From icon to index and back: A 16th century description of a “sea-bishop”

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A fish caught off the coast of Poland in the 15th century with the appearance and mannerisms of a bishop and therefore a possible “sign” given to man by the Creator is interrogated by the bishops and king of Poland and almost incarcerated because of its inability to speak, but finally set free in the sea. Looked upon as a sign, the resemblance as such of the fish to a bishop may be described as an iconic image, while the endeavour to determine whether it also has the other attributes of a true bishop, is implicitly aimed at determining whether the fish is not indexically related to what may be a bishop in creed and character. In view of the patently non-human exterior of the creature, the search has to focus on the intrinsic characteristics of a bishop, and the superficial iconic relationship between signifier and signified is deepened to the question whether a causal or indexical relationship can be found. As this cannot be shown, the fish is released on the understanding that its resemblance to a bishop is iconic and no more.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIconicity in Language and Literature
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2010

Publication series

NameIconicity in Language and Literature
ISSN (Print)1873-5037

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication


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