In the curious world of neoclassical art, a strategically positioned scabbard is a must-have accessory for any legendary nude warrior. For best results, it should be teamed with a plumed helmet, a dramatically draped cloak (preferably red), a brooding frown and a gaggle of swooning admirers.
Now, in practical terms, this is a very silly way to wear a scabbard, since it’d be hard to draw your sword without slicing your own nose off. Admittedly, this wouldn’t have been a problem for Achilles, the star of three of these paintings, whose nose was impervious to harm, but even then, no one wants to hear an epic poem about the time you unheroically smacked yourself in the face with your own weapon.
Of course, the real reason for these awkwardly angled accoutrements is to hide the rude bits, or at least divert attention away from them. When artists did include wedding tackle in their paintings, they were generally obliged to make it small for reasons of Good Taste (TM), leading many art historians to interpret the scabbards as substitute representations of phallic power. In other words, they are Compensating For Something. But I’m sure we all guessed that, right?
Most entertainingly of all, classical scholars among you may know that the Latin word for “scabbard” was vagina, so strangely enough, these guys are hiding their penises by prominently displaying their vaginas. I’m not sure about the symbolic ramifications of this, but I’m pretty certain that Sigmund Freud is doing cartwheels in his coffin as we speak…
Hiberno-Norse Penny, Anlaf Guthfrithsson (939-941), King of York, Raven Type, York mint, Athelferd moneyer
This is the finest known example of this rare issue. The obverse legend means ‘King Anlaf’ in Old Norse and is one of the earliest surviving texts in this language. The use of Old Norse language instead of Latin coupled with the raven image, associated with the Norse god Odin, is a strong indication that the Vikings were declaring their independence in the British Isles.
Anlaf Guthfrithsson was the Viking King of Dublin who fought in the Battle of Brunanburh in 937 alongside Constantine II and Owen I against Aethelstan, King of England. The infamous battle of the 10th Century was not a victorious campaign for Anlaf but he survived the conflict and successfully seized York and parts of the East Midlands in the aftermath of Aethelstan’s death in 939. The ‘Raven Penny’ was minted during this occupation.
From Egypt Perhaps Third Intermediate or Graeco-Roman Period, about 800 BC - AD 200
This model shows us what an ancient Egyptian house might have looked like in the later historical periods. It is always referred to as a ‘town house’, as the vertical storeys suggests that space was confined, in contrast to the spread-out ‘villa’-like structures found in the New Kingdom (about 1550-1070 BC) city of Tell el-Amarna. The house in this model seems to have had two storeys and an accessible roof. The windows are indicated on the first floor by two crossed bars, and on the upper storey with a criss-cross pattern, perhaps representing shutters. The roof would have been used for storage, much like houses in Egypt today.
(Something I learned ages ago. When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.)
I just encountered this clever and amusing image in a French database of medieval manuscripts. It shows three rabbits running in circles - with shared ears. There is nothing much to this drawing from a book-historical point of view, except to say that it has an Escher-feel to it. In fact, I am not even sure what it means to convey. I am simply sharing it here because the ear entanglement is so cleverly done - and the whole scene brought a big smile to my face.
Pic: Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 7 (13th century).