Marginal Monkey: Scandalous Simians of the Middle Ages

It’s Monday, and we are still hanging out in the margins of Medieval manuscripts, looking at all the animals behaving badly. This week, we are focusing on the monkey. These partying primates present puerile pastimes and perilous pranks.

As an aside, WTF is up with the Luttrell Psalter? I mean seriously. A psalter is supposed to be a solemn collection of the 150 Psalms of the Bible. The Luttrell Psalter was written somewhere between 1320-1340, and it was commissioned by Sir Geoffrey Luttrell in Lincolnshire. Lemme tell ya, whatever they were putting in the water in Lincolnshire back then, the guys who produced the book drank a lot of it.

Anyway, back to the monkey thing.

The fact that there were monkeys in Medieval Europe should surprise no one. Really, if you’re surprised, unsurprise yourself right now. The Medieval world was by no means as isolated and isolationist as is commonly thought. That’s a whole other post about travel and tourism in the Middle Ages (complete with souvenirs). Suffice it to say that monkeys were around.

Let’s begin, shall we?

 

Monkey on a What?

We know that monkeys are climbers. But the monkey of the Middle Ages apparently got a lot of rides…on whatever he could.

This monkey is riding a pig. Okay, it’s a boar. Which is a kind of pig. And this boar seems to be pretty jazzed about the whole thing. Look at the smile on his face.

Monkey riding a boar and holding a stick skewering a chicken, Stowe 17, 14th c., fol. 82r. British Library.
Monkey riding a boar and holding a stick skewering a chicken, Stowe 17, 14th c., fol. 82r. British Library.

We know that this dude is fighting a snail. But apparently, he’s riding…an ostrich? If you have any ideas of what this bird might actually be, leave them in the comments.

Monkey vs. Snail. Sloane 3097, f. 3v. 1311. British Library.
Monkey vs. Snail. Sloane 3097, f. 3v. 1311. British Library.

I am assuming this is a turkey. And the monkey doesn’t look too confident about his chances in the joust, either.

Monkey jouster, English, about 1260. Rutland Psalter, f. 66v
Monkey jouster, English, about 1260. Rutland Psalter, f. 66v

This is a little different. We have a SHE-monkey (which unfortunately makes me think of Helena Bonham Carter in Planet of the Apes), riding a goat, training an owl to be a falcon. Seems to me we have a whole lot of species-identity confusion. The monkey wants to be human. The owl wants to be a falcon. The goat wants to be a horse. I mean, it doesn’t bother me. I’m really open minded about that kind of thing.

The Falconer - Female monkey on a goat training an owl, Luttrell Psalter, Add MS 42130, fol. 38, 1325-1340. British Library.
The Falconer – Female monkey on a goat training an owl, Luttrell Psalter, Add MS 42130, fol. 38, 1325-1340. British Library.

There are some other images, but I think I’ll end the section with this one: a happy little monkey on a happy camel. This is how you know the guy drawing this has never seen a camel before. Camels are never this happy and cooperative. Camels are assholes.

Book of Hours, MS G.4 fol. 106v - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Book of Hours, MS G.4 fol. 106v – Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts – The Morgan Library & Museum

 

What’s with this Shit?

No, seriously. Apparently, the Medieval Monkey was seriously into poop. I mean, look at this guy. He’s just sitting there, thinking deep thoughts as we all do sometimes when we’re on the toilet. Maybe the monk who was working on this section really needed a bathroom break.

Rodinesque monkey on a pot (above Saints Peter and Paul ‘Petrus apostolus et Paulus doctor gentium’) Book of Hours, Paris ca.1460 | Morgan Library & Museum, NY: MS M.282, fol. 125v
Rodinesque monkey on a pot (above Saints Peter and Paul ‘Petrus apostolus et Paulus doctor gentium’) Book of Hours, Paris ca.1460 | Morgan Library & Museum, NY: MS M.282, fol. 125v

At this point, I feel the need to remind you that these drawings were done by monks. MONKS.

Monkey prank, from Recueil des croniques d'Engleterre, Bruges, 1471-1483
Monkey prank, from Recueil des croniques d’Engleterre, Bruges, 1471-1483

Your guess is as good as mine as to what this monkey is up to. No, seriously. Early simian proctologist? Mocking the astronomer monkey? Shooting peas up his butt?

British Library, Stowe 17, detail of f. 61v. Book of Hours, Use of Maastricht (‘The Maastricht Hours’). 1st quarter of the 14th century.
British Library, Stowe 17, detail of f. 61v. Book of Hours, Use of Maastricht (‘The Maastricht Hours’). 1st quarter of the 14th century.

What do you do when your monkey poops everywhere instead of the chamber pot? You break out the Medieval equivalent of the newspaper. Except this first monkey seems to be enjoying it, which borders on bestiality, which is not someplace I want to go.

Monkey, wearing hat, seated on back of second monkey and disciplining it with switch held in right hand | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1460 | The Morgan Library & Museum
Monkey, wearing hat, seated on back of second monkey and disciplining it with switch held in right hand | Book of Hours | France, Paris | ca. 1460 | The Morgan Library & Museum

Apparently, there are instruction manuals on how to do do this.

Naughty monkey, from Arthurian Romances, French, about 1275-1300. Beinecke Library
Naughty monkey, from Arthurian Romances, French, about 1275-1300. Beinecke Library

 

Party Animals

Apparently, these primates liked their booze and corrupting other animals with their naughty ways.

Literary, MS G.24 fol. 118r - Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum
Literary, MS G.24 fol. 118r – Images from Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts – The Morgan Library & Museum

These guys are totally going to trash the place and not even write a thank you note.

Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai, 1338-1344. Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 94v
Roman d’Alexandre, Tournai, 1338-1344. Bodleian Library, MS. Bodl. 264, fol. 94v

This picture makes me want earplugs because you know this guy is playing the fiddle in the middle of the night to annoy his neighbors.

Monkey
Red-hooded monkey playing the vielle, Prayer Book of Charles the Bold. Ms. 37, fol. 41v, c. 1469. J. Paul Getty Museum

Snails and Monkeys

I can’t even with this category. I mean, if there had been Ye Olde Facebook back then, their relationship status would have clearly been: “It’s Complicated.”

See? Complicated.

Mine! No mine!, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek
Mine! No mine!, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek

This is the equivalent of the text message that you can’t decide if he’s breaking up with you or wants to have sex. I don’t get this at all.

The Copenhagen Chansonnier : (Thott 291 8º ): 26 recto
The Copenhagen Chansonnier : (Thott 291 8º ): 26 recto

Clearly, these snails are stalkers. I mean, do you see the snail going up the side of the turret? DO YOU???

The snails attack the monkeys' castle, The Copenhagen Chansonnier, Thott 291 8º, France, 15th century. Det Kongelige Bibliotek
The snails attack the monkeys’ castle, The Copenhagen Chansonnier, Thott 291 8º, France, 15th century. Det Kongelige Bibliotek

Totally, totally complicated. Poly-species-amory? Kinky cosplay? This is the Snapchat photo you didn’t want everyone to see.

Taking the slow train, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek
Taking the slow train, from the Copenhagen Chansonnier, 1400s. Det Kongelige Bibliotek

These Monkeys Broke the Medieval Internet with their Cuteness

Not all monkeys were assholes. Just like we see those cute videos of monkeys taking care of tiger cubs or puppies, folks in the middle ages wanted to capture those cute moments as well.

See? Here’s a nice monkey helping a kitty get a (non-alcoholic) drink.

Sharing, from Trivulzio Book of Hours, 1400s. Koninklijke Bibliotheek
Sharing, from Trivulzio Book of Hours, 1400s. Koninklijke Bibliotheek

Koko the Gorilla wasn’t the first simian to want a kitten.

Monkey hugs a kitten, from a Book of Hours, Brussels, about 1475. Morgan Library
Monkey hugs a kitten, from a Book of Hours, Brussels, about 1475. Morgan Library

Medieval monkeys also liked puppies.

couple embracing on fleurs-de-lysTraictés de Pierre Salemon a Charles VI roy de France, Paris 1412-1415. Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. fr. 165...
couple embracing on fleurs-de-lysTraictés de Pierre Salemon a Charles VI roy de France, Paris 1412-1415. Bibliothèque de Genève, Ms. fr. 165…

This monkey is going above and beyond the call of duty and feeding a bird. Heart-warming, non?

Line-ending monkey feeding a small bird (MS Douce 6, Psalter, made in Ghent, ca.1320-1330)
Line-ending monkey feeding a small bird (MS Douce 6, Psalter, made in Ghent, ca.1320-1330)

 

What to Make of the Medieval Monkey?

Was he good? Bad? True to his nature? Frankly, I don’t know and would rather ponder the fact that it was almost all monks doing these illustrations. Which, as this monkey shows, is far more worthy of further thought…

The Thinker Monkey, from the Breviary of Mary of Savoy, Lombardy, c. 1430
The Thinker Monkey, from the Breviary of Mary of Savoy, Lombardy, c. 1430

Want to see other Medieval Monday Posts? Check out:

Marginal Cats

Marginal Dogs

The Medieval Hair Salon

The Medieval Church Sorta Did Quantum Physics

3 Replies to “Marginal Monkey: Scandalous Simians of the Middle Ages”

  1. This is absolutely hilarious while at the same time looking in adistant mirror at a culture and life long gone, with monkeys everywhere they should and should not be.

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