So, what exactly is that thing in the logo?
In short, it’s an amphisbaena, a serpent with glowing eyes and two heads—one in the normal position and one on the end of its tail. Legends of its existence date back at least to the first century A.D./C.E., when Lucan and Pliny the Elder wrote about it. In the seventh century, the monk Isidore of Seville cemented its description. Later artists added further embellishments, like wings and clawed feet.
And why is it in the logo?
I’ve always wanted something that captures this blog’s topics of history and literature. At first, I wanted to use the famous, magnificent Sea Orm of Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina (published in 1539) wrapped around a scroll and an hourglass. But that didn’t quite fit.
The amphisbaena seemed like a good choice for wrapping the two subjects together. After all, it’s a mythical (literary) creature that featured prominently in multiple medieval (historical) documents. That was a good place to start.
More importantly, however, the amphisbaena specifically stood out because of its two-headedness. That trait gives it the ability to literally look into its own eyes, a metaphor of what we do when we study history and literature! The two subjects are great for learning about other people and stepping into different eras and worlds, but I’ve learned that their most striking quality is that they force us to think about our own lives. As we explore pages and ages, we also explore ourselves.
Like I’ve said before, history and literature aren’t useless, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the gateway they offer to introspection—exemplified by the amphisbaena—are as invaluable to us today as they were when the legend of the amphisbaena first graced a writer’s parchment.
The image of the amphisbaena used on this blog comes from folio 68v of the Aberdeen Bestiary, currently in the care of the University of Aberdeen.