pity for the underdog is as old as medieval monks comic evil rabbits

pity for the underdog is as old as medieval monks comic evil rabbits

When monks of the medieval era wrote books, tended to insert comical art in the margins that commonly featured the ubiquitous, triumphant armed rabbit, often shown killing dogs, humans, and other enemies of bunnykind.

Jon Kaneko-James explains the symbolism of these murdering coneys, illustrated with fine examples of the form. It clearly shows that the underdogs, the weak, the trodden were often cheered by the masses, over the jocks of the society. A behavior we see today in sports and with the physically and mentally challenged of our society.

Since rabbits and hares were signs of cowardice, innocence, helplessness, and passive but willing sexuality (lots of medieval sexual imagery involves wolves jumping on rabbits), the idea of them getting their revenge amused medieval artists as much as it amuses me. All told, they are pretty helpless animals whose only hope of survival is to breed fast and run away, a trait that wasn’t particularly successful in the Medieval era – a significant proportion of the French economy was based on eating and skinning rabbits.

The image of the rabbit’s revenge transcends just the illuminated manuscript – the misericord seats in Manchester Cathedral are supported by a 15th century carving of a hunter being spitroasted by rabbits while his dogs are boiled in the pot.

In medieval manuscripts the image of the rabbit’s revenge is often used to show the cowardice or stupidity of the person illustrated. We see this in the Middle English nickname Stickhare, a name for cowards, and if the we take a look at the Poke list, we’ll see a lot of tough hunters cowering in the face of rabbits with big sticks. In the 13th century epic Roman de Renart we even have the character Coward, who is a hare, capturing an armed man who drops his sword at the sight of him and ends up being dangled from a stick.

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| May, 26th, 2016
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