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Todays manuscript does not turn up in Mandragore, the search engine for manuscripts of the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris, when using ‘escargot’. Yet there is a snail. I found this manuscript listed in Randall [1] as one related to the ‘knight v. snail’ theme mentioned earlier.

The manuscript is an incomplete version of ‘Le Roman de Tristan’ [2]; it is dated in the catalogue as 13th century.

On f. 176v in the right upper margin a snail may be seen, highly stylised, not clearly to be seen whether it is right- or left-coiled. The animal peeks out, with two knobbed upper tentacles and two simple lower ones; also an eye-spot is present. It reminds me as much of a bird with a kind of crown as of a snail’s head.
The snail is opposed to a knight standing with a shield and a lance; a lion is seen in-between the two, glancing at the snail.

BNF_Ms Francais776_f176v_BNF_Ms Francais776_f176v_detail1BNF_Ms Francais776_f176v_detail2

Randall [1] has suggested that the motif of a man combatting a snail originated in northern France around 1300, and later spread to Flemish and English manuscripts. However, this motif has also been noted in studies of traditional rhymes in folklore from several other countries and regions [3]. According to Pinon [4] the theme of the armed snail was abundant around 1300. Besides the knight, sometimes women are shown trying to without the man attacking the animal. Also monkeys with a sword or cross-bow may be present, or “even more eccentric scenes, such as a man riding a snail and pursuing a stag,or a fox fleeing before the snail, both of which illustrate the topsy-turvy land theme”. Undoubtedly, we will see the variations in later posts, but the ‘topsy-turvy land theme’ may be divided into four categories: “1. The snail is assailed by one or several cowards, and stands up to them. (…) This form of the motif may be called ‘the Lombard’s attack’. 2. In the second version the snail appears as actively engaged in the confrontation, and unwittingly spreads panic among ignorant cowards. (…) one might give the title ‘The tailors’ great fright’. 3. The snail is victorious over one or several lions. (…). 4. The snail appears in animal epics as commander-in-chief or a courtier, though this form does not seem to exist in any folkloric versions. It is, however, very early and can, perhaps, be linked to the ‘Lombard’s attack’ (see 1, above)” [4, p. 87].
As we will see later, this theme will return in the late 15th century once more.

Notes:
[1] Randall, L.C. (1962). The snail in Gothic marginal warfare. Speculum 37: 358–367.
[2] BNF, Ms. Français 776, 291ff. http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6000110d (permalink).
[3] Grosskopf, G. (2013). The horns and the spiral. Distribution, structure, functions and origin of a Eurasian children’s rhyme about the snails. Available at http://bit.ly/1fZoT8C (25.x.2013). See especially notes on entries 15, 512 in his database.
[4] Pinon, R. (1980). From illumination to folksong; the armed snail, a motif of topsy-turvy land. In: Newall, V.J. (ed.), Folklore studies in the twentieth century. Proceedings of the Centenary Conference of the Folklore Society: 76–113. Boydel & Brewer, Woolbridge / Rowman & Littlefield, Totowa.

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