What do stories about animals have to tell us about human beings? This book analyzes the shrewd perceptions about human life - and especially human language - that emerge from narratives in which the main figures are 'talking animals'. Its guiding question is not 'what' but 'how' animals mean. Using this question to draw a clear distinction between beast fable and beast epic, it goes on to examine the complex variations of these forms that are to be found in the literature of medieval Britain, in English, French, Latin, and Scots. The range, variety, and brilliant inventiveness of this tradition are demonstrated in chapters on the fables of Marie de France, the Speculum stultorum of Nigel of Longchamp (the comic adventures of a donkey), the debate poem The Owl and the Nightingale, Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and the tales of the Squire, Manciple and Nun's Priest, the Reynardian tale of The Fox and the Wolf, and the Moral Fabillis of Robert Henryson. English translations provided for all quotations make the works discussed accessible to the modern reader.