W.P. Gerritsen (University of Utrecht), W.P.Gerritsen@uu.nl
Medieval bestiaries describe a mysterious white bird called Caladrius which is said to be occasionally found in royal palaces. When brought to a king’s sickbed, this bird is able to prognosticate the outcome of the illness: if the patient is to survive, it looks him in the face, drawing the illness into itself and flying with it to the region of the sun where it is consumed. If, on the other hand, the caladrius looks away, the patient is going to die. The present article discusses the contributions of three great scholars who have shed light on the origins of this legend. Émile Mâle, Johan Huizinga (whose Indological contribution to the history of the caladrius legend went unnoticed by bestiary specialists), and George C. Druce. An intriguing sidelight on the bestiary account of the caladrius is found in versions of the Historia de Preliis, which describe Alexander the Great’s visit to the palace of Xerxes, where he found white birds similar to doves which were able to prognosticate the outcome of a man’s illness. This story was taken over in thirteenth-century encyclopedias like those of Thomas Cantimpratensis and Jacob van Maerlant. In the following centuries the caladrius story gradually lost its credibility, as can be deduced from the accounts of authorities like Albertus Magnus, Gesner and Aldrovandi.
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