Esca eius erant locustae. The Origin and Meaning of the Imaginary Quadruped locusta
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The study deals with the term locusta which is used in ancient and medieval Latin texts (e.g. in the encyclopaedia De natura rerum written by Thomas of Cantimpré in the 13th century) with two meanings, denoting two different animals: the locust, which was categorised as a “worm” (vermis), and the lobster, which was seen as an aquatic animal (piscis, animal aquaticum). The same meanings are associated with the terms locusta or locustus in Czech medieval sources written in Latin: the Glossary by the 14th century writer Bartholomaeus de Solencia, also known as Claretus, the work Liber viginti arcium by the 15th century encyclopaedist Paulerinus, and the encyclopaedic dictionary Vocabularius dictus Lactifer composed by the priest Iohannes Aquensis at the turn of the 16th century. The word locusta, however, occurs in several works of the Bohemian Middle Ages with yet another meaning n denoting the sweet-smelling lemon balm or the sweet-tasting tree leaves sucked by bees to produce honey; John the Baptist is said to have used the leaves as food when dwelling in the desert. Here, again, we can trace the influence of Thomas of CantimprE, who claims in one passage of his encyclopaedia that some authors regard the term locusta as a name of a plant and believe John the Baptist ate this plant in the desert. Surprisingly, this assertion can be found in Book IV which is dedicated to quadrupeds, namely in the chapter focusing on the terrestrial animal named locusta. This chapter from Thomasi work influenced probably also Claretusi Glossary which contains an unidentified term locuna in the chapter on animals (De bestiis). The study discusses the possible reasons that might have convinced Thomas of Cantimpré to classify locusta not only as an insect or as a fish, but also as a terrestrial quadruped. Thomas of Cantimpré was probably inspired by Jacques de Vitryis account of creatures which were consumed by John the Baptist in the desert, by Leviticus which lists the name locusta among winged animals that “walk on all fours”, by St. Augustine’s Confessiones, by the commentary Glossa ordinaria and other sources. Its faulty classification was crowned by contamination with information from the commentaries on Proverbs about the hyrax – a quadruped known under the name lepusculus. As a result of misunderstanding, the animal named locusta in his book De quadrupedibus gained new qualities and was transformed into completely different creature.
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