Gerald of Wales - Natural History

Natural History

Gerald was a keen and observant student of natural history, but the value of his observations is lessened by credulity and inability to distinguish fact from legend. He gives a vivid and accurate description of the last colony of the European Beaver in Wales on the River Teifi, but spoils it by repeating the legend that beavers castrate themselves to avoid danger. Likewise he gives a good description of an Osprey fishing, but adds the mythical detail that the bird has one webbed foot. His description of Irish wildlife was harshly called "worthless"; the better view perhaps is that despite its faults it gives a valuable glimpse of Irish fauna in the 1180s. Certainly there are valuable details: while the European Kingfisher is now common in Ireland, Gerald states clearly that it was not found in Ireland in his time: on the other hand the European Dipper, which he had evidently not seen before, was very common.

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