the limping messenger ~ le messager boiteux ~ de hinkende bode
slow delivery of messages, articles and comment by Tjebbe van Tijen



The figure of the 'limping messenger' can be traced back at least to the 17th century both as a name of a type of popular almanac first published in German in Basel, Switzerland in 1677 (1), and as a figure in the satirical story by Comenius "The labyrinth of the world and the paradise of the heart" written in 1663. The origin of this allegorical figure comes from the way in which the news from the battle field reached the public. Comenius compares people flocking around a messenger on a sweating horse arriving at the city square with the latest news with that of the 'limping messenger' who comes much later, but whose message can be better trusted in the chapter about "newsmongers": " Many rode swift horses, and there were many people who bought from them; others walked on foot, or hopped on crutches: and the wise folk bought from these men, saying that their goods were more reliable." (2) The limping messenger is a former soldier, wounded on the battlefield mostly depicted with one amputed lower leg and a wooden prothesis; in some pictures his role as messenger is emphasized by a wing on his wooden leg, like the god Mercurius with his winged feet. He also brings the not so happy and glorious news which is mostly depicted by someone crying near him, like the little boy in the left hand picture. A snail is in several examples part of the emblematic pictures that appeared as front cover of these almanacs. In Dutch there is a related expression "het hinkend paard komt achteraan" (the limping horse comes last) as a warning against premature gladness. This also points to the horse or messenger that goes slow because his message is not going to be well received (3). The English expression "a lame post" seems to be related historically, but its usage now is something said that is not needed anymore, superfluous. The French expression "attendre le boiteux" (waiting for the wooden leg) did get the meaning of waiting for news that does not come or is late to arrive.

(1) Stéphane Haffemayer: Lecture des peuples..
(2) Comenius: Labyrinth/newsmongers
(3) DBNL: Het hinkend paard




The image of the 'limping messenger' or 'messager boiteux' survives in a few popular almanacs still published today in Germany, Switzerland and France

2008-06-16 Zwartmakers en een pleidooi voor een "Witboek Kraken"; reactie op een tendensieuze uitzending van het TV programma Netwerk over krakers en de behoefte aan een een kraakverbod.
2007-09-13 Add BLOCKERS & LOCKERS: is filtering always censorship?
2005-08-15

Vuilnislieden staken in Amsterdam /Garbage men strike in Amsterdam.
a call for personal support.

2005-06 Festina Lente - EUROPA - Sic Orbis Iter
about the Dutch referendum on the new European Constitution 2 June.
2005-03-23 Radiodays in "De Appel" Amsterdam - artistic amnesia or arrogance?
a reaction on an announcement of an art project.
2004-12-07 Controlezucht - Die Gedanken sind frei
gedichtje over Europese snuffelstaat en het bewaren van privé gegevens telecommunicatie.
2002-12-27 In memoriam Miek Stranger 1927-2002
Buurthuisleidster, dramaturge, activiste in de Amsterdamse Nieuwmarktbuurt.
2001 In memoriam Tineke Nijenhuis 1937-2001
Studentenleider, sociologe, blaadjesmaakster en marktkoopvrouw.
1998 Preservation of software, copyright and the role of libraries
on the European discussion list for librarians ECUP.
1997 In memoriam Gerard van den Berg 1909-1997
Amsterdams timmerman, debater, activist en raden-communist.
1996? Stoepreflex & winkelriool
artikel voor het buurtblad "Opnieuw".
 1986    Planotheek een project en artikel in samenwerking met Peter van der Pouw Kraan
verschenen in het aktieblad Bluf!