The Iaculus

Capital with iaculi, thirteenth century, entrance portico, cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

Capital with iaculi, thirteenth century, entrance portico, cathedral of Sessa Aurunca

The iaculus is a snake with wings. It leaps into the branches of trees, where it hides itself among the leaves. From its leafy perch it watches for animals that pass below. Its prey in sight, it hurls itself down to attack, flying through the air like a missile from a catapult. Thus is it called ‘iaculus,’ the javelin snake.

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Acanthus leaves provide a fitting perch for four coiled iaculi on this finely-carved capital, located on entrance porch of the cathedral. While the iaculus on the right devours a human head, the one on the left gorges itself on scaled serpent. The device of placing the head of beast at the corner of a capital and splaying its flanks along the sides appears elsewhere at the cathedral, on a capital carved with rams.

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3 responses to “The Iaculus

  1. So last night over dinner I decided to quizz the husband and asked him if he knew what a iaculus was. His reply? Ejaculate. Not exactly spot on (and I guess it’s a male thing), but it’s just so wonderful to learn where words originated from.

  2. Well, he may have been spot on- iaculus is the fourth principal part of the Latin verb iacio, to throw, so it literally means ‘that which is thrown,’ which I suppose applies to ejaculate.

    • He reasoned the same thing, but thought the flying serpent was far more interesting. In any case, I’d prefer them to gnomes as lawn decorations. A fountain set-up that spits water would work!

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