cats-msg - 1/2/97
The housecat in medieval times.
This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: severian at marlin.ssnet.com (Brian Johnson)
Subject: Re: Medieval uses for cat
Date: 17 Mar 1995 08:53:14 -0500
Organization: SSNet -- Public Internet Access in Delaware!
John D Krueger (a94jk01 at hobbes.kzoo.edu) wrote:
: Johannes throwing in his research on this fascinating topic.
: During the Middle Ages in Europe cats had three main uses presented here
: in no particular order:
: a. as a pet, even medieval man liked to keep company with partners that
: would not argue back with them; unlike children, spouses, vassals, and
: b. as ratters, keeping the population of pests on the farm and in the city
: allowed the medieval cat to actually contribute something tangible to human
: c. as a fur bearing animal, being partially domesticated they were
: relatively easy to breed and 'harvest' for their fur. Which as even modern
: man knows is very soft and comfortable. I wonder if there might not be a
: market for warm cheap fur cloaks in our Society?
: Johannes Adelbart von Pels, Barony Andelcrag, Midrealm
: John Krueger, Kalamazoo, Michigan
I wonder if the SPCA would allow you to take more than one cat that was
to be put down for such a purpose? I do recall seeing a merchant selling
all kinds of furs at Pennsic, this past year. I believe she had cat,
dog, wolf, etc. If anyone would like to contact her, I believe I could
locate her business card.
From: dickeney at access5.digex.net (Dick Eney)
Subject: Re: Cats as providers?
Date: 16 Nov 1996 23:39:01 -0500
Organization: Express Access Online Communications, Greenbelt, MD USA
In article <Pine.BSI.3.94.961116231257.22904A-100000 at spyder.inna.net>,
Kim Pollard <kim at inna.net> wrote:
>I've heard myths of people being fed by birds, but has anyone ever heard
>stories of people being fed by cats? May seem a strange question, but
>Loki, my 2 year old cat has just deposited a baby mouse on my cloak (still
>alive, I think) and this is the second animal he's brought me TODAY - the
>first was a full grown robin (yes, still alive).
>How should my medieval persona view such a thing? I know cats always seem
>to be around barns and would probably be welcome there to keep the mice
>and snakes from the hay, but why are cats seldom viewed as good critters
>after serving such an important role? Knowing how many cats were killed
>along with "witches" during the witch-hunting frenzy, it's no wonder
>Europe was hit by a plague carried by flea infested rats.
Generally, cats don't fawn on people the way dogs do. The average
medieval person apparently didn't make much of a pet of any animal (I'm
talking about the average person, not the occasional member of nobility or
gentry); animals were to be dominated by man according to the Bible. Dogs
were treated roughly also, but were more overtly useful and also fawned on
humans, thus were "man's servant" and therefore were considered obedient
to the dictates of the Bible. Cats were pretty much semi-wild and
independent, therefore evil (especially after they were blamed for the
plague; only semi-wild ones survived). It wasn't until Pasteur discovered
germs and invented germ theory in the early 19th century, and Ignatz
Semmelweiss and others began to insist on cleanliness as a way of avoiding
infection, that cats began to be perceived as "clean" because of their
habit of washing themselves and therefore cats began to be considered
=Tamar the Gypsy (sharing account dickeney at access.digex.net)
From: gedney1 at iconn.net (BRANDU)
Subject: Re: Cats as providers?
Date: 19 Nov 1996 02:10:52 GMT
My cats are Particularly good mousers.
The mousing ability of cats was well understood in period, and were
more commonly kept in the barn and storage areas, where the rodents
had the most impact. They were not a common house "pet", but were
more likely to be viewed as a sort of guarding tool to have around.
Anyway, I like my cats and they respect me, and often will do as I
wish. I take that as a great complement.
From: Russ Gilman-Hunt <rgh at portctr.univor.edu>
To: 'markh at risc.sps.mot.com'
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 1996 08:13:41 -0800
Subject: RE: Cats as providers?
The Pangur Ban poem is pretty commonly found, but here's one
translation. I hope this helps!
From Flower, Robin The Irish Tradition, 1947. Page 24
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 thing 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 tasks 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.
I believe the poem is 9th century.
Here's another, in quite a different vein. Same book, page 26.
The kitling cat
Whose nurturing thou labourest at,
When he is come to cat's estate
Goes wild and flees thee soon or late.
Tis so with evil natures still
For, give them, as they grow, their will
As, when to man's estate they're come,
They'll fly their father and their home.
There's a following tale of a cat's pilgrimage from the Book of Leinster.
To paraphrase: A cat accompanies 3 students on pilgrimage, who
eventually decide to get into a boat without oars and go where God wants
them. They land on an island, and the cat feeds them by fishing out
salmon. They eventually decide that God should be their provider, not
the cat, and refuse to eat the salmon. So the cat eats three fish a
day, becomes huge and swells to the proportions of a monster, until
Saint Brendan kills him.
From: elspeth at kuhub.cc.ukans.edu (Elizabeth B. Naime)
Subject: Re: Cats as providers?
Date: 26 Nov 96 17:07:17 CST
Organization: University of Kansas Academic Computing Services
In article <329369EC.1DF7 at portctr.univor.edu>, Russ Gilman-Hunt <rgh at portctr.univor.edu> writes:
> Tamar the Gypsy wrote in the Great Book:
>> Cats were pretty much semi-wild and
>> independent, therefore evil (especially after they were blamed for the
>> plague; only semi-wild ones survived).
> I find this hard to belive for people in my time and place. Especially
> with the Monk's poem on his cat, Pangur Ban (if I have the name
You have the name correct.
> But then, a lot of Irish poetry was on the wilderness and nature;
> maybe that's the connection. (grin)
But Misse (sp?) agus Pangur Ban isn't about wildnerness and nature;
it's about the nature of the search for truth and/or mice, or
alternatively, about what great fun 6th century Irish poetry could be
I don't think cats are universally perceived as evil throughout period
times and places. Witness the Irish monk using a cat to talk abut his
own search for God's truth, also witness early Welsh Law (Hywell the
Good's) and the rather large restitution for killing a cat, also the
specific mention of cats in the division of property in divorce.
Now, about cats feeding people, I have no references. Given the sort
of things my own cats have brought me (cotton rat haunches are a
perennial favorite, with selected guts still attached) -- anyone
familiar enough with cats to have observed food bringing behavior may
just have been too nauseated at the idea of trying to live on such, to
make any stories about it <very big grin>.
Elizabeth B. Naime *
elspeth at kuhub.cc.ukans.edu *
CUR 70 / FUR 212 * * Standard Disclaimers Apply*