The Most Dangerous Game of All… er, whatever that is there (Mmm… Marginalia #86)

Sorry I’ve been away so long, folks.  Blame Sid Meier.  But in repayment, today you’ll get three marginal illustrations for the price of one,* one in the morning, another noon, and one final one at night.  That should make up for the last two virtual-conquest-blighted weeks.

Scenes of horseback nobles and hounds coursing after hares and stags or men returning from the hunt are so common in medieval manuscripts that we hardly bother to index the straight versions.  It’s only when the illuminator riffs on the standard pattern that we pay attention, such as in the various hunts of the hares I’ve featured here before. Can you spot the riff in this version found in the lower margin of a page of the famous Bodleian Alexander manuscript (MS Bodl. 264)?

That’s right–the hunter’s a girl!

It is to laugh! A girl on the back of a horse!!  Can you imagine!?! It’s completely uncharacteristic for a hunt–which is usually a strictly male activity, let me remind you–to include female participants!!!  How could she even get her feet in the stirrups without her reproductive organs getting tangled up in the flank cinch billet? Oh, those wacky medievals, taking something you’re familiar and replacing a single element to make–

…wait, I’ve just been informed that the lady on horseback is Diana the Huntress of Greek myth.  Here she’s shown getting her revenge on the hunter Actaeon who dared glimpse her bathing naked by transforming him into a stag and siccing his hounds own on him.  Don’t I look like the tool? Stupid medievals, being all “oooooh look at us, we’re so culturally literate”.  OK, fine. Be that way.  But explain to me which Greek myth this is supposed to be, Alexander illuminator:

Wait, I know–is that Zeus magically shapechanged into a loaf of bread, preparing to seduce the naked guy trussed up like a hunter’s game, maybe?  No?  Well, I give up.

(Still… a girl on horseback?  *snicker*)

*Which is, let me remind you, still free.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jonhendry2

    Regarding the bottom image: The naked person was poaching the king's free-range maxi pads?

  • Nimras

    I'm still trying to figure out why the horse is wearing cleats.

  • mpb

    Isn't she *astride* the horse, not sidesaddle?

    Ice cleats on the horse but, that's no "parkie" she's wearing.

  • Emrys Eustace, hygt Broom

    I use this photo in my classes on medieval underwear! Never in my life expected to find the answer to "What DID they do to handle menstruation?" And thanks to you for a better copy of the image.

  • mesmered

    I read in research recently that women rode astride until well after the Middle Ages? Any comment?

  • Philip O’Brien

    I get a kick out of the emotions the animals display. Nicely done. I'm a big fan of illumination.

    As to the third image: I'm thinking disembowelment. Entrails on the stick, victim being carried.

  • Emrys Eustace, hygt Broom

    Carl: I just realized that you believe the figure carried over the shoulder to be a man. I've always interpreted that as a woman – with engorged labia protruding. Then the menstrual pad makes more sense.

    I realize her breasts aren't clear, but they're obscured by the man carrying her. There's a curious line across her chest which I interpret as the edge of her breast.

    mesmered: "I read in research recently that women rode astride until well after the Middle Ages? Any comment?"

    Not true. They are clearly depicted riding side-saddle in Les Tres Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry, circa 1410-15.

  • mpb

    Weren't women kept in "seclusion" in Med times during the period? It's unlikely for there to be kotex in those days, isn't it, when as late as 1930s and 40s USA menstrual pads were actually cloth towels?

    I think the disemboweled is a better answer with the stomach hanging in between aesophagus and entrails.

  • Got Medieval

    Menstrual belt? Oh dear, I hope not. I still say it looks like a baguette on a string.

    I read the figure on the right as male, not female, since he/she has the same haircut as the other men in the frame. I think the phantom line near the arm is from the figure being contorted a bit to look more like an animal. (Check the feet, for example.)

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