Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Medieval hunting and fair chase

Here's a link to a nice article about Gaston de Phoebus and Livre de Chasse titled "Art in Pursuit."

The Livre de Chasse, or "Book of the Chase," was a medieval hunting manual authored by Gaston Phoebus in the 1300s.

The author in the article does a good job describing the content and significance of Gaston's text, but she also discusses the "sporting" aspects of medieval hunting and the ideas of fair play that governed the activity:

"Boar hunting began on Michaelmas, when the animal was fleshiest. Polar opposite of the stag, the boar was the original bĂȘte noir, a menacing symbol of evil and a fierce, dangerous opponent. A pair of boars is depicted copulating, the artist’s way of indicating their base nature. Badgers, on the other hand, were not fair game; besides being inedible, they slept too much and had few defenses. Phoebus’s sporting dismissal of them, portrayed close to their burrows, is analogous to chivalric refusal to kill an unarmed man. Otters, foxes, rabbits, hinds, wild goats, reindeer, bears, wild cats (“their falseness and malice are well known”), and the hated wolf are treated in turn.

"Running with hounds was the favorite and most respected form of the chase.
Phoebus, whose kennel numbered 1,600 dogs, lavishes attention on “the best knowing of any beast God ever made.” In what is almost a canticle to hounds, the author describes them in terms befitting the ideal Christian knight. No attention to their wellbeing was too minor to mention. They appear in almost every miniature, on the chase or in the hands of groomsmen who examine their ears, trim and bathe their paws, tend wounds."

My experience in giving various talks on the history of recreational hunting is that many students of hunting fail to grasp how far back the ideas of fair play and "fair chase" go. These sporting ideals are by no means a modern invention, and evidence of a sense of fair play goes back to the ancient Greeks who hunted avidly for recreation.

Anyway, apologies for cross-posting, but a nice article.


  1. It's interesting how most of us don't think of our ancestors as hunting for fun and enjoyment. Yet we have no problem understanding them doing lots of other things for enjoyment like art, music and reading. It makes all kinds of sense that they would love to hunt and fish for exactly the same reasons we do, which also includes eating the catch and kill.

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