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Scholarly debate about the significance of snail combat
September 27, 2013 6:18 PM   Subscribe

"As anyone who is familiar with 13th and 14th century illuminated manuscripts can attest, images of armed knights fighting snails are common, especially in marginalia. But the ubiquity of these depictions doesn’t make them any less strange, and we had a long discussion about what such pictures might mean."
posted by exogenous (90 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite

 
I never thought about it before, but would wager a guess that knights fighting snails were depicted because snails have shells, knights have armor, let's battle!

Also, Comte de Bastard might actually be the greatest name I have ever been privileged to lay eyes on.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:25 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I just want to thank these nameless medieval warriors for ridding the world of the scourge of Giant Snails.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:30 PM on September 27, 2013 [17 favorites]


Obviously, in the 13th and 14th centuries, either snails were very large or knights were very small.
posted by xingcat at 6:31 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Did someone say scourge of giant snails?
posted by idiopath at 6:33 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


who cares I have a a manuscript with a picture of St Luke fighting a refrigerator
posted by theodolite at 6:34 PM on September 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Holy shit, I totally need a knight v. snail tattoo.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:34 PM on September 27, 2013 [24 favorites]


Came for the snails, stayed for the captions.
posted by Iridic at 6:38 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Serious question: Can't this just be some 13th century meme without any real reason?

I can't help but think this is what will be happening a few hundred years down the road when some scholars trying to make sense of all the random shit we do now.
posted by SollosQ at 6:39 PM on September 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


This is the best thing ever. We may never know for sure, and this is really pretty recent history. Who knows what insane things our ancestors got up to and what it all meant for them that have been completely lost. And that's just one planet in one galaxy.

There's a lot of stuff to know out there and I want to know it all. Starting with the snails.
posted by bigbigdog at 6:39 PM on September 27, 2013 [14 favorites]


Ummm. Marginalia is where the scribe is dicking around because scrivening is boring, yo. The snail represents sloth, and the knight is fighting a valiant, losing battle against it. Not that hard to figure.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:39 PM on September 27, 2013 [30 favorites]


Obviously, in the 13th and 14th centuries, either snails were very large or knights were very small.

clearly the knights were v small

i mean everybody knows people were shorter Back In History Days right

a quick google tells me average male height in the victorian era was around 5'6 and now it's 5'10 so that's 4 inches in 150 years, so that's 2 2/3 inches per century, so that means people in the 13th and 14th centuries would have been around four feet and change

hmm i suppose that explains hobbits but still requires rather large snails huh?
posted by titus n. owl at 6:43 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


...i apologize for my math yo i am pretty sure i messed up something that should be really really basic and i'm just completely innumerable right now
posted by titus n. owl at 6:47 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


GIANT WHELK (D&D 3.5), CR 9, Large Vermin (Aquatic)

AC: 27, touch 9, flat-footed 28; Shell (-1 size, +18 natural)
HP: 184 (16 HD)
Fort/Ref/Will: +17/+5/+4
Speed: 10ft (2 squares), swim 20ft (poor)
Melee: Slam +16 (3d6+7) or
Melee: 2 Tentacles +11 (2d8+4)
Space/Reach: 10ft/5ft
Base Atk/Grp: +12/+17
Special Actions: gastric slime, shell
Abilities: Str 20, Dex 11, Con 24, Int —, Wis 8, Cha 8
SQ: Shell (+20 AC, DR 15/adamantine), vermin traits, amphibious
Skills: Climb +5, Listen -1, Spot-1, Swim +5
Advancement 17-30 (Large), 31-44 (Huge), 45-60 (Gargantuan)

Gastric slime: once every three round, a giant whelk can expel a five-foot globule of digestive acid at any target within line of sight and a thirty foot radius. the globule is a ranged touch attack that deals 2d10+4 points of acid damage to the target and whatever equipment it is carrying. On a critical hit, the target is also blinded for 2d4 rounds.

Shell: a giant whelk can retreat into its shell as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. While its body rests within the protective confines of its shell, the whelk gains an additional natural amor bonus of +20 and damage reduction 15/adamantine. It also cannot attack or move while in this state.

Vermin traits: Immune to mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns and morale effects).

Amphibious: giant whelks can breathe both air and water, and can spend an equal amount of their time in either environment.

Assuming a common medieval knight, probably at a level of no more than 3, my money's on the snail.
posted by JHarris at 6:48 PM on September 27, 2013 [26 favorites]


My first thought was, the scribes probably had to help out in the gardens, where snails would be a constant pest. But then the knights would be putting out cups of beer overnight rather than pulling swords.
posted by mittens at 6:50 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, is that THE Whelk?!
posted by exogenous at 6:50 PM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Serious question: Can't this just be some 13th century meme without any real reason?


Monks in the 13th Century didn't have the opportunity to pass memes around frivolously like we do.

They did, of course, have motives to mock the nobility, because, well, it was the nobility. (I mean, hell, cricket is a parody of jousting...)
posted by ocschwar at 6:50 PM on September 27, 2013



My first thought was, the scribes probably had to help out in the gardens, where snails would be a constant pest. But then the knights would be putting out cups of beer overnight rather than pulling swords.


Or it's a monk's way of muttering "why can't these expensive fuckers devote their time to something actually useful, like getting rid of snails instead of cutting each other up and leaving a mess everywhere?" 13th Century means after the crusades failed, so knights were in particularly bad odor.
posted by ocschwar at 6:52 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


so that means people in the 13th and 14th centuries would have been around four feet and change

Extrapolate that back and Christ must have been a leprechaun.
posted by JHarris at 6:53 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well, this man thinks the snail (as it appears in a medieval painting) is representative of the Virgin.

Although this source says that the snail indicates sin, citing a Psalm as evidence. This site says something similar.

If the latter is true, then it would make sense that a knight would be in combat with the snail; the pure must be a warrior against temptation and sin while on Earth.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:54 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not that hard to figure.

SNAIL RUINER STOP RUINING
posted by elizardbits at 6:56 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


If the latter is true, then it would make sense that a night would be in combat with the snail

Well, except, if the snail were a well-known symbol of sin, why doesn't it feature in more actual paintings rather than just marginalia?
posted by mittens at 6:57 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This really needs to be made into a Flash game.
posted by ocschwar at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Homme Snaile Ruiner
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:58 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


Monks in the 13th Century didn't have the opportunity to pass memes around frivolously like we do.

Surely there was enough circulation of books, though, to keep the joke moving?
posted by mittens at 6:59 PM on September 27, 2013


Mittens, it appears in this painting. I wonder if anyone has done a survey of snails in paintings as comprehensive as these folks have done for snails in illuminations in manuscripts?
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:59 PM on September 27, 2013


whimsicalnymph: it appears in this painting.

But that's an annunciation...is the snail symbolic of evil, or is he just decor?

Here is what looks like a woman beating a snail with a mop, alongside a knight...I'm not familiar enough with this era to know if she is a gentlewoman or if it's really a mop, but the struggle crosses gender boundaries!
posted by mittens at 7:02 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if it's meant to depict pacifism, and also how it's (ironically) the true path to God's victory over the person who takes up the sword. That's why the snail is winning. In the 13th century, Aquinas formalized his just war theory, and there were sects that were opposed to it. I'd be very interested in see where these manuscripts originated in relation to some of those schisms.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:03 PM on September 27, 2013


I can't help but think this is what will be happening a few hundred years down the road when some scholars trying to make sense of all the random shit we do now.

"As I feel my thesis has convincingly demonstrated, the snakes represented the threat of rising global extremist groups and the plane represented the antiquated failing state's ability to maintain and allay the public's anxiety about their safety."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:06 PM on September 27, 2013 [32 favorites]


Maybe it's something that makes sense inside the subculture of manuscript producing monks but not elsewhere.

I think that if I tried to explain Leeroy Jenkins to my grandfather he'd look at me like a crazy person.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:07 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I tried to explain the true essence of lolcats to someone a mere 20 years my senior who was referring to them as "Funny Kitties!" and was met with blank nodding and a bland, slightly nervous smile.
posted by elizardbits at 7:09 PM on September 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


so yeah, correct
posted by elizardbits at 7:09 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be very interested in see where these manuscripts originated in relation to some of those schisms.

Lilian Randal says northern France. When did the Summa hit it big there?
posted by mittens at 7:11 PM on September 27, 2013


Hopefully someone is, as we speak, drawing the lolcats in the margins of library books, so they aren't lost forever in the Great Youtube Crash of 2014.
posted by mittens at 7:12 PM on September 27, 2013 [5 favorites]





"As I feel my thesis has convincingly demonstrated, the snakes represented the threat of rising global extremist groups and the plane represented the antiquated failing state's ability to maintain and allay the public's anxiety about their safety."


My dear colleague, however, has declined to tackle the challenge of reconciling his theory with the ubiquity of badger-mushroom symbolism, from the same period.
posted by ocschwar at 7:16 PM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh those Univalves!

Uh, Gastropods.
posted by ovvl at 7:17 PM on September 27, 2013


Mittens, it appears in this painting.

Looks to be a Memento Snailey.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 7:23 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


My dear colleague, however, has declined to tackle the challenge of reconciling his theory with the ubiquity of badger-mushroom symbolism, from the same period.

As has been clearly proven, badger is the entrenched power structure, counterpoised against the pharmaco-anarchists of mushroom, their conflict obviated by organized violent non-state actresses. So, the interjection of "It's snake!" indicates they must put aside their differences to immanentize the eschaeton of Our Beloved Singularity, who saved us all from the Milia.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:24 PM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'd be very interested in see where these manuscripts originated in relation to some of those schisms.

Lilian Randal says northern France. When did the Summa hit it big there?


I don't know, but the Waldensians were one of the groups that insisted on a more pacifist stance, and they originated in France. It seems they were also persecuted by the Inquisition at the end of the 13th century there, forcing some believers into hiding. Perhaps the snails depict hiding, with the shell and all.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:29 PM on September 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


A thing that strikes me is how biologically realistic those snails look, at least compared to the other creatures (humans, horses) in those illustrations. Maybe they were just easy to draw?
posted by Jimbob at 7:35 PM on September 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


No it was definitely medieval giant snails, I know this because I am a professional animal person thing finder
posted by elizardbits at 7:48 PM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


It means you google relentlessly for furry pr0n?
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:54 PM on September 27, 2013


Might they be a representation of a cannon? They look it to me, and coincidentally, according to the wikipedia page on the cannon, they probably were first used in Europe in Iberia in the 11th and 12th Centuries and the English cannon was used in the Hundred Years' War in 1346. So the timing is about right for the appearance of snails in rolls.
posted by drnick at 7:57 PM on September 27, 2013


no sry I only dig humans and hot humanoid aliens
posted by elizardbits at 7:57 PM on September 27, 2013


Metafilter: Extrapolate that back and Christ must have been a leprechaun.

The snail tag from Discarding Images, one of my favorite single-serving tumblrs, which concentrates on marginalia of exactly this sort.
posted by immlass at 8:05 PM on September 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


The knight versus snail seems like a memento mori metaphor--the knight is eventually destined for the worm's gut.
posted by effluvia at 8:08 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, the Black Death struck Europe right in the middle of the 14th century and killed perhaps a third of the entire population-- and a very large portion of the black rat population as well.

And the black rat is a notable predator of snails, as witness the sharp decline of snail populations-- particularly of its larger members-- on islands to which the rat has been suddenly introduced.

So there could well have been a sudden and startling (re)appearance of large snails in the wake of the black death, and it's conceivable to me that rapacious snails could have come to symbolize the devastation and loss brought about by that vast catastrophe.

But that's the 14th century, and the link attributes these snail jousting marginalia to manuscripts of both the 13th and 14 centuries.

Yet as I understand it, marginalia were sometimes added to manuscripts long after the date of origination, so perhaps that could account for the examples found in 13th century manuscripts.
posted by jamjam at 8:23 PM on September 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


It seems to me the knights are battling the snails to keep the vegetation in the marginalia tidy.
posted by brappi at 8:26 PM on September 27, 2013 [10 favorites]


Obviously the knights are very small. Otherwise how could they fit in the margins?

What is this? A round table for ants!?
posted by ODiV at 8:29 PM on September 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


But then the knights would be putting out cups of beer overnight...

One knight to another: What!! Waste yon beer! Kill all the snails, I say.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:49 PM on September 27, 2013


Seeing how the knights are fighting or praying before the giant snails, at first I thought the snails were Death. Just a little marginal reminder, "everyone dies, keep praying". But they could be a reference to some shell-based ink, or a temporary plague of what looks like spotted snails of some kind.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:55 PM on September 27, 2013


Wait, is that THE Whelk?

There can be only one.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:28 PM on September 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, I totally need a knight v. snail tattoo.

Well, I have the snail tattoo, so if you get a knight tattoo I suggest fisitcuffs at dawn.
posted by Windigo at 12:00 AM on September 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Latin word for snail is cochlea. Maybe the snail drawing is a form of word play, punning on "cock'? Monks being naughty, yo!

Seriously, if they wanted to suggest something sexual without actually drawing phalluses all over the page, this could have been an inside jokey way to do it. Not everyone knew Latin then; only other monks and educated types would get the joke.
posted by misha at 12:37 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Slow to attack, weak, perpetual, deadly, endless hordes of snails remind me of for our own popculture culture?
posted by quirkyturky at 1:32 AM on September 28, 2013


It's been a long while since I've been presented with something entirely new, delightful, and claimed to be common knowledge, and yet even after reading the whole thing a few times, I was incapable of deciding whether or not it was a complete put-on.

A cursory search suggests this actually does exist. Which is to say, I guess, that it's a 13th century put-on, rather than a 21 century one. I'm astonished.
posted by eotvos at 1:56 AM on September 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


mittens: Down at the bottom of this page, an illustration of a snail, a goat and a dog all worshiping The Cat King.

Please someone tell me what this is from, and where I can find a high-resolution image of it.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:44 AM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Siena has a Contrada of the Snail (contradas being the districts that compete in the annual Palio). It represents prudence, its allies are the panther, the porcupine and the forest, and its arch enemy is the tortoise.

I don't think that has anything to do with it, just thought you'd like to know.
posted by Segundus at 3:36 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Marginalia is where the scribe is dicking around because scrivening is boring, yo.

No.

I mean, sometimes, maybe, in some manuscripts? Simpler, more affordable/workaday manuscripts occasionally have something that looks suspiciously like a doodle. But these examples are from luxury, elite manuscripts. These are miniature paintings that are planned and paid for. They are not at all doodles, or things done because the scribe is bored. (They are probably not even done by the scribe, but by the illustrator.)

(Also, not all manuscripts were made by monks. Many were made by professional scribes. Do not look at a medieval manuscript and automatically think "a monk made that". Especially a later medieval manuscript.)
posted by Casuistry at 5:57 AM on September 28, 2013 [9 favorites]


In three hundred years' time, an old scribe will open his eyes for the first time in a millennium, and discover that he is not in fact in Heaven but in the World of the Future, where a small crowd of enthusiastic people will speak to him very carefully in their best approximation of 14th century English. They will show him their great machines, which make food and water and travel across the skies, all the way to the tiniest specks of light in the distance. They will tell him how hard they have worked, how long it took their greatest minds to pull the destructive force of Time itself backwards, and then they will sit him in a massive amphitheatre as millions of people crane their necks and listen as they ask him a question, the single question that mankind has not yet been able to answer about the universe: Seriously, Dude, What Was Up With The Snails? And then he will answer, and we will know, finally all of mankind will know, and from that point onward we will not be mere men but Gods
posted by eykal at 6:29 AM on September 28, 2013 [14 favorites]


Don't attack the shell.

Gruuu.
posted by The Whelk at 7:03 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure we can trust advice from The Whelk.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:22 AM on September 28, 2013


One thing to keep in mind is that reading strategies in the middle ages were quite different from reading strategies today. We tend to treat any given text as being a string of characters, but then it was common to treat pages as a complete image. Medieval reading handbooks urged students to always study from one copy of a text, and to remember everything about that copy; to consider, and aim to remember, every detail on every page — marginalia, yes, but also things like flaws in the parchment.

The theory here — which, well, actually works, so don't knock it — was that when one has to completely memorize a text, being able to summon up a complete mental image of the words near particularly memorable images is quite handy. And when books are rare, it's prudent to memorize — if you lose access to the copy you have, you might have to wait years or forever to see another one.

So, feel free to picture a medieval student thinking to himself "What was that quote from Boethius I wanted?... oh yeah, I remember it, it was a bit over from the knight fighting a snail, on that page with a nun nursing an ape... I think there was a hole in the parchment right next to it..."

Moreover, marginalia weren't idle doodles; sometimes, they were expensive. We know this because we have things like letters from parents complaining that their children at university had wasted all their monkey having their books bemonkeyed.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:30 AM on September 28, 2013 [24 favorites]


You know, it's really hard to type the word "money" when the word you really want to get to is "monkey." He notices, right after the edit window closes...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:39 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damnit, You Can't Tip A Buick, now you cannot rest until you find a link that corresponds to what your description promised!!
posted by estlin at 7:43 AM on September 28, 2013


estlin: nuns nursing apes and knights fighting snails isn't the half of it. For example, one common trope in marginalia (which, sadly, I can't find any instances of on google image search) is Jesus laying eggs.

Sometimes while his mom watches I swear I'm not making this up.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:48 AM on September 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are also a surprising amount of axe wielding rabbits.
posted by The Whelk at 8:03 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


my personal favorite marginalia trope is "dude playing an instrument with his butthole"
posted by titus n. owl at 8:10 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


snails don't just symbolize sloth - they also symbolize the cycle of life and the phases of the moon - death and rebirth

so, here you have a symbol of man vs nature - or christianity against pagan belief
posted by pyramid termite at 8:19 AM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Fighting Snails would be a good name for a high school team or a rock band.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:13 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...What extant evidence there is from 21st century pre-collapse culture indicates that their "internet" (believed to be a pervasive digital network made up of "clouds", though only indirect evidence remains) was filled with imagery of cats riding vacuum cleaners. Discussion continues as to why this should be so, though the predominant view is that the vacuum cleaner symbolized their aggressive and ultimately disastrous 'free market capitalism'..."
posted by advil at 9:24 AM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hm. My attempts to get the Creamsicle meme to take root on Doodle or Die were for naught, but maybe knights jousting snails could be a thing...
posted by limeonaire at 9:35 AM on September 28, 2013


So has noone done a proper scholarly survey of this, or is it all just down to random speculation?? Seems like a pretty good project to take on for a Medievalist: ID all the MSS, scribes, scriptoria, countries, nature of associated text and, no doubt, 14 or 78 other features that would be needed to properly examine the potential significance of the knight-snail sketch trope. I have $2 on a morals explanation.
posted by peacay at 9:50 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Snails figure in several family coats of arms. They apparently signify deliberation and perseverance.
posted by binturong at 10:05 AM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Peacay: that is in a way what medievalists do for a living. The thing is, everything about the Middle Ages is more complicated than you expect, even if, when setting your expectations, you take into account the likelyhood that everything will be more complicated than you expect.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:22 AM on September 28, 2013 [4 favorites]


YCTaB, I have no doubts that it's complicated, but unless I've missed something, there's only a few commentaries on the subject and the BL staff did a bit of fun - if edumacated - guessing. I don't have expectations as to the outcome and I have a fair appreciation that detective work makes up a Medievalist's stock-in-trade. I'm asking if that work has been done here or if it's just been a bunch of people having stabs. Because everything I wrote above says that *I* think this is way more complicated than a recurring cartoon ripe for fun guessing. Maybe the articles cited by the BL post contain the detective work, but that hasn't been stated. *shrug*
posted by peacay at 10:35 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe the snail represents the slow pace of copying a manuscript. The knight is the scribe, and the conflict between the two represents the scribe struggling with his huge workload.
posted by foobaz at 10:46 AM on September 28, 2013


Snails are awesome in their own right. They have a little chainsaw-esque thing that they use to hack off pieces of food!
posted by winna at 11:45 AM on September 28, 2013


I wish Got Medieval were still active to talk about this.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:24 PM on September 28, 2013


Maybe this is like the Adventure Time show and there's a waving snail fighting a knight hidden in every manuscript.
posted by cyberscythe at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is excellent; thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:19 PM on September 28, 2013


The snail represents female sexuality?

"Typical female symbols among animals are snails and mussels and their shells."
posted by TristanPK at 4:04 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


L'escargot, c'est moi! Said the fair maiden as she attacked the terrified monk.
posted by mareli at 4:27 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Peacay: Check out the Michael Camille book that they cite; not the least because, around where he talks about the snails (alas, only for a few pages) he mentions that, in fact, squirrels represent, um, membra virilia.
posted by Casuistry at 4:44 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


This may be my favorite Metafilter thread of all time. Just saying.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 5:37 PM on September 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I drew a lot of snails in my notebooks too, they're probably the easiest animal to draw (next to ducks, elephants, ladybugs and butterflies).
posted by subdee at 5:46 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Typical female symbols among animals are snails and mussels and their shells."

But...but...that link was to Freud, who genitalized our entire culture! Surely the scribes would not have used snails as a symbol for femaleness, would they? What is the resemblance, have I just missed it? Wait, would scribes even know about this stuff?

Now I am profoundly worried that our scribes' developing young minds have been polluted.
posted by mittens at 6:26 PM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I've put this to my art historian partner (thesis in early Italian renaissance) for an iconological opinion, and she quite quickly put it into a pretty orderly hypothesis:

- it certainly looks like a moral parable scene, almost Aesopian in tone

- note the presence of rabbit vs snail: even back then this will have worked out to fast/hasty vs slow/pondered

- the knights cast opposite the slow, ponderate (in Siena = prudent) snail are being portrayed for their too-quick-to-the-draw temper, and as typically loath to acquire precisely those virtues exemplified by the snail

- apart from very likely being a reference to a specific text which of course it would be great to find, the illustration would thus be a memento morae (so to speak), a reminder to temper their haste by acquiring measure - as the knights who are making their vows to the snail are shown to have understood

- in a nutshell: haste makes waste, even/especially in shining armour.

(A miniaturist would of course have had a highly developed sense of slow painstakingness, so this little marginalium might well have resonated specifically with him.)
posted by progosk at 10:40 AM on September 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


almost Aesopian in tone

THE BOY AND THE SNAILS

A farmer's boy went looking for snails, and when he had picked up both his hands full he set about making a fire at which to roast them, for he meant to eat them. When it got well alight and the snails began to feel the heat, they gradually withdrew more and more into their shells with the hissing noise they always make when they do so. When the boy heard it, he said, "You abandoned creatures, how can you find heart to whistle when your houses are burning?"
posted by mittens at 6:32 PM on September 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Snails are underestimated." - Brian.
posted by unliteral at 8:05 PM on September 29, 2013


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