April 27, 2017

"… there’s a weird number of people battling snails from medieval times … Why is this?"



"We don’t know. Seriously. There are as many explanations as there are scholars."

One answer is: "Since human knights are often seen trembling before—or, indeed, losing to—the harmless, slow-moving snails, it makes sense that the image is a way to emphasize cowardice."

62 comments:

Bob Boyd said...

Early French Hunting Magazines?

sparrow said...

Fighting sloth?

Bob Boyd said...

Slow and steady may win the race, but it doesn't win the sword fight.

mockturtle said...

Political cartoon.

traditionalguy said...

When in doubt, I always side with Comte De Bastard, a man known for taking ill advised attempts to explain the inexplicable. My kind of guy.

exiledonmainstreet said...

The cowardice explanation seems logical.

Either that or there were damn big snails during the Middle Ages. Vicious ones too, ready to slime people to death.

Swede said...

Snails were much larger and faster back then.

And deadly. With fangs.

You can thank those medieval knights for the slow, mild-mannered snails that we enjoy today.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Or maybe it wasn't the snails who got big, but the knights who got small.

I knew people were shorter back than, but I didn't realize just how short they were.

Unknown said...

Maybe this is why the French like escargot so much: back in the day a snail could feed a small village. The knights hunted the genus "Big Snailus" to oblivion as part of their quest to feed their hungry mistresses (this is france, after all).

--Vance

The Cracker Emcee said...

"Political cartoon"

Yes, as with Mother Goose rhymes, a lot of the political satire of yore is found in things that seem nonsensical to us now.

mockturtle said...

Either that or there were damn big snails during the Middle Ages. Vicious ones too, ready to slime people to death.

LOL! Love the imagery, exiled!

CJinPA said...

This is why I come here.

mockturtle said...

"Big Snailus"

I believe that was the snailus giganticus, Vance. ;-)

Darrell said...

Reminds me of those ubiquitous images of the Blessed Virgin nursing Baby Jesus that we are all supposed to be familiar with, from Church.

traditionalguy said...

The snails seem to be regular animals or people whose bottom half including their legs are trapped inside a shell and are angry enough about it to attack The Establishment's representative.

Ergo: snails were images of the original Tea Party Deplorables.

Hat Tip to Comte de Bastard.

Darrell said...

A lion fighting a snail. England vs France. Political cartoon.

rhhardin said...

Cartoon described by Jean Shepherd in the 60s:

Two snails on the back of a turtle.

One snail says to the other, "Hold on! Here we go!"

rhhardin said...

There was a very funny snail slime cartoon too but I forget the punchline.

rhhardin said...

I don't care if she is a tape dispenser. I love her.

- snail cartoons encountered in google

rhhardin said...

Snail slime is used in skin treatments.

Fernandinande said...

Look at that S-car go!

Bob Boyd said...

There were a lot of people battling escargot addiction during that period. The margin drawings were a way for struggling addicts to signal one another, provide encouragement and support, let their degraded fellow snail lickers know that they were not alone.
In those days the addictive species of snail was kind of like the South American tree frogs we hear about today, one good lick of the slime and you were tripping like crazy.

Snark said...

Am I the only one who though "Fearless Snail" and LOLd? Seriously though - maybe it was about courage and not cowardice.

exiledonmainstreet said...

Let's see, the snail has feelers or antennae or whatever you call those things and a shell. The knight has a sword.

That's one fierce looking snail, but I know which way I'm betting.

This was an ad put out by the National Sword Association.

exiledonmainstreet said...

What people had to go through in those days to enjoy a nice plate of escargot.

Static Ping said...

So, Medieval memes. I suppose illustrators would be the closest thing to Internet photoshoppers. Neat.

That said, a large snail could be rather intimidating. The shell gives it armor, the prongs give it something that looks like a weapon, the slime could very well be imagined as some sort of acid, poison, or other wasting liquid that ruins the ground for decades, and while stepping on a small little snail dispatches it quickly enough, a giant one would not have an obvious weak point like a heart to stab or a head to cut off. It would be a slow but unstoppable enemy, destroying the crops, chasing off the animals, slowly digesting its prey. They've made horror movies with much less dangerous creatures.

Unknown said...

"Big Snailus"

He has a wife, you know..

Todd said...

Maybe we should be thanking these knights of old for ridding the world of these huge, war-like snails!

James Pawlak said...

ET aliens?

exiledonmainstreet said...

The snail is about to find out that lacking teeth, limbs, speed and opposable thumbs puts one at a certain disadvantage during battle.

exiledonmainstreet said...

OK, I'll stop. I'm having too much fun with this one.

Static Ping said...

There was a horror movie titled The Creeping Terror which involves a similar concept. The creature is more of a giant slug and it is from outer space, but the concept was this slow moving creature that ate people and was immune to gunfire. It's actually a pretty scary concept except the movie is utterly awful. The "terror" moves so slowly that its victims literally have to walk into its mouth to be "eaten" and after it proves immune to bullets it proves to not be immune to a single hand grenade. MST3K had a whole lot of fun with that one.

Jim S. said...

That reminds me of Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (a different Michael Flynn). It refers to a famous medieval parody of the Last Supper (which Flynn made up) in which all of the characters are portrayed by grasshoppers. It turns out some grasshopper-looking aliens crash-landed in 14th century Germany and many of them converted to Christianity. An absolutely amazing book.

St. George said...

Some snails fire love darts...

A love dart (also known as a gypsobelum) is a sharp, calcareous or chitinous dart which some hermaphroditic land snails and slugs create. Love darts are made in sexually mature animals only, and are used as part of the sequence of events during courtship, before actual mating takes place. Darts are quite large compared to the size of the animal: in the case of the semi-slug genus Parmarion, the length of a dart can be up to one fifth that of the semi-slug's foot.[1]

The process of using love darts in snails is a form of sexual selection.[2] Prior to copulation, each of the two snails (or slugs) attempts to "shoot" one (or more) darts into the other snail (or slug). There is no organ to receive the dart; this action is more analogous to a stabbing, or to being shot with an arrow or flechette. The dart does not fly through the air to reach its target however; instead it is fired as a contact shot.

The love dart is not a penial stylet (in other words this is not an accessory organ for sperm transfer). The exchange of sperm between both of the two land snails is a completely separate part of the mating progression. Nevertheless, recent research shows that use of the dart can strongly favor the reproductive outcome for the snail that is able to lodge a dart in its partner. This is because mucus on the dart introduces a hormone-like substance that allows far more of its sperm to survive.

Love darts, also known as shooting darts, or just as darts, are shaped in many distinctive ways which vary considerably between species. What all the shapes of love darts have in common is their harpoon-like or needle-like ability to pierce.

Hagar said...

More prosaically, a political cartoon with wordplay on peoples' names or heraldic emblems.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Must have been before the French learned to defeat snails by using butter and garlic.

grace said...

Thank you, Ann, for being you. For ten years I've start my day with your blog. I love the commenters' back and forth, I love your wit, parsing, photos, garden, curiosity, and acceptance of life. Along with the genealogy I do for myself and others, your blog keeps me grounded. This is another wonderful post. Thank you, again.

Guildofcannonballs said...

The last weird number I encountered, which I shall for you now label as 22'rr42BURZZEDDEEED AB for lack of other more precise means of communication, freaked me out.

Carter Wood said...

I await the armored snail vs. rocket-cat armageddon.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Snails. Why did it have to be snails?

exiledonmainstreet said...

Carter, rocket cats vs. the dogs of war. It's on, man!

http://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=VmRHviEL&id=DD6E66462EBF83F3CE1B0F24B54A307DC35B2D20&thid=OIP.VmRHviELdJ7aNAtFK07kdgEsCd&q=War+Dog+Armor&simid=608013709528139246&selectedIndex=60&ajaxhist=0

Lipperman said...

This is a plausible explanation

Paddy O said...

Actually, it's well-known that the strength of snails in battle was their spell-casting, not their speed or offensive weaponry. The shells are designed to protect from errant spells coming from the rear, though also served as portable protective capsules for recharging magical reserves.

Basic snail-lore.

Unknown said...

Gordon Dickson in the very first book of his "The Dragon and the George" trilogy (Pretty underrated fantasy series, in my opinion) had a climatic battle in which one of the "baddies" was a huge snail, taking on a traditional style Knight in armor.

Turned out that hacking up a pile of ooze that can wrap itself around your arm is harder than it sounds. Good book.

--Vance

Bob Boyd said...

A guy walks out his front door one morning and there's big snail on the porch. He says,"ugh" and gives it a kick. The snail flies through the air and lands in weeds on the other side of the neighbor's fence.
Two years later the guy hears a tap at his front door. He opens it and there is the snail on the door mat looking at him.
The snail says, "So what was that all about?"

Rae said...

I assume that the snails had a symbolic meaning that is lost to history. I mean, the dems and repubs are represented by donkeys and elephants respectively, and I don't believe I've ever read anything explaining exactly why. (Not that there isn't anything, I just haven't been interested enough) 500 years from now people will wonders about cartoons from the last fifty years.

David said...

Whatever the meaning the drawings are wonderful.

Static Ping said...

Rae, the donkey and elephant are from famed political cartoonist Thomas Nast. It's from the 1870s.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/political-animals-republican-elephants-and-democratic-donkeys-89241754/

Lewis Wetzel said...

Are there any semioticians in the house?

mockturtle said...

Snail humor! Who'da thunk?!

Lewis Wetzel said...

Intriguing idea.
SNAIL: The snail was believed to be born from the mud, and to feed upon it. It was, therefore, interpreted as the symbol of the sinner, and of laziness, because it made no effort to seek food, but ate what it found at hand.
http://www.catholictradition.org/Saints/signs1.htm

TestTube said...

I suppose that there will never be a better time for this bit of self-promotion:

http://snailjail.blogspot.com/

CWJ said...

"Either that or there were damn big snails during the Middle Ages. Vicious ones too, ready to slime people to death."

Giant cold blooded animals. Yet more evidence for the Medieval Warm Period. AGW advocates hardest hit (along with women, children, minorities, illegal aliens, and LGTXYZ advocates).

Hagar said...

"The Cat, the Rat, and Lovell our Dogge, Rulen all England under an Hogge."

exiledonmainstreet said...

Lewis Wetzel said...
Intriguing idea.
SNAIL: The snail was believed to be born from the mud, and to feed upon it. It was, therefore, interpreted as the symbol of the sinner, and of laziness, because it made no effort to seek food, but ate what it found at hand. "

That actually makes sense. The knight is fighting against the deadly sin of sloth.

Paddy O said...

What people aren't mentioning is that snails clearly were victors in these martial contests. So much so they've vanquished the threats entirely.

When was the last time you've had knights invading your garden?

Exactly. And now you know why.

EMyrt said...

Bow howdy! I’ve been fascinated by snails since 1963, when I did my first science project on them. My mom bought them for me from a biological supply house. They came out of torpor faster than advertised and were all over the kitchen in the morning, including eating a paper calendar. So I’m not an expert, but a long time amateur.
1. Thank you, Ann! I followed this on Twitter a couple of months ago, but it’s great to have you and the Althouse commentariat on it.
2. Bob Boyd almost takes the thread with his first post, but don’t follow his advice wrt lower forms of life. If you lick the colorful South American frog you will be dead, not high. Cane toads are what you (express, not) lick to get off.
3. Swede, laughed out loud at your knights killed off the big bad ones.
4. Exiled, they’re called tentacles. The upper ones contain simple eyes that retract when touched. The lower ones are analogous to smell organs.
5. St Geo, the summary is that the snail who successfully shoots first gets to be the male. Politically incorrect hermaphrodites. They have orgies, too, with daisy chains.
6. Unknown, thanks for the Gordon Dickson pointer, I shall go check that out.
7. Louis Wetzel, thanks for Catholic ref, that’s probably the right allegorical interpretation, as exiled says, Sloth. But as usual, the allegoricists were bad natural scientists; snails and slugs are quite purposeful in seeking food. Although they are not fussy; I’ve seen them eating dog shit, eggshells (for the calcium) and Chinese food (they’d love Asian salad!).
8. Hagar, thanks for the Richard III political jingle. That was my other early intellectual obsession.
9. The original humor has been very fine (where’s Laslo when you want him?). But can’t any of you come up with a snail joke or cartoon that isn’t already on my bulletin board?

exiledonmainstreet said...

5. St Geo, the summary is that the snail who successfully shoots first gets to be the male. Politically incorrect hermaphrodites. They have orgies, too, with daisy chains."

Wow. Snail orgies. Who knew? ( Well, EMyrt did, but that's startling news to me.)

Lewis Wetzel said...

The way we think of Medieval knights is derived from pop culture, e.g., popular books and movies. The Medievals, especially the literary class, had frequent social contact with real knights. They probably thought of them like we think of professional soldiers, a noble occupation filled by people with all the usual human failings. How often did a knight actually wear armor? It was a social position as well as a military position, and to the Medievals he was no less a knight when he didn't wear his armor.
I watch Game of Thrones, but I hate the way it portrays pseudo-feudal society. You can't get to Medieval feudalism without Christianity, sorry.

Jual Vimax Obat Pembesar Penis said...

*PUSAT PEMBESAR PENIS, OBAT KUAT TAHAN LAMA, PERANGSANG WANITA, KOSMETIK, DAN ACCESORIES SEX P/W TERLENGKAP...!!


*RAMUAN PEMBESAR PENIS

*OBAT CARA BESARKAN PENIS JAKARTA

*OBAT CARA BESARKAN PENIS MAKASSAR

*OBAT CARA BESARKAN PENIS BEKASI

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS DEPOK

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR JAKARTA

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR BALI

*OBAT PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR BEKASI

*PEMBESAR PENIS MANJUR MAKASSAR

TestTube said...

EMyrt, in your quest for gastropod-based humor, did you NOT see the link?

http://snailjail.blogspot.com/

EMyrt said...

Test Tube,

Many thanks for the link.
I was not aware of snailjail.
Isn't the WWW a wonderful thing?
And the one with the cat was new to me and very funny.

emyrt