Human beings are obsessed with cats. You don’t need to spend very long on the internet to find that out. Yet a little look into history can show that this attachment is far from specific to the 21st century.
In the 9th century, an Irish Monk wrote a poem in the margins of a manuscript. The poem was titled ‘Pangur Bán’ and described the life of the anonymous author and his closest companion.
That companion was his cat.
Originally in Old Irish, the monk describes his life of study and work, while his cat hunts and plays beside him in perfect parallel.
“Though we work for days and years
Neither the other hinders;
Each is competent and hence
Enjoys his skill in silence.
Master of the death of mice,
He keeps in daily practice,
I too, making dark things clear,
Am of my trade a master.”
(‘The Scholar and the Cat’, translated by Frank O’Connor)
If you would like a read, the full poem can be found here along with two english translations. It is a heartfelt and softly humorous homage to his feline friend. It transcends his place in history and shows us that, where it matters, we haven’t changed.
Even more palpable is what was found in a 15th Century manuscript in Sarajevo by research assistant, Emir O. Filipovic:
These inky pawprints are something that you do not need to have a phd in Medieval History to understand. Have you ever had a cat crawl across your keyboard while you are trying to work? Things do not change.
Cats are complicated and there is a lot in their history to explore. Through them, we can feel a little more connected to our equally cat-loving ancestors.