Pity the Medieval Archivist (Mmm… Marginalia #29)

This week’s marginalia comes from a manuscript that has become a frequent visitor to our studios here at Got Medieval, Pierpont Morgan Library’s MS G24:

I’m beginning to feel bad for the poor souls who have to tag the scans of medieval manuscripts for online collections. How can you be sure you’ve accurately captured every point of interest a potential search might be after, especially with a manuscript illuminator as mind-bogglingly weird as the one responsible for MS G24? This particular image bears the catalogue description

In left margin, hybrid animal, with crowned human head and serpentine body, plays bagpipe through anus.

That’s a pretty good start, but it fails to mention that 1) the man’s anus is wearing a hood and 2) the entire creature is growing out of a foliate border, making it not an animal at all, but rather some sort of strange fruit. We can’t even be sure that the crown and bagpipe aren’t themselves part of this weird plant-creature, like the sea-horse knight in the Knight of the Parrot.*

Of course, given the way files tend to be named in my own personal archives of marginal images, I shouldn’t complain.  If I were in charge, there’d be no tags, just a file name like  “weird_ass_dude_27.jpg”. And when I came across it later, I’d sit there scratching my head, wondering if I had meant that this was a weird ass-dude or a weird-ass dude.

By the way, the image above is 320×480 pixels, making it exactly the right size for medieval iPod touch or iPhone wallpaper, if you’re inclined to put such a thing on your mobile device.**

*In which King Arthur fights a knight riding a sea-horse and kills it only to find that what looked like a man riding a sea-horse was actually a creature with a man’s torso and a sea-horse’s body. The knight’s shield and spear, too, are parts of its body, not implements. Hmmm, come to think of it, I should go re-read that bit now and see if there’s any other hint there that the sea-horse knight is a parody of bizarre marginal figures…
**Me, I’ll probably stick with Buffy.

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