THE TIME has come to set the record straight. Several readers have written in to point out that the full-page illustration that appears in the current issue (March-April ’15) under the title, “Jesus’ Penis and the Seed of Faith,” was printed backward, making it unreadable unless you hold the page to a mirror. The page by Father Opinicus de Canistis appears in a scholarly codex from the 1330s and includes a picture of Jesus (nude) and the Virgin Mary (clothed) along with some Latin text written in various directions across and up-and-down the page.
Actually, what happened was that I “flipped” the image when I should have rotated it 180 degrees. The reason for the latter procedure is that the original image appears upside-down on the page—don’t ask why, this is the Middle Ages—and thus doesn’t illustrate the point that the author, Karl Whittington, was trying to make about either the map of Europe or the two central figures. But that’s not all this illumination contains: Opicinus has drawn a rough facsimile of himself himself where Jesus’ penis should be! (At least this image wasn’t spoiled by the “flip.”)
When I informed Mr. Whittington of the mistake, he graciously wrote back the following: “The image was indeed somehow reversed in the publication process. I noticed it when I received the issue, but the drawing is so strange, I didn’t think anyone would give it a second thought. There are two different issues: First, Opicinus wrote the captions facing a number of different directions, so there is not true “top” or “bottom” to the image. Second, the reversal of the image that produced the backward writing was a mistake. However, note that even when printed correctly, some of the writing is still backwards!”
A correction will appear in the forthcoming issue, but we’ve received enough complaints about the unreadable Latin text to warrant a more immediate response.
So here are two new views of the page in question. At the top is the image as it was received, presumably its orientation in the original codex. The two main figures, Jesus and Mary, are upside-down, though the third figure, the priest/artist himself, disguised as Jesus’ penis, is upright, and most of the writing is rectified. To the right is the image as it should have appeared, which intentionally inverts the two figures while correctly presenting the map of southern Europe. (Italy is clearly visible as Jesus’ leg.)
Finally, for you Latin enthusiasts, here the most legible of the various passages that appear on the page:
Why is the map oriented the way it is in the codex?
Because medieval European maps (almost) always put east at the top.
They were, in that literal sense, oriented — pointed eastward.