The Eleventy-Seven Most Mind-Blowingly Inaccurate Facts in’s “8 Filthy Jokes Hidden in Ancient Works of Art”

It has long been established, both by Supreme Court decision and by a robust body of supporting case law, that I own the patent on making jokes about the Middle Ages on the Internet,* so it came as quite a blow to discover my patent  had been recklessly and shamelessly violated by the editors of, who saw fit today to publish an article titled “8 Filthy Jokes Hidden in Ancient Works of Art“, an article that allocates a full 3/8ths of its content to jokes about the Middle Ages.

To add insult to dire injury, while a full 8/8ths of said 3/8ths consists of topics already covered on this humble blog,** aforesaid said 3/8ths are riddled with inconsistencies and outright errors which cannot be excused merely by appeal to “comedic license”.  So, once more, I find I must return to topics long ago discussed to set the newly bent record straight.

So let us begin with the one filthy joke that explicitly mentions that it was ripped from this blog its provenance, “#5. The Bayeux Tapestry.

Concerning the motives of the embroiderers who included a naked dude in the lower margin of the Bayeux Tapestry, the Cracked writer hypothesizes that they simply thought, “This son of a bitch is 70 meters long, who the hell is going to notice one tiny naked boner,” which is clearly a grossly inaccurate reading of the tapestry’s iconography.  Simply put, there’s not just one tiny naked boner in the margin, there’s at least three.  Voila:

Figures 1, 2, & 3, bitches

And while Cracked might be excused for missing the naked erection-having guy in the upper margin over Harold’s arrival in Rouen (Figure 1), the second tumescent naked guy is found immediately to the left of the naked guy the article points to and laughs at. So laugh it up, Cracked readers; your beloved Internet magazine is shorting you 2/3 of your hilarious medieval boners!

You might be wondering why you should care that there’s three boners instead of one in the margins of the Bayeux Tapestry.  What do I think you are, some kind of boner-obsessed malcontent?  Mostly, you should care because it undermines the whole premise of the article at Cracked, that these filthy jokes are somehow hidden.  A medieval artist like the one who planned out the Tapestry and gave the patterns to all the embroiderers working on it expected that their audience would not only look at the margins and see the naked people, but that they’d also pause to think about what those naked people might mean in context.  The reason scholars care about the boner beneath the babe is that we’re certain that the boner was being used to make a point, and we’d really like to know what that point might have been.

Also, while it’s true that the caption over Ælfgyva says, “Here’s a clerk and Ælfgyva,” not “Here’s a priest smacking a woman,” I’m aware that there’s this thing called–pardon the hyper-technical comedy insider language for a second–“claiming that a poor translation is a loose translation for comedic effect”. I’m aware of it, because I made that joke in my post on Ælfgyva, too. But I’ll still let it slide, as the article does cite me as “some scholars” right after that.***

Now, it doesn’t take a scholar to find the sentence used to introduce one of the other “hidden filthy jokes” a little wonky:****

When we think of Medieval Italy, we think of what was arguably the cultural hub of the Middle Ages — the Birthplace of the Renaissance, Machiavelli, Dante and da Vinci.

To quote the learned comparative linguist Dr. Tanto, PhD, “who do you mean, ‘we’, Kemo Sabe?” When I think of medieval Italy, I rarely think of it as being the birthplace of Machiavelli or da Vinci (both born during the Renaissance in the Medici-controlled Republic of Florence). I also think of mostly a peninsula conquered alternately by Saracens, Normans, Byzantines, and Germans, not a cultural hub, but then that might just be my Anglo-Norman bias showing.

But periodization pedantry and semantics aside, Cracked is correct in asserting that “#8. The Medieval Dick Tree***** is what it looks like.****** Those birds are totally black imperial eagles, though, the symbol of the Ghibellines, not crows, as the article suggests.

I do find it weird that someone looking for truly “filthy” jokes in medieval works of art would fail to notice the filthiest joke in the Massa Marittima mural.******* It’s small, and the quality of the image I have available is bad, but through the magic of technology, I’ve enhanced it as best I can:

Click to zoom, if you're nasty.

Either this medieval Italian lady is trying to hide a little something for later in the folds of her robe, or one of the penises is able to move under its own power and is surreptitiously sodomizing her. You be the judge.

It’s also a little strange that the Cracked entry on the mural ends with a picture of Eadwine of York working as a scribe********, since whatever else they may have doodled in the margins of their scrolls, monks rarely painted murals. And no matter what you may have heard, scribes weren’t the only medieval perverts.

Wait, why did I just say that medieval monks doodled on their scrolls? Their scrolls? Oh, yes, “#7. Medieval Monks Doodle Poop Jokes (and Worse) on their Scrolls“. Hopefully this is a dick joke I don’t get, because medieval monks wouldn’t be caught dead with scrolls. Scrolls were so late antiquity. (As you may have heard.)

In order to illustrate their claim that medieval scrolls were oft be-doodled by perverted monks, Cracked offers nine images culled from medieval manuscripts, seven of which were featured here at one point or another in my Mmm… Marginalia series, one from BiblioOdyssey, and one from The Medieval Bestiary. Yet not a single one of the nine was found in a scroll, none are doodles, and I’m fairly certain that none were created by monks. So for those of you keeping score, that’s 0 for 3 for Cracked nine times over.

But perhaps I haven’t been entirely clear, so once more for the record. The images I feature here are usually taken from very expensive medieval manuscripts, the kind that would have been produced by professional manuscript production houses that employed dozens of scribes, editors, artists, and assorted craftspeople. When I show you a picture of a monkey with its finger up the butt of another monkey, or a monkey taking a dump in front of a bishop, or a monkey with a trumpet stuck up its ass, I’m not showing you something that a monk cleverly hid in a manuscript while his superiors weren’t looking. On the contrary, I’m showing you something that someone was paid a large commission to produce, something that would have been kept with the exotic treasures in the vault of a medieval lord keen on showing off how fabulously wealthy they were. Think Justin Beiber’s jewel-encrusted Stewie here.

A lot of the time, someone actually went to a commercial scriptorium, pointed at designs hanging on the wall and said something along the lines of, “We’d like sixty-five drolleries, please, and could you get Antonio to do one of his famous dicks-in-a-tree for the July calendar? We saw one he did for a psalter in Count Winchester’s drawing room last month and the wife says we simply must get one of our own, and as you know, July is our anniversary.”*********

One last bit of pedantic record straightening before I go. This picture from the Medieval Bestiary:

It’s not, as Cracked would have you believe, a goat with explosive diarrhea. Rather, it’s a Bonnacon, a beasty featured in medieval bestiaries that, because of its useless horns, evolved was intelligently designed to be able to fire its own excrement at its attackers, at a range of up to two acres. Also, the dung burns anything it touches. Flaming projectile shit is sixteen shades more awesome than diarrhea, people, so do try to keep it straight.

  1. * See my original patent application for more. []
  2. ** And yet only 1/3 of those said 3/8ths credit this blog properly, sorely testing said blog’s aforesaid bloghumbleness. []
  3. *** See, Internet? I am a scholar! Some guy on Cracked said I was. In fact, he said I was several scholars! Take that Brantley. No matter how awesome you are, you’re just one dude. †
    † One dude pretending he’s a different dude, but still just the one. []
  4. **** Find that transition a little wonky? Yeah, me too. But when you don’t write all your posts as Top X lists, you have to at least try to cushion your move from subject to subject. []
  5. ***** Discussed at length here as “Negative Campaigning, Medieval Style“. []
  6. ****** Though, as always, the double-stacked adjectives make me wonder if the tree or the dicks that’s supposed to be medieval. I vote the latter. []
  7. ******* Unless their only real exposure to the mural came from my previous piece, which doesn’t mention the joke. Now there I go again, being petty and territorial. []
  8. ******** An image which, as Scott Nokes has already pointed out, is getting a little overexposed at this point. I mean, come on, Cracked, you already used it for “5 Fictional Stories You Were Taught in History Class“. There are other images of scribes out there, you know? []
  9. ********* “Check? Oh, no, we’ll be paying in whale vomit. We only use those little slips the Templars are always hawking for pilgrimage.” []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pingback: The Mystery of Ælfgyva (Mmm… Tapestry Marginalia) — Got Medieval

  • John

    Buzz Killington over here. Quit being such a douchy stickler. No one cares that da Vinci was technically born in the Republic of Florence and not Italy. Lighten the hell up and stop taking everything so literally.

    • Got Medieval

      My bad here. My point was temporal, not political. To me, “Medici controlled Florence” is about as Renaissance as you can get.

  • Hannah Kilpatrick

    Ah, but we mediaevalists have to take everything seriously. It’s all those hours labouring over mediaeval scrolls in dimly lit scriptoria like the BL. It burns away our sense of humour faster than bonnacon dung.

    • Ronnie Kon

      If you had bonnacon dung, at least your scriptorium wouldn’t be dimly lit.

      • Hannah Kilpatrick

        Hm. Maybe that’s what caused the fire that did nasty things to the Cotton collection – a late-night reader with his/her pet bonnacon lamp.

      • R.Hagen

        Hm… with a Bonnacon, imagine the effects on climate changes, biogas production, and internal combustion fuel.

        One Bonnacon on a beans-and-onions-and-corn-diet could convert your vehicle to rocket propulsion, provide heating and warm water for your house (or library), and produce cooking and lighting gas. All of which carbon-neutral.

        cf also

        German Pet Bonnacon Breeding Association (DBHZV)

  • Jenn Zuko

    You’re kidding. Right?

  • Pingback: Wednesday Reads: BO, No Bagel, Naughty Monks and Flying Phallic Trees of Life « Sky Dancing

  • Sam Eskenazi

    You’ve taken this article far too seriously. I mean, really? Just because you think of medieval Italy correctly doesn’t mean that the standard person’s thought process when questioned about medieval Italy doesn’t revolved around da Vinci and such. It was a comedy article, where the occasional thing is looked at in a different viewpoint, so as to be funny. It doesn’t matter that the animal depicted in the last image is actually a “Bonnacon”, a shitting-goat is more humorous and fits better with what the article writer was saying.

    I willa dmit that he basically lifted quite a good deal from your site, but still, come on! Don’t take everything so literally.

    • Carrie M

      Humorously, this article is taking something from a different view point in order to be funny as well. I’m once again reminded of the “if you don’t get it, it doesn’t mean it’s not funny.”

      Also, I vote for the Bonnacon as funnier than the goat, just sayin’.

    • Derek

      Wait, aren’t you also taking it too seriously by defending it?

      I think you’re just upset about the effect this scandal is going to have on Cracked’s ESF journal ranking.

      Also, on any objective measure, burning projectile poop is WAY funnier than an incontinent goat.

      • Sam Eskenazi

        Actually, this article doesn’t come off as funny to me at all. It comes off as butthurt that it was used as a basis for points in the Cracked article and just wants to get one over.

        How is my defending it taking it seriously? I’m simply coming on here, reading this and commenting my views.

        It’s not a question of what’s more funny, it’s a question of the flow of the article; simplifying it down to a goat just makes it seem more funny off the cusp. Having to go into what it really is doesn’t hold as much merit.

        • Derek

          Well if anyone is butthurt it’s obviously the Bonnacon, what with passing all the flaming poo.

          • stacey

            Double funny! “Cusp” means butthole on Urban Dictionary.

  • Maria

    It’s a rainy day here at Old Maid GHQ, and the aforementioned old maid woke up with a blazing headache. And yet, I laughed my ass off over this entire post and am now suffused with an inner glow. So thanks for that. Nothing gets my day going like flaming projectile shit. (References to, that is, not actual.)

  • DrWill

    On behalf of the International League of Pedants, we applaud your efforts here. However, you application materials are being reconsidered in light of your error regarding the range of Bonnacon dung projection, which is expressed using a unit of area, whilst range is correctly expressed in units of length. This dimensional incongruity will be noted in your permanent record.

    • Got Medieval

      Medieval acres had a commonly accepted length and width. So the real question is which axis the bonnacon is oriented along.

  • DrWill

    I, having made a typographical error in my previous post, have been informed by the leadership of the ILP that I am to be taken out and shot. Possibly by a Bonnacon.

    • Angus

      Ouch. Hope those flaming turds make a quick job of it; we wouldn’t want you to suffer too much for a typo.

  • Tom Reisz (Guillermo)

    What I see in the Massa Marittima mural is a woman feeding a child from a bottle. The child’s head is cradled by the woman’s right hand, and the child’s feet form the left corner of her robe (He’s standing on his toes).

    • Got Medieval

      Right. And since her head is facing 180 degrees away from her cradling arms, she’s clearly possessed by the devil. The original meaning of the tree confirmed–it’s all about witchcraft!

  • Jenn Jordan

    I was particularly troubled by the Bonnacon misidentification. And also troubled now by Hannah’s brilliant theory that bonnacons conspired to destroy the Cotton collection.

  • wandislav

    Funny as hell, what got me most were the notes (particulary – *** See, Internet? I am a scholar! Some guy on Cracked said I was. In fact, he said I was several scholars! Take that Brantley. No matter how awesome you are, you’re just one dude. †
    † One dude pretending he’s a different dude, but still just the one. [↩]). Love it.

  • Angus

    Heh. I think Monty Python may have also violated your exclusive patent on Middle Age gags…

    • Angus

      …I meant “Middle Ages gags,” of course. (The patent on jokes about middle age is probably owned by, I don’t know, Erma Bombeck or some other milquetoast humorist).

  • Anonypilgrim

    This was marvelous analysis. Thank you for adding laughter to my day.

  • Nicolai

    I just felt like commenting that Cracked’s idea of fact-checking is looking it up on wikipedia. They do enough research to make sure their articles are somewhere near the mark, and call it good enough. I think they missed the Bonnacon, since that really seems their type of humor.

  • Holly

    This article is hilarious, well-written, and full of interesting facts to boot. It made me so happy, so I should have stopped reading before the first couple comments, which were serious downers. How could anyone with half a sense of humor claim you are taking anything “seriously”? I guess my answer lies within that question. Anyway, thanks for your continued posts on this blog, which never fail to crack me up and make me feel smarter at the same time. And congratulations on becoming plural scholars!

  • finette

    I did come here from the Cracked article, but I’m a librarian, dammit, and I appreciate solid sourcing and historical accuracy. Cracked is something that I check occasionally when I’m bored, but I now have your blog in my RSS feed so I won’t miss a post. Score one for you!

  • P.C.

    Granted, Cracked tend to run roughshod over all the particulars of the subjects of their humorous lists, but I have many a time found small nuggets of interesting trivia which again leads to a few hours wiki-wandering and plenty of information on all sorts of interesting stuff.

    As for instance this gem of a site.

    • Angus

      Yeah, I agree on both points–and sometimes the trivia/source-links can be even more interesting than the original article. I also found this site through Cracked.

  • alwen

    Wait, wait.

    You mean is not a trustworthy and reliable source?

    My day is all ruined now.

  • sbh

    I’ve never heard of until now, and this particular article didn’t seem to be that funny*, but I’m glad to have learned about it. I may even visit it again some day.

    *Of course it might have seemed funnier if I hadn’t read your piece first. Sequence matters.

  • Notorious Ph.D.

    1. Yeah, lighten up, why dontcha? Because when I think “deadly serious,” I think of this blog.

    2. Matter of opinion here, but: “erection”? Those bad boys seem to be pointing distinctly downwards. Then again, they’re almost 1000 years old, so I suppose one has to adjust one’s expectations.

    • stacey

      Tumescent, at most.

  • Josef Martino

    Carl = BACON Number of 4 = BonnACON = Buthurt from all the flaming crap spewing = Being a proper academic medievalist

  • UptaMeenuts

    Cracked may not always be accurate, but it is (usually) funny. You comes across as a bitchy, pedantic miseryguts – albeit one who writes quite well. I personally think you could have done a much better job of putting the record straight.

  • fnordy

    finger up the other monkey’s butt? looks to me like a long thin monkeybone.

  • Lostbear

    I’m rather pleased to see “Cracked” brought “bang to rights” regarding inaccuracies – I often think (“That’s not right, you wassock”), but I’m far from being an expert and don’t feel that I can stick my oar in. Nice to see this done for me. Thank you.

  • Leonard729

    I agree with UptaMeenuts (that was an awkward name to type); you come across as being totally stuck-up when referring to the Cracked article. They’re not history majors, it’s just shit they put up that’s funny and super dumbed down. If someone like me (a history major) wanted to find a funny article that’s filled with truths, I’d totally read yours, but not if you’re going to knock other articles/websites like that. They’re not claiming to know what they’re talking about fully and they certainly aren’t claiming to be historians, either. Well written article, though!

  • Kryss LaBryn

    Huh, a Bonnacon, eh? And here I thought it must have been meant to be a hippopotamus, what with the males flipping explosive diarrhea around with their tails, and all. 🙂

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