This blog post is part of my Student Series! in while I highlight articles written by previous Humanities students on a topic of their choosing that relates to our course content. Keep in mind this is written by high schoolers and anything that could identify them personally has been removed or altered by me.
You would expect the information we know about people from the 13th and 14th centuries would come from the manuscripts they spends hours, days and weeks and years making, but that is only partly true. It is hard to gain someone’s personality from old scripture, but you can really see what the monks who created manuscripts were thinking and feeling by what they wrote and drew in the margins of the scripts. From what I have gathered, monks truly were miserable as well as bored sitting in cold rooms and uncomfortable chairs for hours on end. Although medieval manuscripts are beautiful, the marginalia distracts and can cause a laugh.
I do not know about you, but I have never really thought a knight in shining armor could be scared of a snail; the monks have. In several margins of the pages you can see silly images that can be classified as doodles. There are several theories behind some of the doodles and experts try to believe it is something deep and meaningful, but personally I think it shows the monks had a wicked sense of humor. The knight and snail for example, has many theories behind it: it could be a reminder of the inevitability of death or it could just a good battle with the armored knight fighting the “armored” snail. The British Library has even added their two cents into the debate saying it could be a depiction of the Resurrection.
Is that what you think when you see an image such as the one above?
Even though the knight fighting the snail is one of the more popular examples of what hides in the margins, it is not just doodles that hide there. There are little notes the monks have made about their current state of being such as that they are cold or that their hands are cramping, one monk even put that he could use a drink afterwards! Many people say the notes hidden on the edge of the pages ruin the deep meaning of the sacred text. The only comparison I can think to make is finding little notes scribbled on the outside of the pages of textbooks today written by bored kids who previously had the book.
Not all the pictures or words have explanations though for why they exist which is honestly why I strongly believe they are just put there by the monks after spending hours and hours of copying down ancient texts. Some of the outrageous imagery can include a whole number of things like a nun picking penises off a tree or a fish man getting shot up the rear end with an arrow or even a man blowing a horn with his rear end. Those are some of the more ridiculous ones found below.
What do you think about all the marginalia left by the monks? It could be meaningful images and text, but is that really what this is?
My views is that it is just medieval humor shining through, but I’m no expert so I’m probably wrong.
- Biggs, Sarah J. “Knight v Snail.” British Library. Published September 26, 2013. http://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/09/knight-v-snail.html
- Newitz, Annalee. “Medieval Monks complained about their jobs in the margins of ancient manuscripts.” iO9. Published March 23rd, 2013. http://io9.gizmodo.com/5896008/medieval-monks-complained-about-their-jobs-in-the-margins-of-ancient-manuscripts
- Pyrdum, Carl. “What’s So Funny About Knights and Snails? (Mmm…Marginalia #46)” Got Medieval. Published July 7th, 2009. http://www.gotmedieval.com/2009/07/whats-so-funny-about-knights-and-snails.html
- Schultz, Colin. “Why Were Medieval Knights Always Fighting Snails?.” Smithsonian. Published October 14th, 2013. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-were-medieval-knights-always-fighting-snails-1728888/?no-ist
- Cover Image: http://jisforjourney.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/fe319-ontheoppositesideofthispagetheresamanpushingacartfullofnakednunsafterall.jpg