Twitter Wants to Know Which Medieval Marginalia You Identify as Today
I'm a demon with a virgin Mary rising.
The pandemic and resulting stay at home orders have without question changed our lives. And everyone is finding different ways to cope. Some of us are working out every day and getting fit. Some of us are reading all those unread books that have been gathering dust on the nightstand. And some of us haven’t put on pants in at least five weeks.
To pass the time, we’ve been playing along with Twitter’s personality memes, i.e. what house we would live in, which celebrities we’d want to quarantine with, and what Avengers we identify as.
Now, Katie Henry has given us our new favorite means of self identification, thanks to some medieval marginalia:
Tag yourselves, because who better to understand us than a bunch of bored dudes holed up in their monasteries? pic.twitter.com/aw2jsdbKhZ
— Katie Henry (@KT_NRE) May 14, 2020
Marginalia is the fancy word for all the symbols and illustrations in the margins of medieval manuscripts. They are painstakingly detailed and often refer to whatever the text discusses, but sometimes they are simply the doodles of whoever was bored and possessed the manuscript. And sometimes, these miniature illustrations are next level bonkers:
View this post on Instagram
Rainbow-fire vomit, anyone?! 🌈🔥🤮 How fantastic is this miniature?! Featured very briefly on my Stories earlier this week, this has to be one of the best images currently sat on my camera roll. Welcome, everyone, to @uofglasgowasc’s MS Hunter 398 (V.2.18), a C15th French Apocalypse manuscript! Scroll through the image set for details of the full scene. This miniature is the 47th (of 48) that accompany the text of Revelations, and this particular scene represents Revelations 11: 3-6: “And I will give unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.  / These are the two olive trees, and the two candlesticks, that stand before the Lord of the earth.  / And if any man will hurt them, fire shall come out of their mouths, and shall devour their enemies. And if any man will hurt them, in this manner must he be slain.  / These have power to shut heaven, that it rain not in the days of their prophecy: and they have power over waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues as often as they will. ” (translation taken from Douay Rheims). If you use these words to view the image, you can see how much visual content the artist depicted within the miniature itself. Despite the apocalyptic content, this manuscript never fails to make me smile! For those of you in love with this MS, fear ye not: the rest of my camera roll is packed with details from the other 47 miniatures! 🤲📖📚😍 #apocalypse #revelations #medievalapocalypse #rainbow #vomit #fire #endtimes #doomsday #uofglasgow #uofglibrary #iglibraries #specialcollections #specialcollectionsofinstagram #archives #archivesofinstagram #libraries #librariesofinstagram #bookstagram #manuscriptsofinstagram #rarebooksofinstagram #manuscripts #books #bookhistory #bookart #medieval #medievalmanuscripts #rarebooks #explorearchives #archivesunlocked
Johanna Green, Lecturer in Book History and Digital Humanities at the University of Glasgow (and the purveyor of the above Instagram account), describes the marginalia by saying, “Manuscripts can be seen as time capsules, … And marginalia provide layers of information as to the various human hands that have shaped their form and content.” She continued, “Both tell us huge amounts about a book’s history and the people who have contributed to it, from creation to the present day.”
But it’s surprisingly easy to find ourselves among these bizarre and sometimes gross little doodles. After all, social distancing makes us feel like we’re living on the margins of our own lives. And like the marginalia, we find ourselves perturbed, beset with demons, and in various states of undress.
Which medieval marginalia do you find yourself identifying with?
(image: Katie Henry/Twitter)
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