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I happened across this image in the Library of Congress collection late one night, and it kept me amused for what could probably have been called an inordinate amount of time. It is the Drunkard’s Coat of Arms, the drunkard himself presumably being the bewigged gent in the centre quite merrily spewing on his gaming table.

At either side of him his revelries are supported by a goat and a fox, both of whom are thought to have held associations with the devil in the early modern period. Goats were certainly a symbol of unbridled erotic desires and lasciviousness, drawn from the wild goat-legged god of Greek mythology, Pan. The fox also often appeared to allude to the cunning and sophisticated Satan in medieval Christian iconography. The banners fluttering around them illustrate the ‘Fortune and Misfortune of a Drunken Life”: (l–r) a boozing group carousing and vomiting, a man gripping the bars of a prison cell, a large transportation ship and a pair engaged in a duel.

But by far my favourite character is the “swine a spewing”; the unfortunate creature is also being ridden by the Greco-Roman god of wine, Bacchus. It seems likely that his inclusion is related to the common contemporary phrase “As drunk as David’s sow”. In his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811), Francis Grose explains:

DAVID’S SOWAs drunk as David’s sow; a common saying, which took its rise from the following circumstance: One David Lloyd, a Welchman, who kept an alehouse at Hereford, had a living sow with six legs, which was greatly resorted to by the curious; he had also a wife much addicted to drunkenness, for which he used sometimes to give her due correction. One day David’s wife having taken a cup too much, and being fearful of the consequences, turned out the sow, and lay down to sleep herself sober in the stye. A company coming in to see the sow, David ushered them into the stye, exclaiming, there is a sow for you! did any of you ever see such another? all the while supposing the sow had really been there; to which some of the company, seeing the state the woman was in, replied, it was the drunkenest sow they had ever beheld; whence the woman was ever after called David’s sow.

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