Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mystery still unsolved

So in idle moments I've been trying to figure out why caterpillars, butterflies, and snails appear on the covers of Psalms. You would think that, having written on the topic of invertebrates, I'd know, but so far I am turning up only negatives. Here are some of them.
a) It's not typological. The caterpillar's transformation to butterfly simply wasn't deployed as an image of transformation or metamorphosis as far as I can tell.
b) It's not part of a traditional iconography of David or of the Psalms.
c) There are very few references to any of these creatures in the Psalms.  OK, there are some, and the melting snail of Psalm 58 is particularly interesting. But overall, the Psalms have fewer insect images than other parts of the Bible.
c) These creatures have uniformly negative connotations.  If they represent anything, it would be the wrath of God, sin, or the fallen world. But they're not unique to the Psalms. 

Very puzzling. I'll keep thinking.


  1. I'm glad you've found the embroidered bindings on the psalters thought-provoking. I'd love to hear if you come up with something about the plethora of caterpillars etc.

  2. I'm afraid this is on hold for the moment (I'm past deadline on a review for SQ, among other things), but it's on my plate, and I'm extremely grateful to you for posting such titillating material (in a scholarly sense!).