Introducing: Manuscripts of Cat

Have you ever wondered about the manuscripts of Cat? No, not the Internet celebrity with over one million Twitter followers. We’re talking about the other manuscripts of Cat. The ones that were written centuries ago and are now lost to history. Well, wonder no more! A team of researchers has been working on reconstructing these ancient texts and they’ve just made them available online. So buckle up and get ready for a wild ride into the mind of our feline friends!

Manuscripts of Cat

The creator of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee, was once questioned about what aspect of his invention most surprised him. His response? “Kittens.” The statistics about cats are both impressive and startling: according to Friskies, up to 15% of Internet traffic is related to cats, and cats receive almost four times as many viral views on Buzzfeed as dogs do. Unless you have specific plug-ins, the cats will inevitably find you during your daily Internet browsing; you don’t even need to look for cat-related content. Below are the manuscripts of cats.

Manuscripts of Cat
Dorso-ventrally bisected pregnant female. (Grant Museum, Z2969)

Although cats appear to be the dominant animal on the internet, a larger trend that is present offline is being amplified by the abundance of cat gifs, memes, and photos. The display of bisected cats at the Grant Museum draws oohs and aahs from both kids and adults. Visitors with keen eyes may even catch a glimpse of a kitten embryo hiding in one of the specimens’ wombs. The familiarity of the cats appeals to people of all ages, as evidenced by the toddler-height fingerprint smudges on the display cases.

Manuscripts of Cat
Cat underfoot? (Petrie Museum, UC14323)

Cats have captivated many cultures for countless years. The Petrie Museum has a whole display case devoted to Ancient Egyptian cat statuettes and artifacts, connecting cat lovers today with those three thousand years ago. The felines were revered in their own right and linked to several goddesses throughout the Egyptian dynasties because of their propensity to eliminate vermin, including cobras. Cats were also known to be mummified and buried after death.

Much later, in medieval Europe, a similar obsession with cats was observed in different regions of the world. The Internet of the time illuminated manuscripts of cats, and cat references can be found all over those vellum pages. A poem was written by an early Irish monk in praise of his cat, Pangur Bán. According to Robin Flower’s interpretation:

I and Pangur Ban my cat,

‘Tis a like task we are at:

Hunting mice is his delight,

Hunting words I sit all night…

Practice every day has made

Pangur is perfect in his trade;

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light.

Manuscripts of Cat
The green pigment has eaten through the parchment in the shape of a cat. (National Library of Wales, Peniarth MS 28, f. 26r)

In the Vatnsdoela saga, Thorolf Sledgehammer proudly guards himself with twenty cats. Given that cats are not rottweilers, one might wonder if the author had much experience with them. Despite how fantastical that tale may have been, cats were effective at controlling pests. The laws of Hywel Dda, which date back to the middle of the 13th century, stipulate that compensation must be given if a cat is killed. If the cat is old enough to hunt mice, the owner should receive four pence; a kitten too young to open its eyes is only worth one penny, and one who can see but is too young to hunt is worth two pence.

Manuscripts of Cat
It’s a dog-eat-cat-eat-mouse world out there. (Harley 3053, f.45v)

The frequent occurrence of cats lurking around monasteries may have provided the illuminators working on the manuscripts of cats with regions’ familiar source material. One illuminator created a historiated initial showing a dog catching a cat catching mice, which could be considered the medieval equivalent of a Pixie and Dixie and Mr. Jinks cartoon segment. Cats frequently appear in manuscripts where they get into all kinds of ridiculous situations.

Manuscripts of Cat
A clean cat is a happy cat. (Bibliothèque cantonale et universitaire de Lausanne, U 964, fol. 376r)

An archer shoots at a cat in the Book of Maccabees from the 13th century as it is making sure it is spotless everywhere. Cat owners are used to this sight, and it’s obvious that the illuminator was too. In medieval manuscripts of cats, there are numerous additional images of this theme that are eerily similar.

Manuscripts of Cat
A helping hand? (Stowe MS 17, f. 34r)

The 14th-century illuminator of the Maastricht Hours depicted a cat playing with a nun’s spindle, illustrating yet another instance of cat behavior that hasn’t changed all that much. Cats were so prevalent and an integral part of daily life in Middle English that the Ancrene Wisse only allowed anchoresses to own cats. A resident mouser who worked for Exeter Cathedral in the 15th century was paid one penny per week, and someone even carved a cat flap into the south tower door, which is still visible today.

Manuscripts of Cat
Dubrovnik State Archives, Lettere di Levante. (Photograph by Emir O. Filipović)

However, not all depictions of cats are flattering, and some aren’t even meant to be portrayed. The Lettere di Levante from the Dubrovnik State Archives has been thoroughly pawed by one fine furry fellow. Pet owners may relate because the manuscript’s pages unintentionally recorded where a cat with inky paws had walked across them.

Manuscripts of Cat
An angry monk making his point. (Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)

Regardless of how helpful cats may be, they can also be a nuisance. The manicules and cat sketch were not originally intended for the manuscripts of cats from the 15th century, nor was the blank half of the delineated page above. What appears to have happened is that the scribe who was working on this manuscript left it outside overnight and discovered a disappointing surprise when she returned.

Nothing is missing here, but a cat urinated on this one night, and the scribe scribbled an exasperated note in the margins. Blessed be the mischievous cat that urinated on this book in Deventer during the night, as well as on all the others. And be careful not to leave books open at night where cats could get to them. We should all take that advice to heart.

We share the same fascination with cats that our ancestors did. There is something alluring about cats that have spoken to people throughout history, regardless of culture. While our medieval ancestors may have been forced to share manuscripts of cats rather than cat gifs, we can now be endlessly amused by the felines with just a click of the mouse. Those above mentioned were famous manuscripts of cats.

Conclusion: Manuscripts of Cat

We hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into the manuscripts of cats. Whether you’re a long-time lover of felines or this is your first encounter with these ancient creatures, we hope you’ve found something to pique your interest. If you have any questions about manuscripts of cats, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. And be sure to stay tuned for our next post which will explore the art and history of cats in even more detail!

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