This Monday’s marginal image comes from The Romance of Alexander as it appears in the Bodleian Library’s MS Bodl. 264:
So what’s all this, then? Apparently, it’s the medieval version of the game we call “Blind Man’s Bluff” in America,* and which certain non-Americanized Brits still call “Blind Man’s Buff,”** but which should more accurately be called “Blind Man’s Beat the Hell out of Your Friends.” As depicted above, the game works like this: one man wraps his hood around his head backwards and becomes the blind man. The blind man stumbles around calling to his friends, who must answer back. The blind man “wins” when he is able to tag a friend found through this inefficient echolocation. And when they’re not answering the blind man’s calls, the other players are also allowed to beat the holy crap out of the blind man with their own knotted up hoods.
The illuminators of this particular manuscript also seem to have developed the Title IX*** version of the game, Blind Woman’s Buff:
Put side by side, the two images offer a bit of a (mildly) interesting developmental conundrum. Clearly the visual tradition of one is influencing the other: the four figures are placed identically in the male and female versions of the game, right down to the hood on the ground by the leftmost figure’s feet. The question is, which sport came first?
Both Blind Persons are holding up the trailing end of their garments between their knees, which makes sense for the longer garment the women are wearing in the second picture, but not for the much shorter little numbers the men are wearing in the first, which would seem to indicate that it’s Blind Woman’s Buff that’s the earlier game. Yet the women are all wielding hoods, like the men, but dressed in outfits that don’t actually need hoods, suggesting their image composition is mimicking the male version, instead.
Granted, this is not as sexy a question as the chicken and the egg, but nonetheless, I do wonder whether this bizarre game was first associated with women or men.
*To tell the truth, we Americans are more likely to call it “Marco Polo” and to only play it in the pool, but that’s beside the point.
**Incidentally, switching out words that sound the same in an obscure phrase, like changing “a tough row to hoe” to “a tough road to hoe”, or like buff to bluff, is called an “eggcorn” by trendy linguists.
***For my buffing British readers, Title IX is the law that tries to make sure that American public universities have equal opportunities for male and female athletes.