Smithsonian Magazine: Was This Ornament of a Knight Emerging From a Snail Shell a ‘Medieval Meme’?

                An 8th century text shows this early medieval tension. The Book of Monsters (Liber Monstrorum) describes many monsters, most inherited from the classical tradition, including the Plinian races. For example, the Bestiary mentions the manticore, a fierce “beast” with the face of a man. However, the texts show that people were concerned not only with surface characteristics that seemed to blend species; their preoccupation showed concern for a mixing of the actual essence of human and animal. For example, the Bestiary says of centaurs that “the nature of men and horses can be mixed.”[503]

                Another extremely popular travel story was Mandeville’s Travels, which was written in French in about 1360, then translated quickly into every major European language.* Mandevile’s work is rich in detail drawn from many earlier medieval sources and represents almost a compendium of exotic creatures that inhabited late medieval imaginations. All the Plinian races from the dog headed Cynocephali to giants to Sciopods appear in the travelogue, and many of the creatures are described with the kind of detail designed to accent their bestiality. For example, Mandeville said that the Cynocephali, giants, and other monsters cannibals and thus attributed to them the quality that most defined animals: the desire to eat humans.** The popularity of Mandeville’s Travels expresses the late medieval preoccupation with monsters.[504]

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Smithsonian Magazine: Was This Ornament of a Knight Emerging From a Snail Shell a ‘Medieval Meme’?. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/700-year-old-snail-man-ornament-was-part-medieval-meme-180977311/