Old Physiologus

Text name: Old Physiologus
File name: OldPhys.psd
Alternative names: The Old High German Physiologus, Der ältere Physiologus
Background: The Old Physiologus describes the appearance and behavior of various animals, such as the lion or the panther but also fabled beasts like unicorns or the serra, and interprets them allegorically in terms of medieval Christian teachings. The text is commonly regarded as the last witness of Old High German before the onset of the Middle High German period.
The Physiologus idea was popular in the Middle Ages as a means to propagandize and defend the Christian faith. Various adaptations of the 2nd century Greek original are known in vernaculars of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Latin renditions formed the basis for translations into Western European languages, including, Old French, Old and Middle English and Medieval German. The German Physiologus tradition consists of this Old High German text, Middle High German prose and verse versions as well as an additional fragment.
ID: OldPhys,w.x.y.z, w=page, x=animal name, y=line, z=token
Twelve animals are included in the Old Physiologus, which appear in the order: lion, panther,unicorn, hydra, sirens and onocentaurs, hyena, onager, elephant, antelope, serra, viper and lizard. Line counts restart from 1 for each animal. Titles do not include line counts.
Latin: no
The direct Latin source for the Old Physiologus is unknown. However, several manuscripts with the Latin text are relatively close to the Old High German version. Steinmeyer (1916: 124-132) prints the Latin text of Cod. Ms. 101 Göttweih ‘Dicta Chrysostomi’ (probably 11th century) and removes the Latin material with ellipsis signs where the respective material is not found in the more fragmentary Old High German translation.
For a detailed analysis of the Latin source of the Old Physiologus, see Mann (1886: 318-22) and Henkel (1976: 86-91).
Manuscript: Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 223, ff. 31r-33r
The Physiologus sections of the manuscript have been digitized and can be viewed here: f. 31r, f. 31v , f. 32r, f. 32v, f. 33r.
Manuscript date: 11th century (Wilhelm 1960: 13)
Date of composition: c. 1070 (Sonderegger & Burger 1971: 379)
Dialect: Alemannic, close to South Rhine Franconian border (Wilhelm 1960: 44)
(for some evidence for Alemannic origin, see Steinmeyer 1916: 134, last paragraph)
The Black Forest monasteries, in particular Hirsau Abbey, are plausible literary centers that might have originated a German Physiologus tradition (Wilhelm 1960: 44, Sonderegger & Burger 1971: 379).
Word count: 1,597
Token count: 107
Edition: Maurer, Friedrich (1967) Der altdeutsche Physiologus: Die Millstätter Reimfassung und die Wiener Prosa (nebst dem lateinischen Text und dem althochdeutschen Physiologus). Altdeutsche Textbibliothek No. 67. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. 91-5.
Notes: The Old High German text is greatly abridged and fragmentary: there are only 12 (of presumably 27) animal descriptions, which are all fairly brief. The text has few Bible quotes, two of which are in Latin. The text ends abruptly in chapter 12 on the lizard. The final constituent is parsed as a disfluent coordination with a fragment complement.
The surviving manuscript was made in St. Paul’s Abbey in the Lavanttal, Carinthia, Austria (Sonderegger & Burger 1971: 379). Two different scribes can be discerned, one from the beginning to OldPhys,92.Unicorn.10.34 lihhamin, the other from there to the end (Steinmeyer 1916: 132). Spaces for large initial letters and heading lines have been left unfilled. For details, see Wilhelm (1960: 14).
The original Old High German included two distinct parts, chapter 1-8 and chapter 9-12 respectively, whose orthographical characteristic features were copied into the surviving manuscript. For a summary of the relevant differences, see Steinmeyer (1916: 133). The first part may be more representative of the Alemannic dialect while the second part may better represent Franconian (Sonderegger & Burger1971: 379). The second part in particular includes a large number of diacritics, but they are not printed in Maurer’s edition and are therefore not indicated in the text file. See the text in Wilhelm (1960: Part A 4-20) for an adequate rendition.


Henkel, Nikolaus (1976) Studien zum Physiologus im Mittelalter. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
Mann, Max, F. (1886) 'Die althochdeutschen Bearbeitungen des Physiologus.' Beiträge zur deutschen Geschichte und Literatur, 10, 310-329.
Maurer, Friedrich (1967) Der altdeutsche Physiologus: Die Millstätter Reimfassung und die Wiener Prosa (nebst dem lateinischen Text und dem althochdeutschen Physiologus). Altdeutsche Textbibliothek No. 67. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.
Sonderegger, Stefan & Burger, Harald (1971) 'Althochdeutsche Literatur'. In: Schmitt, Ludwig E. (ed.) Kurzer Grundriss der germanischen Philologie bis 1500, Vol. 2. Berlin: De Gruyter. 326-383.
Steinmeyer, Elias (1916) Die kleineren althochdeutschen Sprachdenkmäler. Berlin: Weidmann. (available online)
Wilhelm, Friedrich (1960) Denkmäler deutscher Prosa des 11. und 12. Jahrhunderts . München: Max Hueber.