Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Briefly Noted: The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals

by KARL STEEL

There's excitement a-cloven-foot for the Ann Vendermeer and Jeff Vandermeer's forthcoming Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals.

The Manticore? Not kosher. Kosher? The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, which we all know from Mandeville:
and þare growez a maner of fruyte grete as gourdes; and, when it es rype, þai open it and fyndez þerin a beste with flesch and blude and bane, and it es lyke to a lytill lambe withouten wolle. And men of þat cuntree etez þat beste, and þe fruyt also. And þat es a grete meruaile. 3. Of þat frute I haue eten. Neuerþeles I said þam þat me thoght it na grete meruaile, for in my cuntree I said þam ware treesse berand a fruyte þat becommez briddez flyand, þe whilk men callez Bernakes, and þer es gude mete of þam; and þase þat fallez in þe water liffez and fliez furth, and þase þat fallez on þe land dyez. And, when I had talde þam þis, þai meruailed þam gretely þeroff.

And there grows a kind of fruit great as gourds, and when it is ripe, they open it and find in it a beast with flesh and blood and bone, and it is like a little lamb without wool. And the men of that country eat that beast, and the fruit also. And that is a great marvel. Of that fruit I have eaten. Nevertheless I said to them that I thought it was not a great marvel, for in my country, I said, there were trees bearing a fruit that becomes a flying bird, which men call Barnacles, and the meat is good; and those that fall into the water live and fly forth, and those that fall on the land die. And when I told them this, they marveled greatly about it.

I'm a fan of eschatological Leviathan promises, myself. Leviathan is "a delicacy to be served to the pious at the end of time, to compensate them for the privations which abstaining from the unclean fowls imposed upon them," as the "real purpose" of Leviathan
"is to be served up as a dainty to the pious in the world to come. The female was put into brine as soon as she was killed, to be preserved against the time when her flesh will be needed. The male is destined to offer a delectable sight to all beholders before he is consumed. When his last hour arrives, God will summon the angels to enter into combat with the monster. But no sooner will leviathan cast his glance at them than they will flee in fear and dismay from the field of battle. They will return to the charge with swords, but in vain, for his scales can turn back steel like straw. They will be equally unsuccessful when they attempt to kill him by throwing darts and slinging stones; such missiles will rebound without leaving the least impression on his body. Disheartened, the angels will give up the combat, and God will command leviathan and behemot to enter into a duel with each other. The issue will be that both will drop dead, behemot slaughtered by a blow of leviathan's fins, and leviathan killed by a lash of behemot's tail."
Ultimately, though, I'm a bit sad that the book has to be about eating and slaughter, and I'm reminded of nothing so much as Hildegard of Bingen's Physica, which catalogs animals and then, like a good dietetic manual, concludes each entry by remarking on their edibility.

(thanks Marty Shichtman for the heads up on the Kosher Guide! Manticore image from here: )

5 comments:

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

It's about time someone applied kashrut to maticores. The vegetable lamb is still going to pose a challenge to vegetarians, though. Kind of like beets.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

wait -- Manticores are imaginary?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Worth a visit, for the taxidermic facade alone:

http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&safe=off&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&q=torah+animal+world+brooklyn&fb=1&gl=us&hq=torah+animal+world&hnear=brooklyn&cid=0,0,472992259057782996&ei=NUNOS-S1K9TY8Aa4xqiQDg&ved=0CAgQnwIwAA&z=16&iwloc=A

Karl Steel said...

Whoa! Nicola, have you been?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Only cycled past numerous times. Particularly eye-catching at night, due to large giraffe neon. And a couple blocks west is a nicely anomalous (for the orthodox neighborhood) front 'yard' dedicated to ceramic mushroom and fairy worship. Think opening of WBT, glimpsed by Gorgon, before the friars.