Meghan M. here. In addition to liking cats a lot, I also like history a lot. As a cat obsessed wannabe art historian some of my favorite artifacts are those related to kitties, and there are plenty to choose from. People in the past liked cats a lot too, and immortalized them in everything from precious statues of Bastet (as we’ve discussed on here before) to doodles, like this one I snapped a pic of on a trip to England a few years ago.
So people been historically cat loving, but cats themselves have been leaving their mark on the histories as well! Literally.
A few months ago this photo taken by phd student Emir O. Filipović in the Dubrovnik State Archives “went viral” and let the whole internet know that yes, cats have -always- been the same (read all about it on his site http://theappendix.net/blog/2013/3/of-cats-and-manuscripts) I think all us cat lovers can feel a profound sense of understanding and connection with this unknown medieval scribe and his cat who just would not keep off his books. Or as Filipović puts it,
The photo of the cat paw prints represents one such situation which forces the historian to take his eyes from the text for a moment, to pause and to recreate in his mind the incident when a cat, presumably owned by the scribe, pounced first on the ink container and then on the book, branding it for the ensuing centuries. You can almost picture the writer shooing the cat in a panicky fashion while trying to remove it from his desk.
Yep, been there. But that scribe got off pretty easy, compared to…
Another fifteenth century scribe, writing around 1420 in Deventer, left his partially finished manuscript open to a blank page one night. The next morning he found that someone else had left some uh, pungent commentary in the book. So he drew a picture of a cat by the stain and wrote:
Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.
[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.]
Read more about cats peeing on books in the Middle Ages at http://medievalfragments.wordpress.com/2013/02/22/paws-pee-and-mice-cats-among-medieval-manuscripts/
Paw prints and pissing aside, cats were a vital part of scriptorium life, catching mice (which liked to gnaw up the parchment) and keeping the monks company. The scholar and his cat, Pangur Bán , (which is totally the most adorable poem from medieval Ireland) describes a scribe’s friendship with his feline assistant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangur_Ban):
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light .
By the way, the historical Pangur Bán lends his name to a character in the film Secret of Kells.
The animated Pangur Bán’s also inspired by this detail from the Chi-Rho page of the Book of Kells.
Manuscripts aren’t the only artifacts that show traces of cat mischief. In first-century Roman Britain a brick “lay green, awaiting the kiln, a cat walked across the wet clay and left its footprints before wandering off to do something else. The clay was fired, the prints fixed, and the brick itself presumably became a piece of a building or road.”
These ancient cat prints went on quite a journey, eventually ending up half way across the world in Canada, where the brick was used to build a wall in the nineteenth-century headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Vancouver. Check it out: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/02/1-kitty-2-empires-2-000-years-world-history-told-through-a-brick/273320/
Today Gli the cat is continuing the proud tradition of his ancestors by getting all up in ur artifacts 24/7. He lives in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
He has a tumblr and it is absolutely fabulous: http://hagiasophiacat.tumblr.com/
Buzzfeed profiled him too: http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/a-devout-cat-lives-at-the-hagia-sophia-in-istanbul
Even Grumpy Cat has an opinion on feline history. Gaze upon her insightful peer review at http://senseshaper.com/grumpy-cat-responds-to-erik-kwakkels-cat-paw-manuscript/
I bet you have Grumpy Cat! Cats+History= Awesome!