Warrior fish and the imagination of medieval monks

Miracle reports abound in medieval texts, of which annals and chronicles are a genre à part in the treatment of the unusual. Between two political reports from early-13th-century England, the chronicle that I am currently examining manages to squeeze in something quite offbeat:

Capti sunt in Anglia pisces insolitae formae. Erant quippe scutati et galeati, et quantum in exterioribus belluarum marinarum notari potuit, militi armato simillimi, licet magnitudine plurimum excellentes”

Fish of unusual shapes were caught in England. They were, you see, with shield and helmet and as much as could be gauged from their appearance, they looked as though they were born of sea monsters, greatly resembling armed warriors, though many were fairly remarkable in size.

This happened in 1214 and I’m not aware of similar reports in other sources.

When the monk writing this came to describe the fish, his Bible-permeated imagination conjured up an image directly from the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 38, verse 5:

et circumagam te et ponam frenum in maxillis tuis et educam te et omnem exercitum tuum equos et equites vestitos loricis universos multitudinem magnam hastam et clypeum arripientium et gladium: Persae Aethiopes et Lybies cum eis omnes scutati et galeati

And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:  Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet.

With the recent report of the South American Pacu fish picked up in the river Seine, it may not be difficult to imagine a most exotic species visiting English shores in the 1210s. I’m no ichthyologist, but there might be a fish with scales resembling a helmet around its head – what about the buckle, then? Vae mihi…

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