s p i r a l

ekphrasis marginalia medieval text ephemera


A rare illustration of Nature’s twisted curiosity, the snail cat, Helix catus (later appropriately renamed Nautilus catus), survives in a 14th century Dutch Book of Hours, where the cunning specimen is perched in wide-eyed vigilance between a prayer and a psalm, similar to the territorial or fear-induced behavior exhibited in most domesticated felines of the present-day.

On the lip of a sturdy branch, near a corner of the folio, her deceptively full and luscious tail is curved into the tight, upright, spiraled shell of a Nautilus, the ocean-dwelling cephalopod, rather than the off-center curve of the common garden variety of terrestrial gastropods (though she retains her playful misnomer), providing critical insight to this primordial creature’s natural habitat; the externalized bony structure allows her to withdraw completely when frightened and enclose herself with a leathery hood, a remarkable survival adaptation due to her distinct lack of the usual appendages among felids, of which we are familiar, that effectively excludes her from the predatory ecological niche burgeoning with her crepuscular, full-bodied descendants.

Ostentatious shell markings may have served as a defensive aposematism to advertise the snail cat’s unpalatability and warn off potential threats, resembling the tri-color calico and tabby patterning—white, orange, and black (however, with the predominant color being orange instead of white), traces of vibrant burnt sienna slivers running through the valleys between the shell’s ridges.

An enigma, she sprouts thin red antennae of questionable utility from between the ears, perked at attention, of her quasi-mammalian half; whether or not the bulbous tips contain visual organs (similar to the pair of long tentacle structures or “eye stalks” of land snails) or poison glands remains a mystery.

Her whiskers, same sharp color as her floating (sensory) extensions, twitch, tremble, tense in front of her rounded snout.

cautiously curling
feline invertebrate, the
Nautilus catus

#napowrimo #ekphrasis



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