As moralized works of natural history that are simultaneously scientific and religious, medieval bestiaries combine the modes Bruno Latour terms reference [REF] and religion [REL]. Bestiaries challenge the dualisms Latour identifies as central features of Modern thinking: they foreground the mediated nature of the world, they ground their descriptions in textual traditions and religious doctrine rather than direct observation, and they represent nature as articulate rather than mute. Latour’s modes help us understand the multimodal nature of bestiaries in ways that refuse the Modern preconceptions that often determine the reception of these texts today. Bestiaries in turn expose certain Modern biases that persist in Latour’s modes of existence, most notably in the crossing of the referential and religious modes [REF•REL]. This essay explores the larger implications of this problem by focusing on the operations of the religious mode [REL] in medieval bestiaries—a mode that includes reference [REF] but does not cross with it as a separate mode. Latour’s dismantling of the Modern opposition between world and words invites a reassessment of how we conceptualize the agency of language in the modes of existence.

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