In the Middle Ages, any book was expensive, and its census was not cheap either. Often during the census, the illustrator added the so-called
marginals - drawings in the fields. Let's talk about one plot of the marginals, Cochleomachia - the battle of knights and snails.
One of the most difficult mysteries for modern medieval studies is the deciphering of symbols from the book marginals. the frequent depiction of the
confrontation between a knight and a snail does not have a generally accepted interpretation (although for the people of that time everything was
extremely obvious). Not infrequently, the image of the confrontation between a knight and a snail does not have a generally accepted interpretation
(although for the people of that time everything was extremely obvious). Historian and art critic Lillian Randall even wrote the book "The Snail in
the Gothic War", in which she put forward several versions. Let's consider them.
The first version is that the Lombardians were so designated. A very dubious version.
Second version: a cowardly knight. On the margins, the knight is often depicted as extremely surprised or shocked. But the version about the symbol of
the cowardly enemy is also, to put it mildly, stretched.
The third version: this is a symbol of sin and sudden death. this is already, in my opinion, closer to the truth.
From the point of view of psychoanalysis, another, more vulgar version appears. Medieval people did not distinguish between mollusks as symbols (with
the exception of the scallop shell): snails, oysters, and others - all belong to the retinue of Venus and female sexuality. The French still use a
number of these words to refer to female genitalia. However, symbolic thinking is synthetic - and the shell has at least one more medieval
interpretation, namely the coffin. Given the concept of carnal sin, it is not difficult to combine these two symbols and oppose the knight (a symbol,
first of all, of the spirit that controls the body, and only then of honor and virtue). Freudian reminiscences of weapons as a phallic symbol are not
even needed here.
Medieval marginals are primarily a play of meanings, and long before psychoanalysts, educated people of that time were also inclined to phonetic and
etymological allusions. The snail in Latin is cochlea (almost also in Greek). And I think the researcher who would start digging in this direction was
not mistaken. Alas, my knowledge of languages is not enough to find comparisons (especially since references could be from Latin phonetics, for
example, to Old French or Occitan). Well, perhaps the most obvious: cochleas is a screw, a spiral.
By the way, I have not been able to find out in what centuries "snail" (cochleas) began to denote also a part of the inner ear. But I think the
average medieval reader was clearly not knowledgeable in medical terms. So this symbolism can be swept aside.
And what do you think?