“We’ll not risk another frontal assault. That rabbit’s dynamite!” declared Arthur, King of the Britons. For many Monty Python enthusiasts, the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog scene seemed like a non sequitur — yet the creators were playing on the very real madcap tradition of drawing killer rabbits in medieval manuscripts.
Who knew that Monty Python and the Holy Grail was so historically accurate?
Scrawled into the margins of these 14th century texts are images of rabbits riding lions, snails, mythical beasts, hapless humans, and even an occasional woodpecker. Other bas-de-page scenes depict sword-wielding rabbits mutilating knights and other poor citizens who had the misfortune of running across the murderous Leporids.
“Usually found in books made for the clergy, these illustrations — known as “marginalia” — were full of symbolism. Playful and subversive, they often thumbed the[ir] nose[s] at authority figures,” writes CNN.
Hey, when you live in the Middle Ages you gotta get your kicks somewhere.
The rabbits featured in the marginalia were no longer the hunted, they became the hunter — throwing down the proverbial gauntlet to any creature in its path.
Speaking to CNN in 2016, James Freeman, a medieval manuscripts specialist at Cambridge University Library, said that there was no singular meaning or theme behind the illustrations, leaving the murderous, if not humorous, images open to interpretation and the imagination of the viewer.
The comedy was not shared by all, however. Despite being notoriously famous for their senses of humor, one French Cistercian monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, described in his Apologia of 1125 that the images were “ridiculous monstrosities.”
“Good Lord,” said Clairvaux. “Even if the foolishness of it all occasion no shame, at least one might balk at the expense.”
Thankfully, despite one dour monk’s complaints, the killer rabbit craze continued on unabated for several centuries, and we here in the 21st are thankful for it.