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