Birds and animals in literature and legend
'This is probably the most difficult line of all to take in,' said Miranda.
'No shortage of examples, though,' observed Quintin.
'No, none at all,' agreed Miranda. 'And some of them are unequivocal.'
'Like the stories from Ancient Greece and Rome in Ovid's Metamorphosis,' agreed Quintin.
'Yes, it all goes back to some quite primitive beliefs. But I was thinking more of the Norse poems and sagas,' said Miranda. 'When Sigurd and Sinfjotli assume wolf skins and go off into the forest to live. Or when two Scandinavian warriors openly accuse each other of being animals in previous lives.'
'Well, you could say that the most explicit examples of all are in the medieval romances,' said Quintin. 'William of Palerne is seized by a wolf when he is a small child and carried across the sea by it. Then he lives for a few weeks in an earthen den that the wolf has made, thinking that the wolf is his parent, before beginning another new life as a child at the emperor's court.'
'William and the Werewolf?'
'Yes. And that's the giveaway, really. Prince Alfonso is the werewolf; a proper wolf with a man's mind, a wolf who used to be a man and will be again when the spell is removed. But there are other examples, just as bizarre.'
'I can give you one straight away,' said Miranda.
'Go on then.'
'When the child Octavian is seized by a lioness, which in turn is seized by a griffin and carried away by it.'
'What is a griffin, exactly?'
'A mythological creature that is half eagle, half lion. The lioness is carried to an isle by this bird, if bird it is, with the infant sleeping in her mouth! Then she suckles it with all her other cubs on this island, before the child is rescued and taken back to live a human life once more.'
'Sir Isumbras's sons share a similar fate,' said Quintin. 'They are seized by animals and taken off by them. Then they re-enter the story right at the very end, in curious circumstances, riding on the same sort of animals that they were abducted by.'
'But this griffin interests me,' said Miranda. 'Because another one takes Cristabel's baby son away across the sea in the romance of Sir Eglamour of Artois. Have you heard of the story that used to be told to children about a new baby having been brought by a stork?'
'Of course I do.'
'Well, then the baby in the lioness's mouth was truly a new arrival, only brought by a griffin rather than a stork. And when another griffin deposited Cristabel's son on a distant shore, it gave him a slap with its beak before flying off.'
'Midwives used to give a baby a slap just after it was born, to get it breathing properly, I believe.'