Fantastic Fish of the Middle Ages
Here after followeth of the natures of the fisshes of the See whiche be right profitable to be vnderstande. Wherof I wyll wryte be the helpe and grace of almighty god, to whose laude & prayse this mater ensueth.
- Lawrens Andrewe


Cancer the Creuyce

"Cancer the creuyce is a Fishe of the see..."

Cancer the creuyce is a Fishe of the see that is closed in a harde shelle, hauyng many fete and clawes / and euer it crepeth bacward / & the he hathe two pynnes on his bely, & the she hathe none / whan he wyll engender, he climmeth on her bake, and she turneth her syde towardes him, & si they fulfyll their workes. In maye they chaunge their cotes, & in winter they hyde them fiue monethes during / whan the creues hath dronken milke it may leue longe without water. when he is olde, he hathe ij. stones in his hed with rede spottes that haue great vertue / for if they be layde in drynke / they withdryue the payne frome the herte. the creuyce eteth the Oysters, & geteth them be policye / for whan the oyster gapeth, he throweth lytell stones in him, and so geteth his fishe out, for it bydeth than open. The Asshes of hym is gode to make white tethe / & to kepe the motes out of the clothes / it withdryueth byles, & heleth mangynes. The creuyce of the fresshe water geueth gret fode, but it is an heuy mete to disieste.

Cancer the crayfish is a fish of the sea that is enclosed in a hard shell, with many feet and claws, and it always walks backwards. The male has two pins on his belly, and the female has none. When they mate, the male climbs on the female's back, and she turns her side towards him, and so they fulfill their duties. In May they change their coats (shed their outer shell), & they hide for five months during winter. When the crayfish has had milk to drink, it may live a long time without water. When he is old, it has 2 stones with red spots in his head that have great virtue, for if these stones are placed in a drink they take the pain away from anything that hurts. The crayfish eats oysters, and gets them by a certain method. When the oyster shell opens, the crayfish throws little stones into it, and so gets the fish, for the shell stays open. Crayfish ashes are good for whitening teeth, and it keeps the moths out of clothes. It removes biles and heals mange. Fresh-water crayfish is very good to eat, but it is a heavy food to digest.


Caucius is a fisshe that will nat be taken with no hokes / but eteth of the bayte & goth his way quyte.

The Caucius is a fish that can't be taken with a hook; it eats the bait and goes on its way.


Capitaius is a lytel fisshe with a great hede / a wyde rounde mouthe / & it hydeth him vnder the stones.

The Capitaius is a little fish with a big head & a wide, round mouth, and it hides itself under stones.


"... a lytel fisshe with a great hede a wyde rounde mouthe... "



"... than the nette slyppeth ouer him whiche way soeuer it come"

Carpera is a carpe, & it is a fysshe that hathe great scales / and the female hathe a great rowghe, & she can bringe forthe no yonges tyll she haue receyued mylke of her make / & that she receyueth at the mouth / and it is yll for to take / for whan it perceyueth that it shalbe taken with the net, than it thrusteth the hede into the mudde of the water / and than the nette slyppeth ouer him whiche way soeuer it come; & some holde them fast be the grounde, grasse / or erbis, & so saue themselfe.

The Carpera is a carp, & it is a fish that has large scales. The female is colored red, and cannot give birth until she takes into her mouth her own milk. The carpera is very hard to catch, for when it percieves that it is going to be taken in a net, it thrusts its head into the mud of the water, and then the net slips over the carpera no matter how it comes; and some hold themselves fast to the ground, grass, or herbs, & so save themselves.


The Cetus

"Cetus is the greatest whale fisshe of all... "

Cetus is the greatest whale fisshe of all / his mouthe is so wyde that he bloweth vp the water as yf it were a clowde / wherwith he drowneth many shippes / but whan the maryners spye where he is / than thei accompany them a gret many of shyppes togeder about him with diuers instrumentis of musike, & they play with grete armonye / & the fische is very gladde of this armonye / & commeth fletynge a-boue the watere to nere the melody, & than they haue amonge them an instrument of yron, the whiche they festen in-to the harde skinne, & the weght of it synketh downwarde in to the fat & grese / & sodenly with that al the instrumentes of musike be styll, and the shyppes departe frome thens, & anone he sinketh to the grownde / & he feleth that the salt watere smarteth in the wounde, than he turneth his bely vpwaerd and rubbeth his wownde agaynst the ground, & the more he rubbeth, the depere it entreth / & he rubbeth so longe that he sleeth hymself / and whan he is dede, than commeth he vp agayne and sheweth him selfe ded / as he dyd before quicke / and than the shippes gader them togeder agayne, and take, & so lede hym to londe, & do theyr profyte with hym.

The Cetus is the greatest whale fish of all. His mouth is so wide that he blows up the water as if it were a cloud, and in doing so drowns many ships. But when the mariners spy where he is, they gather around him in many ships with various musical instruments, & they play with great harmony. And the fish is very glad of this harmony & comes floating above the water to be near the melody. Then they have among them an instrument of iron (a harpoon), which they fasten into the Cetus' hard skin, and the weight of the harpoon sinks down into the fat & grease. With that, the musical instruments suddenly become still and the ships depart from there, and soon the Cetus sinks to the ground. When he feels the salt water smarting in his wound, he turns his belly upward and rubs the wound against the ground, and the more he rubs the deeper the harpoon enters, & he rubs so long that he slays himself. And when he is dead, he comes up again quickly as he did before and shows that he is dead. Then the ships gather together again, and take the Cetus and lead it to land, where they make a profit from it.

"... the fische is very gladde of this armonye..."
Here fisherman are using music to attract fish to their nets, the method also used to catch a Cetus.


Conche be abydynge in the harde shellis: as the mone growth or waneth, so be the conches or muscles fulle or nat full, but smale / & there be many sortes of conches or musclys / but the best be they that haue the perles in.

The Conche live in hard shells; as the moon grows or wanes, so do the conches or mussels become large or small. There are many sorts of conches or mussels, but the best are the ones that have pearls in them.


Cochele is a snayle dwellinge in the water & also on the londe / they go out of theyr howses / & they thruste out .ij. longe hornes wherwith they fele wether they go / for they se nat where they crepe.

The Cochele is a snail dwelling in the water and also on the land. When they go out of their houses they thrust out 2 long horns which they use to feel wherever they go, for they cannot see where they creep.

"... they thruste out .ij. longe hornes..."


The Conger is a se fisshe facioned like an ele / but they be much greter in quantyte / & whan it bloweth sore, than waxe they fatte. Polippus is also a strong fisshe that onwarse he wyl pull a man out of a shyp, yet the conger is so stronge that he wyll tere polippum asonder with his teth, & in winter the conger layth in the depe cauernes or holes of the water. & he is nat taken but in somer.

The Conger is a sea fish that is like an eel, but they are in much greater quantity. When the weather is bad, they grow fat. The Polippus is a fish so strong that it can pull a man out of a ship, yet the Conger is so strong that it can tear a Polippus asunder with its teeth. In winter the Conger stays in deep caverns or underwater holes. It can only be captured in summer.

"The Conger is a se fisshe facioned like an ele..."


Escluapius sayth. Coretz is a fisshe that hydeth hym in the depe of the water whan it rayneth / for yf he receiued any rayne, he sholde waxe blynde, and dye of it.

Esculapius says that the Coretz is a fish that hides in the deepest part of the water when it rains, for if it encountered any rain it would grow blind and die.

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© James L. Matterer

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