To Arms, My Monkey Brethren! (Mmm… Marginalia #1)

I’ve got a lot of deadlines looming right now, and I’m moving soon after that, so I’m not going to be posting much for a while. But thanks to the miracle of Blogger in Draft’s post-scheduler, I can still provide my readers with a little something each week. So, let me announce my blog’s obligatory self-important provacatively original repeated post feature: Mmm… Marginalia,* because, let’s face it, everybody needs a good funny picture to start the week with.

The image I’ve chosen for this inaugural edition comes from a 13th-century Bible that now resides in the copyright-obsessed hands of the British Library:

MMM001 - To Arms - IMG01
Regardless of what Michael Camille** would have you believe, the image here has nothing to do with the Bible verses hovering in midair off to the left of the unfolding battle*** and everything to do with the inherent awesomeness of monkey fighting, as well as some bonus fox-hijinx. Let me call your attention to a few nice touches in the image:

MMM001 - To Arms - IMG02
Our three intrepid monkey defenders each have their own personalities and strategies. To the left, an angry monkey prepares to hurl a suspiciously poo-shaped projectile at the ineptly shielded fox below. To the right, a more thoughtful monkey prepares to drop a round stone on any attacker who should try to sneak around to the back. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but our stone-hurling monkey’s expression seems to say, “Ah, brother fox, we are so alike, you and I. Were our situations reversed, I would hope that I could bear the ball you hurled upon me with the same dignity that you will, no doubt, soon have the chance to demonstrate. Alas, the roles that Fate arranges for us…” In the center, a red monkey puffs out his cheeks (poor form for trumpet playing, but he’s a monkey, so give him slack) and gives the cry to havoc and dogs-of-war slipping and all that. I’m reminded of Roland, moments before he sounded the horn to summon Charlemagne, blowing so hard that his brains squirted out his ears.****

The foxy attackers seem to be having a harder time of it. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to hold your shield as you climb a siege ladder, but I’m pretty sure this is not it:

MMM001 - To Arms - IMG03
UPDATE: In response to a comment, a little more information about the image. Tidor suggested that the monkeys would soon receive their comeuppance once the wolf tunneling under they walls was done, which would make this image the equivalent of the Stupid Monkey endtitles for Robot Chicken. Given the skill of this particular miniaturist, I’m pretty sure that what looks like a wolf burrowing underground is actually supposed to represent a rabbit in its burrow, like these in this image here:

MMM001 - To Arms - IMG04

This is a picture of Arthur, preparing to fight the Giant of Mont Saint-Michel, I believe, though Arthur is a habitual giant-slayer, and I’ve misplaced my notes on where that image is from, so it’s hard to say for certain. Regardless, here’s a closeup of those brownish lumps in this much less skilled miniaturist’s hill:

MMM001 - To Arms - IMG05

I think this was originally sort of medieval visual cue to let the viewer know that the expanse of green is meant to be a hill. Often, they’ll include fish visible in an expanse of blue in order to indicate the sea, too. There may be some deeper meaning, to it as well, though, because I seem to recall seeing bunnies in hills fairly frequently in depictions of battles and sieges. Nature’s indifference to the concerns of man, perhaps?

Oh, yeah, I was supposed to be using these posts as ways to limit my procrastination. Stupid internet, be less interesting!


  1. * It’s possible the three M’s in Mmm stand for Medieval Marginalia Monday, but that would be a little twee, wouldn’t it? []
  2. ** Author of the most famous book on medieval gothic marginalia, Image on the Edge. []
  3. *** It’s on the page with Isaiah 38:18-20:

    For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day: the father to the children shall make known thy truth. The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs. []

  4. **** Really, that’s what happens at the end of  The Song of Roland. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tidor

    The foxes might look like they’re in bad shape now, but once that one that’s tunneling under the walls is finished, all of that monkeying around on the walls will have been for nothing.

  • Got Medieval

    I updated the page in response to your concerns, Tidor, in order to defend the good name of these valiant monkey champions.

  • master_kruhzilla

    I must say, without your informative commentary, I would have thought it were a skull in the monkey’s grasp.

  • Tidor

    That’s an epic amount of extra effort for what was 95% a long reach for a lame pun, but I appreciate it nonetheless.

  • Jennifer Lynn Jordan

    Ain’t nothing wrong with no alliterative special features! =)

    In other news, I think the fox has chosen a perfectly valid way to carry his shield up the seige ladder. Not only are his hands free, but his face is fully protected from flung-monkey-poo.

  • marinda

    See, this is what I get for borrowing course reading from the library instead of buying it. I’m pretty sure that in Villehardouin they who climb seige ladders hang their shields around their necks.

  • Rachel

    How you hold your shield when you climb a siege ladder is all to do with the shape of your face and ears. If you’ve got a human-shaped head you can protect it with a fairly standard and cheap kettle hat. If you have long ears, that won’t fit on your head and if you’ve got a long nose it’ll protrude from under the kettle hat, so of course you’ve got to hold a shield like that.

    The hold the right-hand monkey has got of his stone makes it look very much like he’s going to try and bowl it, once he’s figured out where the finger-holes are. Which is why the monkey with the trumpet is glaring at him and pointing at him to just get on and throw the damn thing before it’s the fourteenth century.

  • pilgrimchick

    Somehow, I am reminded of Donkey Kong looking at this….

  • Oscar

    If you really want some serious monkey battles, go to Thailand. There’s a gigantic (50 foot?) mural at Wat Phra Kwae of a massive battle (The Ramayana Epic (had to look it up)) with flying monkeys and everything. It’s quite grand.

  • Ian

    The gray fox should be wearing his shield on his back, because he’s clearly about to be shot from behind by the treacherous red fox.

    Note that the red fox is standing erect on her hind legs — clearly she is a cunningly disguised monkey.

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