Cats, kings of the Internet… and books from the Middle Ages

By frequenting the cat, we only risk getting rich. Could it be by calculation that for half a century I have been seeking his company? These words of the great writer Colette, many today could make them their own, but they could not, with some exceptions, come out of the mouth of a medieval man.

Like Islam’s relationship with dogs, the Church of the Middle Ages had a negative view of our feline friends. In question: their strong link with paganism and polytheistic religions. Witchcraft, sinful sexuality, “ fellowship with satan “, the cat trials “ deviant ” do not miss.

Bodleian Library Bodley 764 f. 51r (England, c 1225-50).

At the end of the 12th century, the one who would become archdeacon of Oxford, Walter Map, explained that the devil appeared before his faithful in a feline form. Pope Innocent VIII himself posted a bubble in 1484 to condemn to death “ the devil’s favorite animal and the idol of all witches “…Therefore, many were tortured and executed by some of these god-crazed…

Baudelaire finds this approach when he says, in his first poemThe cats: “Friends of science and pleasure,/ they seek silence and the horror of darkness; / Erebus would have taken them for its funeral couriers, / if they could bow their pride to serfdom.»

This vision of our favorite felines was not, however, the only one in this disparate Middle Ages and very extended in time: if some interpreted the image of a cat leaping on a rodent as a symbol of the devil attacking to the human soul, others have relied on cats as church guardians, to ensure that rodents do not nibble the Eucharistic hosts, recalls Johanna Feenstra of Blog Academic Cat Lady. In addition, they provided Medieval Men with a not insignificant pest control service.

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Aberdeen University Library, MS 24 f. 23v (England, c 1200).

The ancient Egyptians considered cats to be symbols of divinity and protection. In ancient Egypt, harming a cat was punishable by death, we are reminded Vintage News. Their export was illegal and, like today, the disappearance of a kitty was an occasion for public sadness. When one of these pointy-eared animals died, it was buried with honors, mummified, and mourned by humans.

The body of the little beast was wrapped in the best materials, then embalmed in order to keep it longer. The Egyptians even shaved their eyebrows as a sign of their deep sorrow for the deceased animal…

Cats kings of the Internet and works from the Middle

Natural History Museum, London.

In the Christian West, it was not until the Renaissance that the situation changed. We can cite this lover of cats, ahead in so many fields, Leonardo da Vinci, and his eleven sketches of cats in different poses. The poet Du Bellay, for his part, devoted an epitaph to Bellaud, his deceased twink.

Poets like Baudelaire and his verses on cats will follow; perhaps the most beautiful thing that has been said on the subject, such as: “It is the familiar spirit of the place; he judges, he presides, he inspires all things in his empire; maybe he is a fairy, is he a god?»

Or Salvador Dalí and his cat Babou that he took everywhere with him, Ernest Hemingway and his 6-toed cats or “polydactyl», Maupassant who created a league for the defense of felines, or Cocteau who founded the club of friends of cats. The latter had engravedCocteau belongs to meon the medallion worn by his cat, Karoun. We will also remember of the cat Gliguardian of Hagia Sophia, who died on November 7, 2020 and is buried in the basilica.

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Library of Congress, public domain

READ: The Key to Hell, or black magic in the 18th century

Today, internet star cats, like Ukrainian Stepan, even make it possible to raise funds in support of the country attacked by Putin’s Russia. The fascination, always, for these small animals with “noble attitudes” and “with mystical eyes“.

Visual credits: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod.icon. 312c, p. 258 / Scheibler Armorial, Germany ca. 1450-1480

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Cats, kings of the Internet… and books from the Middle Ages

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