Cats in Medieval Manuscripts & Paintings

Renais­sance artist Albrecht Dür­er  (1471–1528) nev­er saw a rhi­no him­self, but by rely­ing on eye­wit­ness descrip­tions of the one King Manuel I of Por­tu­gal intend­ed as a gift to the Pope, he man­aged to ren­der a fair­ly real­is­tic one, all things con­sid­ered.

Medieval artists’ ren­der­ings of cats so often fell short of the mark, Youtu­ber Art Deco won­ders if any of them had seen a cat before.

Point tak­en, but cats were well inte­grat­ed into medieval soci­ety.

Roy­al 12 C xix f. 36v/37r (13th cen­tu­ry)

Cats pro­vid­ed medieval cit­i­zens with the same pest con­trol ser­vices they’d been per­form­ing since the ancient Egyp­tians first domes­ti­cat­ed them.

Ancient Egyp­tians con­veyed their grat­i­tude and respect by regard­ing cats as sym­bols of divin­i­ty, pro­tec­tion, and strength.

Cer­tain Egypt­ian god­dess­es, like Bastet, were imbued with unmis­tak­ably feline char­ac­ter­is­tics.

The Vin­tage News reports that harm­ing a cat in those days was pun­ish­able by death, export­ing them was ille­gal, and, much like today, the death of a cat was an occa­sion for pub­lic sor­row:

When a cat died, it was buried with hon­ors, mum­mi­fied and mourned by the humans. The body of the cat would be wrapped in the finest mate­ri­als and then embalmed in order to pre­serve the body for a longer time. Ancient Egyp­tians went so far that they shaved their eye­brows as a sign of their deep sor­row for the deceased pet.

Aberdeen Uni­ver­si­ty Library, MS 24  f. 23v (Eng­land, c 1200)

The medieval church took a much dark­er view of our feline friends.

Their close ties to pagan­ism and ear­ly reli­gions were enough for cats to be judged guilty of witch­craft, sin­ful sex­u­al­i­ty, and frat­er­niz­ing with Satan.

In the late 12th-cen­tu­ry, writer Wal­ter Map, a soon-to-be archdea­con of Oxford, declared that the dev­il appeared before his devo­tees in feline form:

… hang­ing by a rope, a black cat of great size. As soon as they see this cat, the lights are turned out. They do not sing or recite hymns in a dis­tinct way, but they mut­ter them with their teeth closed and they feel in the dark towards where they saw their lord], and when they find it, they kiss it, the more humbly depend­ing on their fol­ly, some on the paws, some under the tail, some on the gen­i­tals. And as if they have, in this way, received a license for pas­sion, each one takes the near­est man or woman and they join them­selves with the oth­er for as long as they choose to draw out their game.

Pope Inno­cent VIII issued a papal bull in 1484 con­demn­ing the “devil’s favorite ani­mal and idol of all witch­es” to death, along with their human com­pan­ions to death.

13th-cen­tu­ry Fran­cis­can monk Bartholo­maeus Angli­cus refrained from demon­ic tat­tle, but nei­ther did he paint cats as angels:

He is a full lech­er­ous beast in youth, swift, pli­ant, and mer­ry, and leapeth and reseth on every­thing that is to fore him: and is led by a straw, and playeth there­with: and is a right heavy beast in age and full sleepy, and lieth sly­ly in wait for mice: and is aware where they be more by smell than by sight, and hunteth and reseth on them in privy places: and when he taketh a mouse, he playeth there­with, and eateth him after the play. In time of love is hard fight­ing for wives, and one scratch­eth and ren­deth the oth­er griev­ous­ly with bit­ing and with claws. And he maketh a ruth­ful noise and ghast­ful, when one prof­fer­eth to fight with anoth­er: and unneth is hurt when he is thrown down off an high place. And when he hath a fair skin, he is as it were proud there­of, and goeth fast about: and when his skin is burnt, then he bideth at home; and is oft for his fair skin tak­en of the skin­ner, and slain and flayed.

Pigs and rats also had a bad rep, and like cats, were tor­tured and exe­cut­ed in great num­bers by pious humans.

The Work­sop Bes­tiary Mor­gan Library, MS M.81 f. 47r (Eng­land, c 1185)

Not every medieval city was anti-cat. As the Aca­d­e­m­ic Cat Lady Johan­na Feen­stra writes of the above illus­tra­tion from The Work­sop Bes­tiary, one of the ear­li­est Eng­lish bes­tiaries:

Some would have inter­pret­ed the image of a cat pounc­ing on a rodent as a sym­bol for the dev­il going after the human soul. Oth­ers might have seen the cat in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent light. For instance, as Eucharis­tic guardians, mak­ing sure rodents could not steal and eat the Eucharis­tic wafers.

Bodleian Library Bod­ley 764 f. 51r (Eng­land, c 1225–50)

St John’s Col­lege Library, MS. 61 (Eng­land (York), 13th cen­tu­ry)

It took cat lover Leonar­do DaVin­ci to turn the sit­u­a­tion around, with eleven sketch­es from life por­tray­ing cats in char­ac­ter­is­tic pos­es, much as we see them today. We’ll delve more into that in a future post.

Con­rad of Megen­berg, ‘Das Buch der Natur’, Ger­many ca. 1434. Stras­bourg, Bib­lio­thèque nationale et uni­ver­si­taire, Ms.2.264, fol. 85r

Relat­ed Con­tent

Medieval Cats Behav­ing Bad­ly: Kit­ties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­scripts

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Preda­tor to Sofa Side­kick

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

When Sliced Bread Got Banned During World War II

Home baked sour­dough had its moment dur­ing the ear­ly days of the pan­dem­ic, but oth­er­wise bread has been much maligned through­out the 21st cen­tu­ry, at least in the West­ern World, where carbs are vil­i­fied by body-con­scious con­sumers.

This was hard­ly the case on Jan­u­ary 18, 1943, when Amer­i­cans woke up to the news that the War Foods Admin­is­tra­tion, head­ed by Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture Claude R. Wickard, had banned the sale of sliced bread.

The rea­sons dri­ving the ban were a bit murky, though by this point, Amer­i­cans were well acquaint­ed with rationing, which had already lim­it­ed access to high-demand items as sug­ar, cof­fee, gaso­line and tires.

Though why sliced bread, of all things?

Might depriv­ing the pub­lic of their beloved pre-sliced bread help the war effort, by free­ing up some crit­i­cal resource, like steel?

Not accord­ing to The His­to­ry Guy, Lance Geiger, above.

War pro­duc­tion reg­u­la­tions pro­hib­it­ed the sale of indus­tri­al bread slic­ing equip­ment for the dura­tion, though pre­sum­ably, exist­ing com­mer­cial bak­eries wouldn’t have been in the mar­ket for more machines, just the odd repair part here and there.

Wax paper then? It kept sliced bread fresh pri­or to the inven­tion of plas­tic bags. Per­haps the Allies had need of it?

No, unlike nylon, there were no short­ages of waxed paper.

Flour had been strict­ly reg­u­lat­ed in Great Britain dur­ing the first World War, but this wasn’t a prob­lem state­side in WWII, where it remained rel­a­tive­ly cheap and easy to pro­cure, with plen­ty left­over to sup­ply over­seas troops. 1942’s wheat crop had been the sec­ond largest on record.

There were oth­er ratio­nales hav­ing to do with elim­i­nat­ing food waste and reliev­ing eco­nom­ic pres­sure for bak­ers, but none of these held up upon exam­i­na­tion. This left the War Pro­duc­tion Office, the War Price Admin­is­tra­tion, and the Office of Agri­cul­ture vying to place blame for the ban on each oth­er, and in some cas­es, the Amer­i­can bak­ing indus­try itself!

While the ill con­sid­ered ban last­ed just two months, the pub­lic uproar was con­sid­er­able.

Although pre-sliced bread hadn’t been around all that long, in the thir­teen-and-a-half years since its intro­duc­tion, con­sumers had grown quite depen­dent on its con­ve­nience, and how nice­ly those uni­form slices fit into the slots of their pop up toast­ers, anoth­er recent­ly-patent­ed inven­tion.

A great plea­sure of the His­to­ry Guy’s cov­er­age is the name check­ing of local news­pa­pers cov­er­ing the Sliced Bread Ban:

The Lodi News-Sen­tinel!

The Har­ris­burg Tele­graph! 

The Indi­anapo­lis Star! 

An absence of data did not pre­vent a reporter for the Wilm­ing­ton News Jour­nal from spec­u­lat­ing that “it is believed that the major­i­ty of Amer­i­can house­wives are not pro­fi­cient bread slicers.”

One such house­wife, hav­ing spent a hec­tic morn­ing hack­ing a loaf into toast and sand­wich­es for her hus­band and chil­dren, wrote a let­ter to the New York Times, pas­sion­ate­ly declar­ing “how impor­tant sliced bread is to the morale and sane­ness of a house­hold.”

The more stiff upper lipped patri­o­tism of Ver­mont home eco­nom­ics instruc­tor Doris H. Steele found a plat­form in the Barre Times:

In Grandmother’s day, the loaf of bread had a reg­u­lar place at the fam­i­ly table. Grand­moth­er had an attrac­tive board for the bread to stand on and a good sharp knife along­side. Grand­moth­er knew that a steady hand and a sharp knife were the secrets of slic­ing bread. She sliced as the fam­i­ly asked for bread and in this way, she didn’t waste any bread by cut­ting more than the fam­i­ly could eat. Let’s all con­tribute to the war effort by slic­ing our own bread.

Then, as now, celebri­ties felt com­pelled to weigh in.

New York City May­or Fiorel­lo LaGuardia found it ludi­crous that bak­eries should be pre­vent­ed from putting their exist­ing equip­ment to use.

And Hol­ly­wood actress Olivia de Hav­il­land approved of the ban on the grounds that pack­aged slices were too thick.

Watch more of the His­to­ry Guy’s videos here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dat­ing Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

See Rid­ley Scott’s 1973 Bread Commercial—Voted England’s Favorite Adver­tise­ment of All Time

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of the World’s Only Sour­dough Library

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Two Women in Their 90s Recall Their Teenage Years in Victorian 1890s London

Mud everywhere…and where there wasn’t mud, there was fog, and in between was us, enjoy­ing our­selves. — Berta Ruck

Berta Ruck and Frances ‘Effy’ Jones were teenagers in the 1890s, and while their rec­ol­lec­tions of their for­ma­tive years in mud­dy old Lon­don are hard­ly a por­trait of Jazz Age wild­ness, nei­ther are they in keep­ing with mod­ern notions of stuffy Vic­to­ri­an mores.

Inter­viewed for the BBC doc­u­men­tary series Yesterday’s Wit­ness in 1970, these nona­ge­nar­i­ans are for­mi­da­ble per­son­ages, sharp­er than prover­bial tacks, and unlike­ly to elic­it the sort of agist pity embod­ied in the lyrics of a pop­u­lar dit­ty Ruck remem­bers the Cock­neys singing in the gut­ter after the pubs had closed for the night.

“Do you think I might dare to sing [it] now?” Ruck, then 91, asks (rhetor­i­cal­ly):

She may have known bet­ter days

When she was in her prime

She may have known bet­ter days

Once upon a time…

(Raise your hand if you sus­pect those lyrics are describ­ing a washed up spin­ster in her late 20s or ear­ly 30s.)

The 94-year-old Jones reach­es back more than 7 decades to tell about her first job, when she was paid 8 shillings a week to sit in a store­front win­dow, demon­strat­ing a new machine known as a type­writer.

Some of her earn­ings went toward the pur­chase a bicy­cle, which she rode back and forth to work and overnight hol­i­days in Brighton, scan­dalous­ly clad in bloomers, or as Jones and her friends referred to them, “ratio­nal dress”.

Ruck, pegged by her head­mistress as an “indo­lent and feck­less girl”, went on to study at the Slade School of Art, before achiev­ing promi­nence as a best­selling romance nov­el­ist, whose 90 some titles include His Offi­cial Fiancée, Miss Million’s Maid and In Anoth­er Girl’s Shoes.

We do hope at least one of these fea­tures a hero­ine resent­ful­ly brush­ing a skirt mud­died up to the knees by pass­ing han­som cabs, an impo­si­tion Ruck refus­es to sweet­en with the nos­tal­gia.

As the British Film Institute’s Patrick Rus­sell writes in 100 British Doc­u­men­taries, the Yesterday’s Wit­ness series, and Jones and Ruck’s episode, in par­tic­u­lar, pop­u­lar­ized the oral his­to­ry approach to doc­u­men­tary, in which the direc­tor-inter­view­er is an invis­i­ble pres­ence, cre­at­ing the impres­sion that the sub­ject is speak­ing direct­ly to the audi­ence, unprompt­ed:

The series’ mak­ers suc­cess­ful­ly resist­ed any temp­ta­tions to patron­ize or edi­to­ri­al­ize, and aimed at sym­pa­thet­ic curios­i­ty rather than nos­tal­gia. The two women tell their sto­ries flu­ent­ly, humor­ous­ly, intel­li­gent­ly — offer­ing con­sid­ered ret­ro­spec­tive com­ment on their generation’s assump­tions, nei­ther sim­ply accept­ing nor reject­ing them…Unlike text­books, and oth­er types of doc­u­men­tary, films like Two Vic­to­ri­an Girls gave the youth access to the mod­ern past as pri­vate­ly expe­ri­enced. 

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Footage of Flappers from 1929 Restored & Colorized with AI

The flap­per is the Roar­ing 20s’ endur­ing emblem — a lib­er­at­ed, young woman with bobbed hair, rolled down stock­ings, and a pub­lic thirst for cock­tails.

(My grand­moth­er longed to be one, and suc­ceed­ed, as best one could in Cairo, Illi­nois, only to mar­ry an old­er man at the age of 17, and give birth to my father a few months before the stock mar­ket crashed, bring­ing the friv­o­li­ty of the decade to an abrupt halt.)

Our abid­ing affec­tion for the flap­per is stoked on F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s Jazz Age novel­la, The Great Gats­by, and its many stage and screen adap­ta­tions, with their depic­tions of wild par­ties fea­tur­ing guests like Miss Baedeck­er (“When she’s had five or six cock­tails she always starts scream­ing like that”) and Lucille (“I nev­er care what I do, so I always have a good time.”)

The vin­tage fash­ion blog Glam­our Daze’s new­ly col­orized footage of a 1929  fash­ion show in Buf­fa­lo, New York, at the top of this post, presents a vast­ly more sedate image than Fitzger­ald, or Ethel Hays, whose sin­gle-pan­el dai­ly car­toon Flap­per Fan­ny was wild­ly pop­u­lar with both young women and men of the time.



The scene it presents seems more whole­some than one might have found in New York City, with what Fitzger­ald dubbed its “wild promise of all the mys­tery and the beau­ty in the world”. The mod­els seem more eager ama­teurs than run­way pro­fes­sion­als, though lined up jaun­ti­ly on a wall, all exhib­it “nice stems.”

My young grand­moth­er would have gone ga ga for the cloche hats, tea dress­es, bathing suits, loung­ing paja­mas, golf and ten­nis ensem­bles, and evening gowns, though the Deep Exem­plar-based Video Col­oriza­tion process seems to have stained some mod­els’ skin and teeth by mis­take.

The orig­i­nal black and white footage is part of the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Carolina’s Fox Movi­etone News col­lec­tion, whose oth­er fash­ion-relat­ed clips from 1929 include pre­sen­ta­tions fea­tur­ing Wash­ing­ton debu­tantes and col­lege coeds.

Added sound brings the peri­od to life with nary a men­tion of the Charleston or gin, though if you want a feel for 20s fash­ion, check out the col­lec­tion’s non-silent Movi­etone clip devot­ed to the lat­est in 1929 swimwearthis is a mod­ernistic beach ensem­ble of ray­on jer­sey with diag­o­nal stripes and a sun back cut

It’s the cat’s paja­mas. As is this playlist of hits from 1929.

Explore Glam­our Daze’s guide to 1920s fash­ion his­to­ry here.

Watch the orig­i­nal black and white footage of the Buf­fa­lo, New York fash­ion show here.

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Explore the Entire World–from the Comfort of Quarantine–with 4K Walking Tours

Many of us right now are shel­ter­ing in place, or in quar­an­tine, dream­ing of that day when we can once again trav­el the world. And that day will come, friends, that day will come.

But until then, there are already sev­er­al YouTube chan­nels set up to pro­vide you with a chance to go on walk­ing tours around the world, with only the sounds of the envi­ron­ment in your head­phones.

I was alert­ed to this by good friend Phil Gyford, who found this via Sarah Pavis (via Fave­Jet), and pro­vid­ed sev­er­al links to this large selec­tion of vir­tu­al trav­el­er. Your mileage my vary, as they say, but here’s some trips I found par­tic­u­lar­ly relax­ing in these anx­ious times.

Above, I start­ed here with this walk through Pim­mit View Park in Falls Church, Vir­ginia. Despite an umbrel­la dip­ping into view, I found this a relax­ing walk­ing in the rain through a ver­dant won­der­land, with occa­sion­al paus­es to admire the flow­ing streams. Love­ly.

From here I was feel­ing a bit peck­ish, so I bopped over to the Pha­tra Mar­ket in Bangkok to have a look at the var­i­ous foods on offer. Lazy­Tourist, the per­son who filmed this, nev­er strays too long at any stall, but knows enough to linger.

A YouTu­ber called 4K Urban Life pro­duces the occa­sion­al walk­ing tour of Euro­pean cities, and here they show us Tus­cany, start­ing in a very non-descript side­street until ven­tur­ing out into the heart of old Italy. This one is near­ly four hours long, so bring a bot­tle of wine but skip the sun­screen. Enjoy the lack of social dis­tanc­ing, and pray for Italy.

Night has fall­en and it’s time to ven­ture out into the West End of Lon­don in this evoca­tive video from Watched Walk­er. It’s rainy and wet, but no mat­ter, the streets of Lon­don look love­ly and this hour-plus takes us through “Covent Gar­den, Leices­ter Square, Pic­cadil­ly Cir­cus, Oxford Cir­cus, Oxford Street, Carn­a­by Street and Soho.”

Now let’s drop in on one of New York City’s most pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tions, Times Square. Wind Walk Trav­el Videos has a lot of these short (30 mins or less) vis­its to Amer­i­can loca­tions, and this is one of their most pop­u­lar. Try not to think about how emp­ty these spaces are now, and enjoy the ambi­ence, sketchy Elmo and all.

Here’s Ram­bal­ac walk­ing Shin­juku at night, check­ing out the side streets and test­ing out his bin­au­r­al mic. This is a treat with head­phones on, so make this full screen and order in some ramen.

A final thought: recent­ly I’ve been focus­ing on 4K “remas­ter­ing” (by way of AI) of turn of the (20th) cen­tu­ry films, a look back to a dif­fer­ent age. In these above videos, we can see the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues, a fas­ci­na­tion in watch­ing life go on as we sit and look into our devices. Think on both those long since deceased folk in the 1900s and a record of our once-nor­mal lives (only a month ago, as of this writ­ing), and keep them both in your hearts.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Walk­ing Fos­ters Cre­ativ­i­ty: Stan­ford Researchers Con­firm What Philoso­phers and Writ­ers Have Always Known

A 5‑Hour, One-Take Cin­e­mat­ic Tour of Russia’s Her­mitage Muse­um, Shot Entire­ly on an iPhone

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Brazil’s Nation­al Muse­um & Its Arti­facts: Google Dig­i­tized the Museum’s Col­lec­tion Before the Fate­ful Fire

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Traditional Inuit Thoat Singing and the Modern World Collide in This Astonishing Video

Let’s just get this out of the way…

Musi­cal­ly speak­ing, Inu­it throat singing—or kata­j­jaqis not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

For all those who find this tra­di­tion­al form mes­mer­iz­ing, there are oth­ers who get antsy with no lyrics or eas­i­ly dis­cernible melody on which to hang their hat, or who expe­ri­ence the bleak sound of the Arc­tic wind cou­pled with the singers’ pre­lim­i­nary breath­ing as a hor­ror movie sound­track.

If, as a mem­ber of one of the lat­ter camps, you feel inclined to bail after a minute or so of Wapikoni Mobile’s Sun­dance-endorsed video above—you get it, it’s some­thing akin to Mon­go­lian or Tuvan throat-singing, it’s cir­cu­lar breath­ing, there’s a lot of pic­turesque snow up therewe beg you to recon­sid­er, on two counts.

1) In an era of auto­tuned “everyone’s‑a-star” per­fec­tion, Kata­j­jaq is a hearty hold-out, a com­mu­ni­ty-spir­it­ed singing game whose com­peti­tors seek nei­ther star­dom nor rich­es, but rather, to chal­lenge them­selves and amuse each oth­er with­out screens through­out the long win­ter nights.

Prac­ti­tion­er Evie Mark breaks it down thus­ly:

One very typ­i­cal exam­ple is when the hus­bands would go on hunt­ing trips.  The women would gath­er togeth­er when they have noth­ing to do, no more sewing to do, no more clean­ing to do, they would just have fun, and one of the ways of enter­tain­ing them­selves is throat-singing.

It goes like this. Two women face each oth­er very close­ly, and they would throat sing like this:

If I would be with my part­ner right now, I would say A, she would say A, I would say A, she would say A, I say C, she says C.  So she repeats after me.  It would be a sort of rolling of sounds.  And, once that hap­pens, you cre­ate a rhythm.  And the only way the rhythm would be bro­ken is when one of the two women starts laugh­ing or if one of them stops because she is tired.  It’s a kind of game.  We always say the first per­son to laugh or the first per­son to stop is the one to lose.  It’s noth­ing seri­ous.  Throat singing is way of hav­ing fun.  That’s the gen­er­al idea, it’s to have fun dur­ing gath­er­ings.  It is also a way to prove to your friends around you or your fam­i­ly that if you are a good throat-singer, you’re gonna win the game.

Throat-singing is a very accu­rate tech­nique in a sense that when you are singing fast, the per­son who is fol­low­ing the leader has to go in every lit­tle gap the leader leaves for her to fill in.  For instance, if I was to say 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, the ones being what I sing and the plus­es the gaps, she would go in-between the ones, singing on the plus­es.  Then, if I change my rhythm, this woman has to fol­low that change of rhythm and fill in the gaps of that new rhythm.  She has to be very accu­rate.  She has to have a very good ear and she has to fol­low visu­al­ly what I am doing.

Throat singing is not exact­ly easy on your diaphragm.  You are using a lot of your mus­cles in your diaphragm for breath­ing in and breath­ing out.  I have to find a space between sounds to breath in in order for me to throat-sing for 20 min­utes or more.  20 min­utes has been my max­i­mum length of time to throat-sing.  You have to focus on your lungs or your diaphragm.  If you throat-sing using main­ly breath­ing, you are gonna hyper­ven­ti­late, you’re gonna get dizzy and dam­age your throat.

2) The video, star­ring Eva Kaukai and Manon Cham­ber­land from Kan­gir­suk in north­ern Québec (pop­u­la­tion: 394), deflates con­ven­tion­al notions of tra­di­tion­al prac­tices as the prove­nance of some­where quaint, exot­ic, taxi­der­mied…

Begin­ning around the 90-sec­ond mark, the singers are joined by a drone that sur­veys the sur­round­ing area. View­ers get a glimpse of what their Arc­tic home­land looks like in the warm sea­son, as well as some hunters flay­ing their kill pri­or to load­ing it into a late mod­el pick up, pre­sum­ably bound for a build­ing in a whol­ly sub­ur­ban seem­ing neigh­bor­hood, com­plete with tele­phone poles, satel­lite dish­es, andgaspelec­tric light.

Via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Hu, a New Break­through Band from Mon­go­lia, Plays Heavy Met­al with Tra­di­tion­al Folk Instru­ments and Throat Singing

An MRI Shows How a Singer Sings Two Tones at Once (With the Music of Mozart and Bri­an Eno)

How to Sing Two Notes At Once (aka Poly­phon­ic Over­tone Singing): Lessons from Singer Anna-Maria Hefele

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC for the new sea­son of her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday


Why Knights Fought Snails in Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts

The snail may leave a trail of slime behind him, but a lit­tle slime will do a man no harm… whilst if you dance with drag­ons, you must expect to burn.

- George R. R. Mar­tin, The Mys­tery Knight

As any Game of Thrones fan knows, being a knight has its down­sides. It isn’t all pow­er, glo­ry, advan­ta­geous mar­riages and gifts rang­ing from cas­tles to bags of gold.

Some­times you have to fight a tru­ly for­mi­da­ble oppo­nent.

We’re not talk­ing about bun­nies here, though there’s plen­ty of doc­u­men­ta­tion to sug­gest medieval rab­bits were tough cus­tomers.

As Vox Almanac’s Phil Edwards explains, above, the many snails lit­ter­ing the mar­gins of 13th-cen­tu­ry man­u­scripts were also fear­some foes.

Boars, lions, and bears we can under­stand, but … snails? Why?

The­o­ries abound.

Detail from Brunet­to Latini’s Li Livres dou Tre­sor

Edwards favors the one in medieval­ist Lil­ian M. C. Ran­dall’s 1962 essay “The Snail in Goth­ic Mar­gin­al War­fare.”

Ran­dall, who found some 70 instances of man-on-snail com­bat in 29 man­u­scripts dat­ing from the late 1200s to ear­ly 1300s, believed that the tiny mol­lusks were stand ins for the Ger­man­ic Lom­bards who invad­ed Italy in the 8th cen­tu­ry.

After Charle­magne trounced the Lom­bards in 772, declar­ing him­self King of Lom­bardy, the van­quished turned to usury and pawn­broking, earn­ing the enmi­ty of the rest of the pop­u­lace, even those who required their ser­vices.

Their pro­fes­sion con­ferred pow­er of a sort, the kind that tends to get one labelled cow­ard­ly, greedy, mali­cious … and easy to put down.

Which rather begs the ques­tion why the knights going toe-to- …uh, fac­ing off against them in the mar­gins of these illu­mi­nat­ed man­u­scripts look so damn intim­i­dat­ed.

(Con­verse­ly why was Rex Harrison’s Dr. Dolit­tle so unafraid of the Giant Pink Sea Snail?)

Detail from from MS. Roy­al 10 IV E (aka the Smith­field Dec­re­tals)

Let us remem­ber that the doo­dles in medieval mar­gin­a­lia are edi­to­r­i­al car­toons wrapped in enig­mas, much as today’s memes would seem, 800 years from now. What­ev­er point—or joke—the scribe was mak­ing, it’s been obscured by the mists of time.

And these things have a way of evolv­ing. The snail vs. knight motif dis­ap­peared in the 14th-cen­tu­ry, only to resur­face toward the end of the 15th, when any exist­ing sig­nif­i­cance would very like­ly have been tai­lored to fit the times.

Detail from The Mac­cles­field Psalter

Oth­er the­o­ries that schol­ars, art his­to­ri­ans, blog­gers, and arm­chair medieval­ists have float­ed with regard to the sym­bol­ism of these rough and ready snails haunt­ing the mar­gins:

The Res­ur­rec­tion

The high cler­gy, shrink­ing from prob­lems of the church

The slow­ness of time

The insu­la­tion of the rul­ing class

The aristocracy’s oppres­sion of the poor

A cri­tique of social climbers

Female sex­u­al­i­ty (isn’t every­thing?)

Vir­tu­ous humil­i­ty, as opposed to knight­ly pride

The snail’s reign of ter­ror in the gar­den (not so sym­bol­ic, per­haps…)

A prac­ti­cal-mind­ed Red­dit com­menter offers the fol­low­ing com­men­tary:

I like to imag­ine a monk draw­ing out his fan­tas­ti­cal day­dreams, the snail being his neme­sis, leav­ing unsight­ly trails across the page and him build­ing up in his head this great vic­to­ry where­in he van­quish­es them for­ev­er, nev­er again to be plagued by the beast­ly bug­gers while cre­at­ing his mas­ter­pieces.

Read­ers, any oth­er ideas?

Detail from The Gor­leston Psalter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Killer Rab­bits in Medieval Man­u­scripts: Why So Many Draw­ings in the Mar­gins Depict Bun­nies Going Bad

Medieval Cats Behav­ing Bad­ly: Kit­ties That Left Paw Prints … and Peed … on 15th Cen­tu­ry Man­u­scripts

The Aberdeen Bes­tiary, One of the Great Medieval Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­scripts, Now Dig­i­tized in High Res­o­lu­tion & Made Avail­able Online

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City May 13 for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

Change Your Life! Learn the Japanese Art of Decluttering, Organizing & Tidying Things Up

Cus­tom dic­tates that you should observe July 4th—Amer­i­ca’s Inde­pen­dence Day—out­doors, eat­ing hot dogs, drink­ing beer, wav­ing tiny flags on Main Street, and view­ing fire­works.

Why not lib­er­ate your­self from the tyran­ny of the tra­di­tion­al by spend­ing a por­tion of the day indoors, com­mu­ni­cat­ing affec­tion to your cloth­ing, as orga­ni­za­tion­al expert, Marie Kon­do, author of the best sell­ing book, The Life-Chang­ing Mag­ic of Tidy­ing Up, does in the instruc­tion­al video, above?

Most of us who dwell in small New York City apart­ments are already famil­iar with her teach­ings. Hers is a take-no-pris­on­ers approach to clut­ter con­trol. Any item that doesn’t “spark joy”—be it a pair of stretched-out sweat­pants, a long ago grad­u­a­tion present, a ream of children’s art­work, or a near­ly full bot­tle of slight­ly funky-smelling conditioner—must be dis­card­ed imme­di­ate­ly.

(Note to self: ask Mom what­ev­er became of my Spir­it of ’76 water­col­or. She had it framed because it won a prize. Best Bicen­ten­ni­al Obser­vance by a 4th Grad­er or some such. Things like that don’t just van­ish into thin air, unless…)

The total makeover Kon­do pro­pos­es is an ardu­ous, oft-emo­tion­al, week-long task. Don’t blow your entire July 4th hol­i­day try­ing to com­plete the job.

Instead, take an hour or two to refold your clothes. New York­ers’ draw­ers are where Kondo’s influ­ence is felt most deeply. Whether or not we sub­scribe to her prac­tice of treat­ing each gar­ment like a trea­sured friend, our under­wear def­i­nite­ly has more room to breathe, when not on active duty.

See below for a graph­ic demon­stra­tion of how to best fold shirts, pants, and sev­er­al species of undies, using Kondo’s Kon-Marie method.

And don’t be tempt­ed to decamp to the back­yard bar­be­cue when you run across chal­lenges like over­alls or baby one­sies. Watch below as Kon­do tack­les a shirt with kimono sleeves, a pair of Edo-style mata hike pants, and a sweater with a marked resem­blance to a Thneed.

If you’re begin­ning to feel like fire­works may be over­rat­ed, Kon­do deliv­ers a 45-minute overview of her phi­los­o­phy as part of the Talks at Google pro­gram below. Or lose your­self to an entire playlist of Kon­do fold­ing videos here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

53 New York Times Videos Teach Essen­tial Cook­ing Tech­niques: From Poach­ing Eggs to Shuck­ing Oys­ters

Moby Lets You Down­load 4 Hours of Ambi­ent Music to Help You Sleep, Med­i­tate, Do Yoga & Not Pan­ic

Free Col­or­ing Books from World-Class Libraries & Muse­ums: The New York Pub­lic Library, Bodleian, Smith­son­ian & More

Ayun Hal­l­i­day, author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine, will be read­ing from her trav­el mem­oir, No Touch Mon­key! And Oth­er Trav­el Lessons Learned Too Late at Indy Reads Books in down­town Indi­anapo­lis, Thurs­day, July 7. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

More in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.