Some of you may already have seen the latest mediaeval internet meme to be making the rounds, a photograph taken by Emir O. Filipovic of a 15th century manuscript bearing the unmistakable marks of feline indifference: paw-prints.
It’s a touching reminder that the special relationship between a reader and his cat pre-dates both the computer keyboard and the paperback. Thanks to another surprise manuscript discovery, we can add verbal testimony to these paw-prints. The poem Pangur Ban, or ‘Pangur the White’, was found written in Old Irish in the margins of a manuscript, and is thought to date from the 9th century. In it, a scholar ruminates on the joy of study with a cat by his side:
‘Myself and Pangur, cat and sage
Go each about our business;
I harass my beloved page,
He his mouse.
Fame comes second to the peace
Of study, a still day
Unenvying, Pangur’s choice
Is child’s play….’
Together, poem and picture remind us of the individuality of the Middle Ages, and the many ways in which its emotions and experiences are so close to our own.
For the rest of the poem, in Eavan Bolands’s English translation, as well as a link to the original text, click here.