The Beaver

Hunter and beaver, thirteenth century, entrance porch, cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

Hunter and beaver, thirteenth century, entrance porch, cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

Beavers live in the water and on land; they have coats of fur and fishy tails. They cut timber with their strong teeth, chopping down trees as though with axes of steel. They construct castles of wood in rivers and in ponds, working with great artfulness. They are hunted for their testicles, which men use as medicine. Pursued by hunters, they castrate themselves to save their lives, and as they flee, they cast their testicles behind them. If a beaver, already castrated, encounters another hunter, he stands on two legs to show that he no longer has what the hunter seeks.


The small stone block with Hunter and beaver is located in the central bay of the cathedral porch, where it has been wedged into the northeastern corner at the springing of the vault. Judging from the pose of the beaver, who stands on his hind legs and folds his hands as though begging to be spared, this is not the first time he has encountered a hunter.

6 responses to “The Beaver

  1. I'm learning something new here! How interesting, first that beavers think through how to avoid being caught. Is this a myth or an actual fact?

  2. Are you sure that is a beaver and not an icky nutria ?Like an otter, but with a huge rat like tail.Loads of them here, the front half looking cute and then turning around to show the horror that is their rear end.(shudders quietly)

  3. And I always thought that people trapped them for their fur. Never remember anyone hunting beaver. Of course I don't live in Italy. We need a picture of a beaver castrating himself!!!

  4. Lakeview, it's just legend. And beavers' testicles are internal so it's really difficult to speculate about how the belief developed.Sarah, I hope for the sake of us all that it's not! Actually, I'm sure that it isn't, the sculpture dates to a period long before the modern nutria scourge. Gil, they were trapped for fur (perhaps they still are?) but they also have glands that produce an oil that was used in medicine. I'm not sure whether there are images of the moment of castration, but there are many in which the beaver casts his bits to hunters or their dogs. I'll find a good one and put a link in a comment here, so check back in a few days.

  5. That's an amazing story/myth – never heard it before, and I used to live where there are many many beavers. They are lots of fun to watch in the water; wouldn't want to swim with one (those teeth!) but if you're in a canoe they can be rather playful. The whole testicle thing is strange and founded on… what??!

  6. I'm not sure how the myth originated, but it's already in Pliny. It's very odd considering that the testicles aren't visible.I just realized that I need to post a 'castration' scene!

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