Let’s get it on… (in the margin of a prayer book) (Mmm… Marginalia #99)

Usually, marginalia has nothing to do with the text on the page on which it appears. Of course, this hasn’t stopped the acolytes of Michael Camille from creating elaborate explanations of how it does, but nonetheless, meaningful textual commentary through marginalia is the exception rather than the rule.* Still, as a textual scholar first, I’m always happy to find exceptions, and here’s a nice bit of jokey commentary from the margin of a 14th-century Flemish Psalter (Bodl. MS Douce 6):**

For the benefit of my non-paleographically trained readers,*** the text directly above our marginal couple is from Isaiah 38:12, from the writings of King Ezechias concerning what he thinks to be his imminent death. It reads, “Generatio me ablata est, et convoluta est a me …” or “My generation is at an end, and is rolled away from me…” In the Bible story, the solution to Ezechias’s sickness is a prayer that brings Isaiah to heal him with a fig plaster, a remedy that affords him an extra fifteen years of life. In the margins, the solution to a failing generation appears to be rather more direct.

If I had to caption it, I’d go with, “Generation at an end, you say? We’ll see about that! M’lady, if you would kindly assist me, I think there’s a little generating left in me yet…”

It should also be noted that there are two couples in the margin there, one pre- and one post-**** coitus. Often in medieval art, two images next to each other featuring the same principals are used to demonstrate the passage of time,***** so it’s possible we’re watching the successful culmination on the left of a seduction begun on the right.

However, time usually flows left to right****** on manuscript pages,******* so it’s just as possible that we witness one soon-to-be-frustrated couple about to find out that their first-choice assignation location is already occupied.

Or maybe it’s a fourway in the making between some crazy medieval swingers.  You tell me.

And this week I really do mean, you tell me.  Vote in the poll below and let me know which you think it is:

Let's get it on, sure, but who's in that contracted "us"?

  • One couple, shown pre- and post- (66%, 73 Votes)
  • Two couples, about to get freaky-deaky 14th-century style (18%, 20 Votes)
  • Two couples, one about to frustrate the other's attempt (16%, 17 Votes)

Total Voters: 110

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  1. * And if you want to fight me on it, I’ll gladly take it outside. Unless you happen to be Michael Camille himself, in which case–Zoinks! A ghost! Run, Scoob! *sounds of feet spinning and legs pumping as runner remains in one place* []
  2. ** A manuscript oft featured here, which I sometimes call ‘The Bumper Book of Medieval Monkeys’. []
  3. *** Though given how hard to read captchas have become lately, I think there’s no one left on the Internet not trained in paleography to some extent []
  4. **** Or possibly intra-. []
  5. ***** As in modern comic strips, so the idea shouldn’t come as any great surprise. []
  6. ****** Or when vertically arranged, top to bottom. []
  7. ******* And in scrolling art like the Bayeux Tapestry. []

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steve Muhlberger


    • http://www.gotmedieval.com Got Medieval

      Technical difficulties, please stand by.

      • http://www.gotmedieval.com Got Medieval

        …and fixed.

  • Daniel Liss

    My favorite Medieval epic was always Troilus & Criseyde & Ted & Alice.

  • Catanea

    The chap, given the typical skills of a medieval depictor, looks to be the same; but the ladies appear to have considerably different wimples and noses.
    My first reading was that the chap was different, too, and the right-hand lady was being taken to discover her husband generating with another woman…just an impression, of course.
    Most likely it’s the same couple twice.

  • Mulberry Bush

    Re different wimples – I read it as their exertions had loosened the knots….did medieval ladies REALLY wear their wimples to bed? 

  • Cait

    I too think its the same couple twice. I find it amusing how the lady seems to be leading the man toward the bed chamber, instead of the other way around how it usually is. Or she could be gesturing about the wonderful time she had. 

  • wavelength

    I think it’s one couple.  In the first view on the right you can see the fellow indicating with his hands, the lengths to which he will go to please the lady.

  • http://twitter.com/WaysideArtist na d’onofrio

    Umm…is there something wrong with me? Re: Michael Camille abstract – too much information. I only like to read stuff with pictures!

    • http://www.gotmedieval.com Got Medieval

      So did Camille. *ba-dum tish*

  • Maria

    It looks to me like the same couple twice.  The couple outside the bedchamber looks like sick and sad King Ezechias with his lady, who is saying “Step right this way, your highness.  We’ll have this generational problem fixed in no time.” The curtained area is an elaborate 14th-century cartoon thought bubble. 

  • Guada Balteira

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a very similar couple drawn in the exact same position elsewhere (I can’t recall where, this is going to haunt me for a while), maybe whoever made the marginal miniature was, as it often happened, taking ideas from another ms, and as he had some extra space added the prequel by its side, ending up in that messed-up chronology? What kind of other images are there in the ms?

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