in Asia Magna and shines so brightly that it absorbs its
shadows. And in dying it does not lose this light, and the feathers
never fall out. And the feather which is detached ceases to shine.
This bears a great love to its young; and if it finds them slain in the
nest by a serpent it pierces itself to the heart in their presence, and by
bathing them with a shower of blood it restores them to life.
A BESTIARY 1081
The salamander in the fire refines its rough skin. — For virtue.
It has no digestive organs and does not seek any other nourishment
than fire, and often in this it renews its rough skin.
This lives on air and it is there at the mercy of all the birds. And in
order to be safer it flies above the clouds, and there finds an air that is
so rarefied as to be incapable of supporting any bird that would follow
At this height there flies nothing save that to whom it is given by
the heavens: it is there that the chameleon flies. h 13 r.
The alepo cannot live out of water.
For armies, food of commanders.
It extracts nourishment from iron; hatches eggs by its gaze.
The swan is white without any spot, and sings sweetly as it dies; this
song ends its life.
It cures itself of sickness by drinking salt water. If it finds its com-
panion in fault it abandons her. When it is old its young ones brood
over it and nourish it until it dies. h 13 v.
This with its song puts the cuckoo to silence. It dies in oil and is
revived in vinegar. It sings through the burning heats.
io82 A BESTIARY
For vice which cannot endure where virtue is.
This loses its sight more where the light has more radiance, and be-
comes more blinded the more it looks at the sun.
This changes from female to male and forgets its former sex. Out
of envy it steals the eggs of others and hatches them, but the young
ones follow their true mother.
This by means of celandine opens the eyes of its little ones when
blind. h 14 r.
OYSTER— FOR TREASON
This opens completely when the moon is full: and when the crab
sees it it throws a piece of stone or a twig into it and thus prevents it
from closing up, so that it serves the crab for a meal.
So it may be with the mouth when it tells its secret, that it puts itself
at the mercy of the indiscreet listener.
This is shunned by all the serpents; the weasel fights with it by
means of rue and slays it. Rue for virtue.
This carries sudden death in its fangs; and in order not to hear the
enchantments it stops up its ears with its tail. h 14 v.
This twines itself round the legs of the elephant, and it falls upon
him and both die. And in dying it has its revenge.
A BESTIARY 1083
This in pairing buries her mouth and at the end clenches her teeth
and kills her husband; afterwards the sons having waxed big within
her body tear open her belly and slay their mother.
The saliva spat out upon the scorpion when fasting slays it after tht
manner of abstinence from gluttony, which carries away and puts an
end to the illnesses that proceed from this gluttony, and opens the path
to the virtues. h 15 r.
This animal seizes a man and instantly kills him; and after he is
dead it mourns for him with a piteous voice and many tears, and
having ended its lament it cruelly devours him. It is thus with the
hypocrite, whose face is bathed with tears over every slight thing,
showing himself thus to have the heart of a tiger; he rejoices in his
heart over another's misfortunes with a face bedewed with tears.
The toad shuns the light of the sun: if however it be kept in it by
force it pufTs itself out so much as to hide its head below and deprives
itself of its rays. So acts whoever is the enemy of clear and radiant
virtue, who cannot maintain itself in its presence save by force, with
puffed-up courage. h 17 r.
THE CATERPILLAR— FOR VIRTUE IN GENERAL
The caterpillar which through the care exercised in weaving round
itself its new habitation with admirable design and ingenious work-
manship, afterwards emerges from it with beautiful painted wings, ris-
ing on these towards heaven.
/o8 4 A BESTIARY
The spider brings forth out of herself the delicate and subtle web
which gives back to it as its reward the prey that it has taken.
h 17 v.
This animal with its resounding roar rouses its cubs on the third day
after their birth and teaches them the use of all their dormant senses,
and all the wild creatures which are in the forest flee away.
One may liken these to the children of virtue who are wakened by
the sound of praise: their studies grow in distinction, raising them
continually more and more, and at the sound all that is evil flees away,
shunning those who are virtuous.
The lion also covers over his tracks so as to leave nothing to indicate
his course to his enemies. So it is well for captains that they should
conceal the secrets of their minds, in order that the enemy may have
no conception of their plans. h 18 r.
The bite of the tarantula fixes a man in his purpose, that is in what
he was thinking about when he was bitten.
LONG-EARED OWL AND LITTLE OWL
These punish those who have a skirmish with them by depriving
them of life; and nature has so ordained in order that they may be fed.
h 18 v.
The great elephant has by nature qualities which rarely occur among
men, namely probity, prudence, and the sense of justice and of re-
ligious observance. Consequently when there is a new moon they go to
the rivers, and there having solemnly purified themselves they proceed
to bathe, and after thus saluting the planet they go back to the woods.
And when they are ill they throw themselves upon their backs and
A BESTIARY 1085
toss up plants toward heaven as though they wished to offer sacrifice
They bury their tusks when they drop out from old age. Of these two
tusks they use one to dig up roots in order to feed themselves and keep
the point of the other sharp in order to fight with it.
When they are conquered by the hunters and overcome by fatigue
the elephants clash their tusks, and having thus broken them off use
them for their ransom.
They are mild in disposition and are conscious of dangers.
If one of them should come upon a man alone who has lost his way
he puts him back peacefully in the path from which he has wandered.
If he should come upon the man's footprints before he sees him he
fears a snare, and so he stops and blows through his trunk as he shows
them to the other elephants; and these then form themselves into a
company and advance cautiously.
These animals always proceed in companies. The oldest goes in
front and the next oldest remains the last, and thus they enclose the
They fear shame and only pair at night and secretly, and do not
rejoin the herd after pairing until they have first bathed themselves in
They do not fight over their females as other creatures do.
It is so peaceable that its nature does not allow it willingly to injure
creatures less powerful than itself. If it should chance to meet a drove
or flock of sheep it puts them aside with its trunk so as to avoid
trampling upon them with its feet; and it never injures others unless
it is provoked. When one of them has fallen into a pit the others
fill the pit with branches, earth and stones, so that they raise the floor
in such a way that it may easily make its escape. They have a great
dread of the grunting of pigs and retreat hastily before it, causing no
less damage with their feet to each other than to their enemies. They
delight in rivers and are always wandering about in their vicinity; but
on account of their great weight they are unable to swim. They devour
stones, and the trunks of trees are their most welcome food. They hate
rats. Flies are much attracted by their smell, and as they settle on their
backs they wrinkle up their skin, deepening its tight folds, and so kill
When they are crossing rivers they send their young towards the
io86 A BESTIARY
fall of the stream, and standing themselves up stream they break the
united course of the water so that the current may not carry them
The dragon throws itself under the elephant's body, twines its tail
round its legs and clings to its ribs with wings and claws and bites open
its throat. The elephant falls on top of it and the dragon bursts open;
thus it revenges itself by the death of its enemy.
h. 19 r. and v., 20 r. and v.
These band themselves together in companies and twine after the
manner of roots, cross swamps with their heads raised and swim to-
wards where they find better pasture; and if they did not thus com-
bine they would be drowned. — So the union is made.
h 20 v. and 21 r.
The serpent, a very large animal, when it sees a bird in the air
inhales its breath with such vigour as to draw the birds into its mouth.
Marcus Regulus the Consul of the Roman army was with his army
attacked by such a monster and almost routed. After the creature had
been slain by a catapult it was found to measure a hundred and
twenty-five feet, that is sixty-four and a half braccia i 1 its head towered
above all the trees in a wood. h 21 r.
This is a great snake which twines itself round the legs of the cow
in such a way that it cannot move, and then it sucks it so as almost to
dry it up. One of the species was killed on the hill of the Vatican in
the time of the Emperor Claudius, and it had a whole boy inside it
whom it had swallowed. h 21 r. and v.
THE ELK— CAPTURED WHEN ASLEEP
This beast is a native of the island of Scandinavia. It has the shape
of a great horse except for the differences caused by the great length of
1 It is not always possible to harmonize Leonardo's measurements.
A BESTIARY 1087
the neck and ears. It crops the grass going backwards, for its upper lip
is so long that if it were to feed while going forward it would cover
up the grass. It has its legs without any joints and so when it wishes
to go to sleep it leans against a tree; and the hunters after having re-
connoitred the spot at which it is accustomed to sleep saw the tree
almost through, and when afterwards it leans against it as it sleeps it
falls in its sleep and so the hunters take it. Every other method of
capturing it is bound to fail because it runs with incredible speed.
h 21 v.
BON ASUS— IT INJURES AS IT FLIES
This is a native of Paconia, and it has a neck with a mane like a
horse: in all other respects it resembles a bull except that its horns bend
inwards to such an extent that it cannot butt with them. This is why
its only refuge is in flight, in which it voids its excrement a distance of
four hundred braccia from its course, and wherever this touches it
burns like fire.
LIONS, LEOPARDS, PANTHERS, TIGERS
These keep their claws in sheath and never put them out except
when on the back of their prey or an enemy.
When the lioness defends her cubs from the hands of the hunters,
in order not to be affrighted by the spears she lowers her eyes to the
ground, so that her cubs may not be taken prisoners through her flight.
h 22 r.
This animal which is so terrible fears nothing more than the noise
of empty carts and in like manner the crowing of cocks, and when it
sees these it is much terrified, gazes at their combs with a look of fear
and is strangely perturbed even though its face is covered.
THE PANTHER IN AFRICA
This has the shape of a lioness, but it is taller in the leg and slimmer
and longer and quite white, marked with black spots after the manner
1088 A BESTIARY
of rosettes; all the animals are fascinated by these as they gaze at them
and they would remain standing there always if it were not for the
terror of its face; being conscious of this therefore it hides its face, and
the animals that are round about it take courage and draw near so as
to be able the better to enjoy so much beauty: it then suddenly seizes
on the nearest and instantly devours it. h 22 v. and 23 r.
The Bactrian have two humps, the Arabian one. They are swift in
battle and very useful for carrying burdens. This animal is a great
observer of rule and proportion, for it does not move at all if its load
is larger than it is accustomed to, and if it is taken too long a journey it
does the same and stops suddenly, so that the merchants are obliged to
make their lodging there. h 23 r.
This is a native of Hyrcania; it bears some resemblance to the pan-
ther from the various spots on its skin; and it is an animal of terrifying
speed. When the hunter finds its cubs he carries them off instantly,
after placing mirrors at the spot from which he has taken them, and
then immediately takes to flight upon a swift horse.
The panther when it returns finds the mirrors fixed to the ground
and in looking at these it thinks that it sees its own children, until by
scratching with its paw it discovers the fraud and then following the
scent of its cubs it pursues the hunter. And as soon as the hunter sees
the tigress he abandons one of the cubs, and this she takes and carries
it to her lair and instantly sets off again after the hunter, and this is
repeated until he gains his boat. h 23 v. and 24 r.
It is found in Ethiopia near to the principal source of the Niger.
It is an animal which is not very large. It is sluggish in all its limbs
and has the head so large that it carries it awkwardly, in such a way
that it is always inclined towards the ground; otherwise it would be
a very great pest to mankind, for anyone on whom it fixes its eyes dies
instantly. h 24 r.
A BESTIARY 1089
It is found in the province of Cyrenaica and is not more than twelve
fingers long. It has a white spot on its head of the shape of a diadem.
It drives away every serpent by its whistling. It resembles a snake but
does not move by wriggling, but extends itself straight forward from
its centre. It is said that on one occasion when one of these was killed
by a horseman's spear and its venom flowed over the spear, not only
the man died but the horse did also. It spoils the corn, not only that
which it touches but that upon which it breathes; it scorches the grass
and splits the stones. h 24 r. and v.
This on finding the den of the basilisk kills it with the smell of its
urine by spreading this about, and the smell of this urine often kills
the weasel itself.
These have four small movable horns; and when they wish to feed
they hide the whole of their body except these tiny horns under the
leaves, and as they move these it seems to the birds that they are little
worms wriggling about, and so they instantly descend and peck at
them. And then the ceraste immediately wraps itself round them in a
circle and so devours them. h 24 v.
This has two heads, one in its usual place the other at its tail, as
though it was not sufficient for it to throw its poison from one place
This stations itself in trees and hurls itself like a dart, and transfixes
the wild beasts and slays them.
There is no remedy for the bite of this animal except instantly to
cut away the part affected. Pestilential though it is this animal has so
strong an affection for its companion that they always go in pairs. And
1090 A BESTIARY
if by a mischance one of them should be slain the other pursues the
murderer with incredible speed, and is so alert and eager for venge-
ance as to overcome every obstacle. It will pass through a whole
troop seeking only to wound its enemy, traversing any distance, and
the only ways of avoiding it are by crossing over water or by a very
rapid flight. Its eyes turn inwards and it has large ears, and its hearing
guides it more than its sight. h 25 r.
This animal is the mortal enemy of the asp. It is a native of Egypt,
and when it sees an asp near to its place it runs instantly to the mud
or slime of the Nile and covers itself with it entirely, and then after
drying itself in the sun smears itself again with mud, and thus drying
itself time after time covers itself with three or four coats like coats of
mail; after this it attacks the asp and struggles with it determinedly,
until it seizes its opportunity and flies at its throat and chokes it.
h 25 v.
This is a native of the Nile. It has four feet and is dangerous both on
land and in the water. It is the only land animal that is without a
tongue, and it bites merely by moving its upper jaw. It grows to a
length of forty feet, it has claws, and is covered with hide that will
withstand any blow. It remains on land by day and in the water by
night. When it has had its meal of fish it goes to sleep on the bank of
the Nile with its mouth open, and then the bird called trochilus, a
very small bird, runs immediately to its mouth, and hopping about
among its teeth in and out proceeds to peck at the remains of its food,
and causing it entrancing pleasure thereby tempts it to open its mouth
more widely, and in so doing it falls asleep. No sooner does the ichneu-
mon perceive this than it flings itself into its mouth, pierces its stomach
and intestines, and so finally kills it. h 25 v. and 26 r.
Nature has given such power of understanding to animals that in
addition to the perception of what is to their own advantage they
A BESTIARY 1091
know what is to the disadvantage of the enemy; as a consequence the
dolphin knows both the power of a cut from the fins which it has on
its hack, and the tenderness of the belly of the crocodile, hence when
they fight it glides underneath it, pierces its belly and so kills it.
The crocodile is terrifying to those who flee from him and an utter
coward when he is being pursued. h 26 r.
This when it feels itself becoming overloaded looks about for thorns
or where there are the fragments of split canes, and there it rubs a vein
so hard as to burst it open, and then having allowed as much blood to
flow as may be necessary it besmears itself with mud and so plasters up
the wound. It has almost the shape of a horse, with cloven hoofs,
twisted tail, boar's tusks, and neck with flowing mane. The hide
cannot be pierced except when it is bathing. It feeds on corn that
grows in the fields, and makes its way into them backwards, so that
it may appear that it has just emerged.
This bears a resemblance to a stork, and when it feels ill it fills its
crop with water and makes an injection with its beak.
This when it feels itself bitten by the spider called phalangium eats
crabs and rids itself of the poison. h 26 v.
This when it fights with serpents eats sow-thistles and gains its
This gives sight to its blind young with the juice of the celandine.
This when it chases rats eats first of rue.
1092 A BESTIARY
This cures its diseases by eating ivy.
This when it wishes to renew itself casts its old slough, commencing
by the head : it transforms itself in a day and a night.
This will still fight with the dogs and the hunters after its entrails
have fallen out. h 27 r.
This always takes the colour of the object on which it is resting; as a
consequence they are often devoured by the elephants together with
the leaves on which they are resting.
This v/hen it has slain the chameleon purges itself with laurel.
h 27 v.