Mushrooms, unicorns and little green apples

Who knew that mushroom caps could be depressed?

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mushroom_cap_morphology2.png#filehistory
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mushroom_cap_morphology2.png#filehistory

Well, if you did, then you will have no trouble at all acknowledging that grapevine leaves can be blistered. That was a shameless plug for the ample ampelography section of the Vine to Wine Circle, the most fascinating part of which for me was the morphology of the leaf. I am no expert, but I do take great delight in examining grapevine leaves now, and describing them silently to myself while cheerfully ignoring the fact that I have no idea which grapevine variety I am looking at.

What do mushrooms and grapevine leaves have in common? Not much, except that they, too, share two links with linguistics. The first is that lovely little word which makes one think shape-shifters might have invented it: Morphology. We humans love to identify, analyse and describe the structure of anything we can lay our hands on, or otherwise grasp with our minds. The second link is less interesting: my first long translation was on fungi, all particulars of which have faded into microscopic, spore-like dots on the distant horizon of a youthful brain; my longest translation has been on the subject of grapevines.

It was during the research of the history section of the latter translation that I turned down a few interesting side roads which led me to the fascinating subject of medieval allegories which featured so prominently in religious iconic art hung chiefly in Churches. I have an inkling that this was because most people in the Middles Ages could not read, but if they saw a picture, would certainly be able to tell a story from it. This may have been the unacknowledged beginning of advertising, but in any case, served to reinforce the human love for fantastical stories involving what may or may not be legendary creatures, such as – you guessed it – unicorns.

That master of TMI, Wikiwiki, has a lot to say about unicorns, yet, unlike Google Images, glosses over the obvious phallic symbolism. This, however, is not my area of expertise by any stretch of the imagination, so I shall instead focus on the part in the Wiki article which describes representation in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (emphasis mine):

Medieval knowledge of the fabulous beast stemmed from biblical and ancient sources, and the creature was variously represented as a kind of wild ass, goat, or horse.

The predecessor of the medieval bestiary, compiled in Late Antiquity and known as Physiologus (Φυσιολόγος), popularized an elaborate allegory in which a unicorn, trapped by a maiden (representing the Virgin Mary), stood for the Incarnation. As soon as the unicorn sees her, it lays its head on her lap and falls asleep. This became a basic emblematic tag that underlies medieval notions of the unicorn, justifying its appearance in every form of religious art. Interpretations of the unicorn myth focus on the medieval lore of beguiled lovers, whereas some religious writers interpret the unicorn and its death as the Passion of Christ. The myths refer to a beast with one horn that can only be tamed by a virgin; subsequently, some writers translated this into an allegory for Christ’s relationship with the Virgin Mary.

Idealism was rife in the Middle Ages, and it seems that courtly love also rode on the back of the unicorn, so to speak. It occurs to me that the shadow of a knight on horseback carrying his lance, if cast against a castle wall, would create an image of a unicorn – and may also account for the varying angles (and lengths) of the unicorn’s horn depicted in what I shall loosely term “art” ever since.

By way of visual stimulation I shall now introduce the Maltererteppich, for which I cannot find a standard English translation, but which is rendered adequately as the “Malterer Tapestry” (brand new in 1320, or thereabouts), named for the names woven into the tapestry itself of Johannes Malterer of Freiburg, who commissioned the work, and his sister, Anna (first and last “panels”). The Freiburg Dominican Convent of Saint Catherine has documentary evidence that Anna was a nun. The tapestry measures 491 x 66 cm.

Grateful acknowledgements for the above image, copied from the Augustinermuseum Freiburg website, and entitled, “Die Jungfrau mit dem Einhorn” on that website, or, “The Virgin and the Unicorn”.
The Wikipedia article describes this image thus: “Ein Einhorn legt den Kopf in den Schoß einer Frau und symbolisiert die Empfängnis Jesu Christi durch die Jungfrau Maria. Diese Szene steht allein ohne antithetisches Gegenüber und stellt die wahre Minne, die Gottesminne, dar, die als singulär stehende Szene den Vorrang der geistlichen Liebe betont.” | My (somewhat free) translation: A unicorn lays his head in a woman’s lap, and symbolises the Immaculate Conception of Jesus Christ by the Virgin Mary. This is the only scene on the tapestry which has no antithetical counterpart and represents true love, the love of God which, as a stand-alone depiction, emphasises the hierarchical supremacy of spiritual love.

Almost 200 years later, a similar image was created (1500), the authorship of which is unknown, which immediately had me thinking of “little green apples”, a description once applied lovingly to mine. As you probably know, the blue dress in Christian art is invariably reserved for, and signifies, depiction of the Virgin Mary. The description in English of this image given by Wikipedia had me in fits of laughter, not only for its possible mistranslation of the title, but because of the disparate connotations, all of which I shall faithfully reproduce here:

Courtesy of Wikimedia: Description: "Wildweibchen mit Einhorn", "Wild woman in blue titty dress with unicorn", Kissenplatte, Strassburg, 76cm × 63cm,
Courtesy of Wikimedia:
Description: “Wildweibchen mit Einhorn”, “Wild woman in blue titty dress with unicorn“, Kissenplatte, Strassburg, 76cm × 63cm,

As the risk of committing sacrilege, I confess that I can with the greatest ease imagine Mary saying to Joseph, “I am going out to trap a unicorn today; be a dear and hand me my blue titty dress, won’t you?”

Seriously, though, here is the annotation from the Basle Historical Museum catalogue for the above image:

Basel. Historisches Museum
Katalog “Zahm und Wild” Nr. 122

Wildweibchen und Einhorn

Fragment eines Wirkteppichs, Kissenplatte, 75 x 63 cm
Straßburg, um 1500/1510

Auf einer Rasenbank inmitten einer paradiesischen Natur sitzt ein junges Wildweibchen in verführerischer, die Brüste frei lassender Kleidung. In ihrem Schoß lagert ein rehbraunes, geflecktes Einhorn.

Das Spruchband gibt die melancholische Stimmung der Weltflucht wieder:
min . zit . (han ich der?) welt . gegeb(n) . nuon . muos . ich . hie . im . Ellenden . leben . O . WIE . D…

The banner on this fragment of an embroidered cushion panel has been deciphered by those far more talented than I to read, “ich hab meine Zeit der Welt gegeben, nun muss ich hier in der Einöde leben. O wie….”, which in English could be rendered as, “I have given my time to the world and now I must live here in this (solitary) wasteland. Oh how…”

I bet you are still thinking about that blue titty dress, aren’t you?

As a “story requested in reciprocity”, this entire blog was prompted by a (dare I say it –Facebook) discussion by a bunch of liberated women of a certain age about the necessity or otherwise of wearing a bra. General consensus was that the size of one’s breasts and the relative formality of the situation were the deciding factors. After all, practicalities do have to be considered.

You’ll love this story. It is all in English, and told in the words (more or less) of the (well-endowed) woman herself:

Absolutely on being boob practical. When I was at a party once, I was goaded into bobbing for apples. When I looked at the metal tub for it I considered the shape and how the hell I could do that with my boob disability. So after careful consideration and four cocktails, I decided, “F— it, there’s no way to move my tits out of the way. I’ll just put them in the tub then.” So I thrust my boobs in first (no other choice) which displaced water onto the floor but also raised the apples to mouth height, thus permitting me to bite into an apple. I also made a new friend, Tyler, a fag who was laughing so much he was crying. He became a very good mate for several years.

And that, my friends, is how you get little green apples.

Allison 

P.S: I would love comments from German translators on what you think is a good English translation of “Wildweibchen und Einhorn”, especially given the dual meaning of “Weibchen”.

4 thoughts on “Mushrooms, unicorns and little green apples

  1. Charmer.
    I was thinking about the definition of Virgins and the application of the symbolism of apples… Virgin in my feminist terminology means “a woman who is owned unto herself” – a woman who is not owned by her father nor by a spouse nor partner. And “apple” meaning “self knowledge” after all, that is what eve got when she bit. She became “aware”. She stopped being without innocence (morality) which all other mammals (supposedly. But as a primatologist, I will argue that primates have a sense of ethics. Take a look at Franz De Waal) lack.
    And personally I have a understanding of desire of boobage that is less feminine – er… I am feminine but the object of… nevermind. I won’t go into that here. And these days, that object is symbolised as a unicorn. Suprise. Who knew? I only discovered that today.
    And Fungi Morphology will ALWAYS lead you astray. It’s debasing.
    Watch your self…

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    1. Hello Barbara,
      I have to say that I have never encountered a definition of “virgin” quite like yours, and am disinclined to agree with it.
      As a feminist, I see virginity as implying sexual inexperience, whatever one’s sexual orientation or gender identity might be. Your phrase, “a woman who is owned unto herself” does, however, strike a chord with me, and possibly equates to my personal label for such beings: “a woman of substance”. Being a woman of substance to my way of thinking involves knowing yourself and being comfortable with this awareness. Knowing who you are presupposes that you have experienced and explored in some depth and detail the (no particular order!) mental, emotional, physical and sexual, and spiritual aspects of your being in order to arrive at some sort of definition which may be used as a point of departure for your personally chosen path of self-development.
      I have not come across any virgins (discussing females only here, my definition) who could be called “women of substance”, although I have always been delighted to meet and know girls and young women who do possess an incredibly solid sense of self, which comes across as a natural talent; the women of substance of the future!
      Unicorns seemed to have lost prominence in allegorical art somewhere during the 16th century. This may be due to the combined effects of the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation. It is no surprise to me that there is a huge amount of information available in German which has not been translated into other languages. I am no expert on the matter, but suffice to say that many other symbolic elements of medieval religious art (e.g. blue dress of the Virgin Mary or a sword in the hand of a martyred Saint) have a traditional meaning which has carried forward into the present day; not so, the unicorn, and possibly just as well. Show me the fossilised remains of a unicorn, and then perhaps discussion on this issue could gain weight!
      As to things fungal: my take is that any fungus that is not a recognisable and non-hallucinogenic mushroom is to be avoided at all costs; if a mushroom, butter/olive oil and a goodly measure of garlic are welcome additions!

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  2. I always wanted to see a virgin in a blue tity dress petting an immacualte conception unicorn, I just never know till know.
    Unicorn seems a lot like “spirit”, a non mortal alien, unsubstantial powerful magical being, or whatever got her artificially inseminated. Or whatever. : )
    It could have been a god like Zeus, he never refused the plesure when he got humans pregnant. He even turned to mist and crept under the door to get in the prison room where his virgin of choice was looked for years by her father. Don’t think it was the same god cuz Zeus never asked, he took, and err gave…
    Guess that’s why it matters so much. : )
    The gods changed.
    So, did we, after a while, I hope… somewhat, we are at least trying….
    Them gods they better be fixen on changing again, cuz I ain’t puttin up with this lot no more. ; )
    It aint just folks who need to level up and upgrade, perhaps.

    Had the absolute best day today. The sun was shining friends were about. You shine like the sun and I consider you my friend. And you are smart and fun to talk with on here!
    Your blog feels like a simple, hot home cooked meal to me. It’s a feeling. : )

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    1. I suppose all these images were designed to ignite our imagination – which is the chief ingredient (apart from love) in any home-cooked meal.
      There is an excellent serious book (which I only half read about 18 months ago) by an ex-nun and theologian which traces how God/the gods changed since the dawn of humanity. It belongs to a friend. If I get my hands on it soon, I shall post the title here. I think you would like it.

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