Pawprints 3: ancient cat urinates on ancient manuscript

February 22, 2013 • 1:14 pm

Here’s another case of an ancient cat defacing things—the best one yet. As documented on the website medievalfragments, a cat peed on a fifteenth-century manuscript, ticking off the scribe no end!



The caption on the website:

Although the medieval owner of this manuscript [shown previously on this site] may have been quite annoyed with these paw marks on his otherwise neat manuscript, another fifteenth-century manuscript reveals that he got off lucky.  A Deventer scribe, writing around 1420, found his manuscript ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before. He was forced to leave the rest of the page empty, drew a picture of a cat and cursed the creature with the following words:

“Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum ostum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem uni cattie venire possunt.”

[Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.]

Well, maybe the scribe could do letters, but he couldn’t draw cats. The offending beast looks like a cross between a hyena and a donkey!

But I love the fingers pointing at the stain.

25 thoughts on “Pawprints 3: ancient cat urinates on ancient manuscript

    1. While it may be true, as your link suggests, that various parts of America imported bricks from different parts of Europe at various times (plausible, but I simply don’t know), what has definitely happened multiple times is that random bouldery rubble has been shoved into the keels of ships to act as ballast on one leg of a run (say, you’re taking out passengers, with lots of water barrels and food, but your ship is built for bulkier, more densely-packed cargo), and the ballast is dumped at the far end of the journey to make room / weight for the next cargo. Which also explains why the cheapest possible ballast is used.
      A number of finds of, say, half-million year old hand axes, or 50,000 year old spear points, have been made at places in America, and the “pre-Clovis population” and “American Indians slaughtered a pre-existing European-derived population” conspiracy theorists crawl out of the woodwork and salivate over such things. And they are remarkably resistant to acknowledging that their precious evidence is in an archaeological context with lots of flint nodules from the Thames estuary (which also have similar fossils). They’re almost as rational as Creationists.
      (It’s not impossible that there was a pre-CLovis settlement of America ; it’s not impossible that Neolithic hunters made it along this sea-ice edge from Europe to America (an Eskimo in a kayak turned up on the north coast of Aberdeenshire in the Victorian period, allegedly after a particularly rough NW storm) ; but the evidence supporting such theories is at best extremely weak.)

  1. Let’s hope that cat was only punished by being admonished (and immortalized!) on the page–the rare book library at Harvard has a medieval manuscript the parchment of which was made from the skin of a squirrel!

    (Folks who study MS talk about what animal the pages came from, whether the writing was done on the hair side of the skin, and so on. The squirrel MS gave itself away by the tiny leg holes.)

  2. I prefer Google Translate’s version:

    “This man does not defect, but the cat pisses on a certain night, from above. Confuse mischievous cat that pisses on the book ostum Daventrie night, and similarly, all the others because of it. And take care not to allow a very open book through the night one can come cattie.”

    1. Gosh, you’ve inflicted a 50+ year old nightmare on me. Latin sight reading – lower school. Yeah, sometimes it turned out a bit like that!!

      1. Curious about the Latin (mine is Vth form, 1960):

        pessimus = pesky? or worst, i.e. very bad? (I think “pesky” is misleading, suggesting a plague.)

        Why cattus and not felis?

        et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum
        I would take the best of the machine translation and the other one: “And in the same way [curse] all other[ cat]s because of it!

        1. Cattus is common vulgar Latin, Felis is classic Latin. You can see the same in the scientific name of the horse ‘ Equus caballus’. Equus is classic ‘old’ latin and ‘caballus’ is vulgar latin. I believe caballus (from which we get cavalier, cavalry etc) was originally a word meaning something like ‘dobbin’ ‘jade’ or ‘rocinante’ – a vulgar name for an old horse

      1. Reminds me of the story about Sir Thomas Beecham conducting Carmen (in some versions Aida), when one of the horses (elephants) shat on stage. Without missing a beat (in all versions), Beecham said, “Disgusting manners! But what a critic!” (or “A most distressing spectacle, ladies and
        gentlemen, but … gad, what a critic!”)

        Sadly I could find no source I’d trust. For the sake of posterity, when these things happen (not so much excremental but when famous people say funny things), please take notes. Fortunately in the case at hand, the evidence is before us.

  3. Given the small size of the urine stain, I suspect this was a female cat with a bladder infection or bladder crystals or stones.

    If your cat starts peeing small amounts in weird places. Seek medical attention. I suspected a female cat because bladder stones are often fatal to male cats, while female cats can get by for months with them. There are cures, seek help.

  4. As this website’s “Official Artist and Calligrapher™” all I can say is–I only hope I would exhibit the same sense of humor as this scribe did!

    B.t.w.–The Illuminated Origin studio is cat-free, but bobcats and wild boar have been known to patrol the premises.

    1. I’m just dreading to think what stains are in the Darwin Manuscripts.
      while ISTR that Darwin lived in the dog’s house when at Down House, I’d be moderately surprised if the Beagle didn’t have at least one “ship’s cat” – or “rodent control rating” – raising all sorts of notebook possibilities.
      Notebooks, maps and new coats tend to bring out the “bombardier Yossarian” tendencies in birds. I bet there are contributed specimens in the archive.

  5. I think it was Composer Samuel Barber who once wrote a song called “The Monk and His Cat.” I don’t think it had anything in the words about the cat peeing on his work, though!

    1. Yes! Barber wrote a whole set, called ‘Hermit Songs’ on medieval Irish texts. The cat one is called ‘Pangur Ban'(the name of the cat, ‘white fuller’ (felt)) and the text Barber used was a translation by Auden:

      (from )

      The Monk and His Cat
      adapted by W. H. Auden from an 8th or 9th century anonymous Irish text

      Pangur, white Pangur,
      How happy we are
      Alone together, Scholar and cat.
      Each has his own work to do daily;
      For you it is hunting, for me, study.
      Your shining eye watches the wall;
      My feeble eye is fixed on a book.
      You rejoice when your claws entrap a mouse;
      I rejoice when my mind fathoms a problem.
      Pleased with his own art
      Neither hinders the other;
      Thus we live ever
      Without tedium and envy.
      Pangur, white Pangur,
      How happy we are,
      Alone together, Scholar and cat.

      One of the other poems Barber set has the monk fantasizing about inviting all kinds of Biblical figures over to his house where he would party with them, and includes the line “I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.” And one of the other poems, in its entirety, is this: “I do not know with whom Edan will sleep // but I do know that fair Edan will not sleep alone.”

      I’ve known several medievalists over the years with cats named Pangur-Ban.

  6. Sure it isn’t ‘rattus’ instead of ‘cattus’? The drawing looks more like a rat. And cats prefer a loose soil to do their thing.

    1. I don’t even need to follow the link to know the cartoon. A friend had a statuette of that scene as a wedding present.
      Ah, it’s Matthew, and therefore likely to appreciate this idea. A few days ago the wife was nagging me (again) to enter for “Mastermind” (for the honour) or “Millionaire” (for the filthy lucre). My eyes lit upon the collected works of Gilbert Shelton on the bookshelf … and a “specialist subject” was born.
      Was that a “[gasp] No!” I heard, or a “[I wish I’d thought of that] Noooooooo!” ?

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