On Fowl Matters
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
One day my mother brought a duckling home from the school bazaar. It was a delightful tiny creature, a squeaking ball of yellow fluff that displayed absolutely no suggestion of the monster it would become. Not knowing whether it was male or female, mother tactfully gave it an appropriately neutral name – Francis. Once we established that it was in fact male its name was extended into Francis Drake. Francis grew, lost his yellow fluff replacing it with dirty white feathers, and continued to grow and grow. He was getting very large for a duck, but Mother held her ground. She insisted he was a duck, but the fact is, he didn’t look like a duck or quack like a duck. He was big and ugly, and he hissed. She claimed that Francis was of a variety of ducks that were large, a Muscovy she said, but I have looked up Muscovy’s and he was nothing like that at all. In fact, I rather think that instead of Francis Drake, we should have been calling him Francis Gander. In any case, he became a nasty, filthy, smelly, obnoxious (I hesitate to use the word, foul) creature that turned the entire side of our garden into a muddy swamp, hissed at my parents' friends, bit right through my aunt’s shoe, scared the children in the neighbourhood, and eventually, much to everyone’s relief, disappeared, no doubt to become someone's indigestible meal.
Geese don't figure very prominently in the Crusades. The famous gaggle of holy geese on the Capitoline that saved the Roman Republic during an invasion of Gauls in the late fourth century BC appear to have been one of the peaks of goosian glory. By the Middle Ages the species was producing few heroes. But there was one case in which, according to one of the more absurd legends of the First Crusade, a particular goose redeemed his tribe, not merely by participating (and one can assume many geese participated in the crusade, though not by choice but rather among the livestock taken with the crusaders and followers on their way east), but as a crusader leader (along with an inspired she-goat, one of the few female leaders of a crusade). Albert of Aachen, a chronicler who participated in the First Crusade recorded a brief account of this dubious event:
"There was also another abominable wickedness in this gathering of people on foot, who were stupid and insanely irresponsible, which, it cannot be doubted, is hateful to God and unbelievable to all the faithful. They claimed that a certain goose was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and a she-goat filled no less with the same, and they had made these their leaders for this holy journey to Jerusalem; they even worshipped them excessively, and as the beasts directed their courses for them in their animal way many of the troops believed wholeheartedly, claiming it was the truth. For never let the hearts of the faithful believe that the Lord Jesus is willing for the tomb of his most holy body to be visited by stupid and irrational animals, and for these to be the leaders of Christian souls, those souls which he had rescued, which he had deigned to ransom with his own precious blood from the filthiness of idols..."*
*Albert of Aachen, Albert of Aachen's History of the Journey to Jerusalem, vol. 1, trans. Susan Edgington, Ashgate, 2013, pp. 41-42.