HISTORY OF THE CAT IN THE DARK AGES (PART 4)

Because Viking raids continued into the 9th century, Irish monks continued to flee the on-going invasions by travelling to far off havens.  One such monk exiled in Reichenau on Lake Constance is immortalized for writing a now famous poem in honor of his cat, Pangur Bán. The cat, not yet completely identified with the devil and demonized, found its way into the heart of this lonely exiled monk.                                     

                     Pangur Bán

 

                                                               I and Pangur Bán my cat,                                    

                          ‘Tis a like task we are at,   

                                  Hunting mice is his delight,    

                                 Hunting words I sit all night     

                                ‘Tis a merry thing to see,      

                               At our task how glad are we  

                                   When at home we sit and find,    

                                 Entertainment to our mind.  

                                   ‘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.  

                                   So in peace our task we ply:   

                                  Pangur Bán my cat and I   

                                  In our arts and in our bliss,

                                    I have mine and he has his. (Rowling, 1979)

Pangur Ban cat in history

Pangur Bán Original Text
St. Paul’s Abbey
Lavanttal

Cats were also a valued commodity in the Welsh kingdom of Hywel Dda or Howell the Good (880-950).  After a trip to Rome in 928AD, Hywel became interested in establishing a legal system and decided that Wales needed a set of codified laws. These detailed laws address how animals should be treated as well as the prices that should be asked for them.  For example, the king forbid the killing of cats, and anyone caught killing a cat that guarded the royal granary had to pay with the fine of a ewe, its fleece and a lamb, or a pile of wheat that was as high as the cat’s length from head to tip of tail with the body of the cat suspended, its head touching the floor.  According to the laws of Hywel, a kitten before it could see was worth one penny; up to the time it killed a mouse, 2 pence; and if it had proven itself an excellent mouse catcher, 4 pence (Simpson, 1903).  The Law states, “Her qualities are to see, to hear, to kill mice, to have her claws whole, and to nurse and not devour her kittens.  If she be deficient in any one of these qualities, one third of her price must be returned.” (Probert, 1823, p.228) The Gwentian Code, another part of the law, also states, “Whoever shall catch a cat mousing in his flax garden, let its owner pay for its damage.”(Clutton-Brock, 1994, p. 42-43) Cats, obviously highly prized for their utility, were less important than flax, as it was used to make linen that was very rare during this time.

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