Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anal fire

Württembergische Landesbibliothek Stuttgart, Codex bibl. fol 23: folio 94v

I had been puzzling for some weeks over this picture in the Stuttgart Psalter (Paris, 820-830 CE) which illustrates Psalm 77, Verse 66:

Et percussit inimicos suos in posteriora: obprobrium sempiternum dedit illos. (Vulgata)

And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach. ((KJV) 

Were these butt-rockets dispensed by the Lord for sodomitical transgressions committed by the victims? What other anal improprieties could have incurred the Lord's displeasure?

The answer came to me immediately from the opening pages of Jeffrey Cohen's Medieval Identity Machines, which reference King Alfred the Great's problems with hemorrhoids. These hellish afflictions may have been more common in the Early Middle Ages than we have supposed. Or perhaps the artist, similarly afflicted and lacking Preparation H, postulated an act of divine retribution.

In modern times, piles of course were the subject of a very popular Johnny Cash song entitled "Ring of Fire."


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