One difficulty in understanding the poetic texts of Trecento madrigals is that the language they use is often that of allegories and symbols, which requires a key for deciphering their true meaning. It is widely accepted, based on the interpretation of birds as heraldic symbols, that the madrigal Aquil'altera (Proud eagle) by Jacopo da Bologna was written either for a wedding or for a coronation ceremony. In this essay, however, I show that Aquila's content and literary style echo ideas and images that were circulating in the literature of the time, and especially in bestiaries and bestiary-inspired Italian poetry. Since these sources were well known to every educated person of the time, we may assume that its symbolic content, which is actually a praise of the human intellect, would have been understood by listeners and readers. This madrigal in turn provides a stimulus for tracing its ideas in other musical compositions of the Trecento, the madrigals Musica son by Francesco Landini and Se premio di virtù by Bartolino da Padova. These compositions are examined in the context of a specific cultural phenomenon in Italy of this period, namely, tenzoni, or correspondence in poetic forms – a practice that was the natural domain of the phenomenon we know as intertextuality.