A catalogue of Western manuscripts at the Bodleian Libraries and selected Oxford colleges

Merton College MS. 271

Former shelfmark: O. 1. 3



Summary of Contents: MS 271 contains a standard collection of Aristotle’s works on animals which was lectured on for the Arts degree. This one, made in northern France but at the College by 1372, is unique in its elegant and strikingly frank illustrations of the sex act as performed by humans, birds and animals.

Language(s): Latin

(fols. 1–150)
Rubric: Liber primus de hystoriis animalium Aristotilis.
Incipit: Earum que sunt in animalibus partium hec quidem sunt incomposite quecumque diuiduntur
Explicit: ... et propter quandam causam motiuam.
Final rubric: Explicit liber de animalibus Amen.

A standard collection of Aristotle’s zoological works, as for MS 269 art. 1.

Some marginal glossing, s. xiv and xv.

On the otherwise blank f. 150v are four lines of verse in a hand of s. xv, the first two a couplet; the first three are on a stuck-on piece of parchment: ‘Qui pingit florem non pingit floris odorem | Floris pictura non est flos imo figura’ (WIC 15603), and ‘Venter humanus uina cito querit habere supina | Venter humanus uinum cito querit habere supinum’.

Physical Description

Secundo Folio: et loqui
Form: codex
Support: Parchment
Extent: 155 leaves (ii + 152, incl. 120A)
Dimensions (leaf): 305 × 215 mm.
Dimensions (written): 210 × 145 mm.
The edges savagely retrimmed, removing the running heads and damaging the decoration, spattered with red and later gilded.


1–38, 4–612, 712(+ 2 after 9, and 1 after 11), 8–1312, 144; catchwords, consisting of several words, written in a large and formal hand between ruled lines. At the end of quire 3 (f. 24v) is ‘sexta pecia finit hic’.


Ruled with fine pencil in 2 cols of 42 lines.


A single expert gothic rotunda bookhand. The scribe ends the text on f. 150 with ornamental script and line-fillers.


Twenty-one large and exceptionally handsome 9-line initials, mostly in colours and gold, with foliage or figures, on square grounds and with partial borders: fol. 1 (12-line) E, enclosing a lion, a squirrel, two hounds hunting a hare, the whole on a background of oak-leaves; at the foot of the border three hounds hunt a stag; f. 6 A enclosing oak-leaves, a squirrel and rabbit; at the foot of the border a hound chases a hare; f. 11 D enclosing birds in boughs above fish in water; at the top of the border is a singing bird; at each end of the foot a rabbit and hound; f. 17v initial ditto, at the foot of the border are rabbit, hound and two fish; f. 24v O enclosing a pair of cattle mating; at the top of the border a running hare, at the foot, a hare, and two dogs and two small birds mating; f. 33 S with oak-leaves, hound and bull, many animals in the border, in a continuous line across the foot; f. 43 O enclosing a stallion and ?dead mare, sprays of oak with a bird; in the border a rabbit, a hare and a donkey; f. 52v M enclosing oak foliage and two striped quadrupeds of uncertain identity; in the border a pair of ?weasels, a pair of birds, a pelican in her piety, a parrot, a hive of bees and another bird; f. 65v D enclosing a clothed man and woman copulating in woodland above, below a woman rocking a crib; at the foot of the border are two leaping hairs, a clothed man and woman copulating, and a woman tending her baby before a fire; f. 69v P enclosing man and woman in bed; on the foot of the border a clothed man and woman copulate; f. 73v D, enclosing a line of four dogs, below birds singing in a tree; in the border two dogs and two birds; f. 77v D enclosing God the Creator holding the globe of the world containing trees and water; in the border a hare and three dogs; f. 80v C enclosing animal and human body parts; more at the foot of the border; f. 84v E ditto; f. 92v C ditto; a phallus on the foot of the border has been erased; f. 100v E ditto; f. 111v Q enclosing oak foliage, a hare, two dogs mating, a hound chasing a boar; in the border a rabbit and two horses copulating; f. 120v G enclosing oak foliage with a hare, mating birds and hares, in the border mating boars and birds, partially erased; f. 129 D enclosing oak foliage and two birds with nest and eggs; in the border are a songbird, a cock, and a cock and hen mating; f. 136v D enclosing oak foliage and two lions mating; in the border are ?foxes and boars mating; f. 144 D enclosing oak foliage; in the border are two birds and ?foxes mating. Red or blue initials flourished in the other colour, with 2-colour marginal extensions; chapter-numbers and (formerly) running heads in both colours; red or blue paraphs.


s. xix; full calf, sewn on six bands. Near the foot of f. 150v is the mark of the large iron chain-staple. fols. i-ii, 151–2 are modern paper blanks.


Origin: S. XIII 3/4 ; France, Paris (?)

Provenance and Acquisition

Made in northern France, probably Paris.

At the College by 1372: UO48. 8.

At the head of f. 150 is ‘21us sunt libri animalium per [mutil.]’, s. xiv ex.

In the margin of f. 52v, s. xv, ‘9us liber secundum nouam translacionem’.

At the head of f. 1 is the James no. ‘87’, s. xvii in. Inside the front board is the College bookplate with modern shelf-marks in pencil: ‘O. 4. 9. Art.’, canc., ‘271’, ‘Q. I. 3’, canc. and replaced by ‘O. 1. 3’ and ‘CCLXXI’, in red.

Record Sources

R. M. Thomson, A descriptive catalogue of the medieval manuscripts of Merton College, Oxford (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer), 2009.


For enquiries relating to this manuscript please contact Merton College Library.


    Coxe, p. 106; Powicke, no. 392; AL Codices, no. 367; L. Randall, Images in the Margins of Gothic Manuscripts (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1966), fig. 405; Alexander & Temple, no. 684 and pl. XLI; M. Camille, 'Bestiary or Biology? Aristotle's Animals in Oxford, Merton College, MS 271', in Aristotle's Animals in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, ed. C. Steel, G. Guldentops and P. Beullens (Leuven, 1999), pp. 355–96.

Funding of Cataloguing

Conversion of the printed catalogue to TEI funded by the Warden and Fellows of Merton College .

Last Substantive Revision

2019-10-01: First online publication

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